Here is a thought re hermeneutics - trying to understand what the Bible is saying, both in general and on particular issues:
We should keep an eye on (what I shall call) the bounds of hermeneutics. By 'bounds' I mean that hermeneutics for Christians is not just about me, the text, and wherever my thinking about the text takes me. Hermeneutics is an intention to read the text responsibly within certain bounds, constraints on what makes for a sensible, if not sensitive reading of Scripture. Breach one of the bounds and it is likely that the interpretative proposal we put forward is unlikely to be received by the church as truth. But the bounds do not themselves tell us what readings are false and which are true.
Four such bounds are Mission, Scripture, Tradition (or History of Interpretation), and Public Truth. That is, on any giving proposal for our understanding of the Bible we should think about the relevance of Mission (how might Mission shape our understanding? Is our proposal going to be good or bad for mission?), consistency with Scripture (if our proposal contradicts another part of Scripture, perhaps we should reconsider), coherency with Tradition (meaning, here, the History of Interpretation: has our proposal been made before? If so, accepted or rejected? Is it completely novel? Does that make a difference?), and plausibility as Public Truth (in the end the Bible is not the secret code of the inner core of the church, it is a document of public truth: is our proposal for its understanding going to make sense to the public? If not, does that matter (e.g. for the communication of the gospel)?)
Sometimes reference to these (and other, see below) bounds may lead to a quick decision about the viability of a proposal. But mostly, I think, it will lead to recognition that some matters will be about holding a view in tension with other views. (I may need to explain that further in another post).
A couple of brief examples:
The creationist reading of Genesis 1 fits within the bounds of Scripture, Tradition, but raises questions about the fit with the bounds of Public Truth and Mission. To contradict the findings of science, for instance, with a reading of an ancient literary document is a pretty big call: it may well be implausible, but, worse, it may impede the preaching of the gospel because it has capacity to lead to perceptions that Christianity is a cuckoo-land philosophy.
The homosexualist reading of the Bible which deems there to be no godly reproof of loving consensual same-sex partnerships raises a number of questions from the perspective of 'bounds': it is not immediately obvious that it is a reading of Scripture consistent with Scripture, nor one that is coherent with Tradition. It could fit with the perspective of Mission (e.g. a useful way to read Scripture when one is seeking to witness to gay and lesbian people) but might also be an impediment to Mission (e.g. if sinful lifestyles can be reevaluated in this way, is there a need for a Saviour?). It is also obviously plausible as a contribution to Public Truth in some parts of the Western world, but also a contentious one, as witness ongoing debate in the United States and a series of decisions being made re 'gay marriage' with some close 50+/50- voting calls.
We could argue that neither of these two readings are universally regarded as breaching any of the bounds (thus we find them supported to one degree or another by Christians within churches). By contrast (say) the Islamic reading of Scripture which deems that Jesus did not actually die on the cross, and which denies that Jesus is the Son of God breaches the bounds of both Scripture and Tradition. With rare exceptions the Islamic reading of the New Testament is not upheld in the churches.
Another set of bounds to think about are those set by the description of the church as the 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic' church. What do you think?
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