Monday, June 1, 2009

Some possible aims of a hermeneutics project

One aim of a hermeneutics project can be 'to respond to a question': all kinds of questions about what the Bible teaches arise, some in a kind of innocent manner ("I was reading the Bible this morning and I didn't understand ..."), others less so because they have a clear agenda driving them ("You evangelicals happily remarry divorced persons, how come you will not accept same sex partnerships?").

Another aim can be 'to develop a policy on a matter': a while back a question arose in our Diocese about gambling, its proceeds and whether churches are ethically responsible if they apply for a share in those proceeds (a useful sum of money is often available for community groups from the profits of pokie machines and the like in NZ). What general policy might our Diocese agree to on this matter? ... Incidentally, though we did not get far with the question, we got far enough to realise that it is by no means a straightforward matter to determine the answer to the question!

Yet another aim can be 'to provide background to an ethical decision': though I know very little about the subject of bioethics I know enough to know that the Bible says hardly anything directly to the questions bioethicists raise. Nevertheless a significant background for how such questions might be answered can be provided through hermeneutics.

A fourth possibility is that a hermeneutics project simply aims to uncover all that the Bible says on a matter. I happened to be reading Ezekiel 18 today. One cannot go past this chapter if one seeks to know what God says in the Bible about individual responsibility.

Incidentally, Ezekiel 18 should be standard reading for all who engage in hermeneutics. It offers a fascinating example of God himself reinterpreting Scripture.

Yet there is something else to consider, especially on the sensitive matter of 'human dignity': should there be no hermeneutical projects? Are some matters of human life made more fraught with difficulty if we try to abstractly deal with them via discussion and debate over the printed text of Scripture? Is it more important to respond pastorally rather than theologically to some matters? Could we do more harm than good by seeking a new hermeneutical approach to issue X or Y? (E.g. because we might encourage people, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, to question whether God has actually said what God has said? Or, because every person's life situation is different and an ad hoc pastoral response is more appropriate than trying to develop a new general ethic to apply to issue X or Y?)

What do you think?

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