Sunday, July 26, 2009

The contribution of experience to hermeneutics

The Diocese of Niagara (Canada) has announced a new 'sacrament of blessing' which may be used for the occasion of civil marriage/partnerships. On their website one can find this material in support of a theological background to this new sacrament.

Reading it I am struck by the explicit and unembarrassed exaltation of the role of experience to trump the united witness of Scripture, tradition, and reason.

Indeed a paragraph in the introduction to this document nicely captures the flavour of the document as a whole (my italics):

"The first essay, A Theological Justification of Blessing Same Gender Relationships, by Brian Ruttan, argues directly for blessing of committed same gender relationships by integrating common Canadian social experience into the theological foundations provided by scripture, reason and tradition."

About 1001 questions run through my mind when I read this kind of thing! But the question which jumps out at me is this: who decides that 'common Canadian social experience' is worthy of integration into theological foundations along with scripture, reason and tradition?

But, generally, the question I am highlighting here on Hermeneutics and Human Dignity is this: what role does experience play in hermeneutics?


  1. Back to hermeneutics - Good!
    "What role does experience play in hermeneutics?"
    Short answer = a crucial and inescapable role. This is the whole point of all the hermeneutic theory dealing with the role of the reader/interpreter in the process of interpretation. We cant avoid bringing our own experience with us into every encounter with scripture and tradition and even with our claims to rationality. We can attempt to own and neutralize our biases, but never entirely transcend them. We are who and what we are by the grace of God who has shaped our lives, and the experience we bring to scripture illuminates, even as it is illuminated by, the text. Well, that's the theory.
    So maybe this is all those Canadians were claiming in their corporate reading of the sacred authorities, rather than "trumping" what you believe to be their united witness. Conversely, perhaps their citation of a "common Canadian social experience" explains why that united witness is not so apparent to them as it seems to you.

  2. Hi Howard
    The mischievous thought strikes me, in our three tikanga church, could there ever be a 'common experience' which could be woven into our theology?!:)

    The difficulty, of course, with Canadian Anglicans talking about 'common Canadian social experience' and it's integration into theology is that Canadian Anglicans are not united (in this instance) on the revision of theology by means of the integration of this experience. By what authority is this integration made? It certainly is not the authority of the united Anglicans of Canada. Nor, in the instance of the Diocese of Niagara acting in this way, is it by the authority of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada!