Monday, October 31, 2016

On this reformation day ...

It's been 499 years since the famous day when Luther nailed his 95 theses in Wittenberg. On this day I wanted to remind us of some words of Luther form his 1526 work The German Mass and Order of Divine Service.

... But the third sort [of Divine Service], which the true type of Evangelical Order should embrace, must not be celebrated so publicly in the square amongst all and sundry. Those, however, who are desirous of being Christians in earnest, and are ready to profess the Gospel with hand and mouth, should register their names and assemble by themselves in some house to pray, to read, to baptize and to receive the sacrament and practice other Christian works. In this Order, those whose conduct was not such as befits Christians could be recognized, reproved, reformed, rejected, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ in Matt. xviii. Here, too, a general giving of alms could be imposed on Christians, to be willingly given and divided among the poor, after the example of St. Paul in 2 Cor. ix. Here there would not be need of much fine singing. Here we could have baptism and the sacrament in short and simple fashion: and direct everything towards the Word and prayer and love. Here we should have a good short Catechism about the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer. In one word, if we only had people who longed to be Christians in earnest, Form and Order would soon shape itself. But I cannot and would not order or arrange such a community or congregation at present. I have not the requisite persons for it, nor do I see many who are urgent for it. But should it come to pass that I must do it, and that such pressure is put upon me as that I find myself unable with a good conscience to leave it undone, then I will gladly do my part to secure it, and will help it on as best I can. ... (1)

Such a sad statement: "But I cannot and would not order or arrange such a community or congregation at present. I have not the requisite persons for it, nor do I see many who are urgent for it." ... and even more sad is the fact that, years later, when some came who were "urgent for it," Luther opted to persecute the Anabaptists instead of "help[ing] it on."


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Homosexuality: is it genetic ... or does it matter?

As one looks at the current culture and the politicization of social issue, one is struck by the fact that evidence is often lacking or contradicting. Recently, one of the american presidential front runners stated that he thought that "sexual preference is something that people are born with" (one could argue then that it is not a preference, but a predetermined fact ... but that is not the train of thought that I want to follow today: this post is not inherently about politics, vocabulary, or logic). Facebook, which is always oh so helpful, had several links under the above post. One to an article that claims that "Identical Twin Studies Prove Homosexuality is Not Genetic," and one which essentially claimed the opposite by purporting to present the strongest evidence yet that homosexuality is genetic.

As I was thinking about these two diametrically opposed views, I was reminded that we live in a fallen world and that at the end of the day, our genetic predispositions are no excuse for our actions. As sentient beings who have free will, we are not bound to our fleshly desires. We have a choice to indulge in them or resist them. As a follower of Christ, God often calls me no to act the way I am, but to be transformed. For example, as someone who is inherently lazy, I am called to work; others who love alcohol are called not the get drunk; adulterers are called to be faithful; complainers are called to rejoice; and so on and so forth.

Ultimately, it seems to me that our genome does not define us, our choices do, and I choose Christ. If He tells me that homosexuality is not His plan for humanity, then that is what I follow, no matter what my genetic predisposition is. I recently heard Wesley Hill (Professor at Trinity School for Ministry and author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality) speak of his experience as a same sex attracted man who understands that marriage (and inherently sexual relations, which God reserves for marriage) is only meant to be between a man and a woman. As a follower of Christ, he has therefore committed to a life of celibacy, realizing that God has called him to be different that what he is (whether genetically or preferentially, I don't think he ever said what he believed in his plenary session at ETS).

So, at the end of the day, I don't think it matters whether homosexuality if genetic or not, if our source of truth is Scripture, then homosexuality is outside of God's will and for the ones of us who strive to be in God's will, it is never an option, just as drunkenness, adultery, and so many other things are never an option. May we be found faithful to follow Him, not our fallen genome.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

An interesting thought ...

That the member of every Church or Congregation should know one another so that they may perform all the duties of love one towards another both to soul and body. Matthew 18:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 1 Corinthians 12:15. And especially the Elders should know the whole flock, of which the HILY GHOST has made them overseers. Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2, 3. And therefore a Church should not consists of such a multitude that they cannot have particular knowledge of one another.

- Thomas Helwys, A Declaration of Faith of English People Remaining in Amsterdam in Holland, 1611

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The “Love point” and similar punctuation marks

I came across these here and thought: hum, it would be interesting to adopt these new punctuation marks ... what do y'all think?

  • the “love point” (point d’amour: Point d'amour.svg
  • the “irony point“ or ”irony mark” (point d'ironie: ψ
  • the “certitude point” (point de conviction: Point de certitude.svg
  • the “authority point” (point d’autorité: Point d'autorité.svg
  • the “acclamation point” (point d’acclamation: Point d'acclamation.svg
  • the “doubt point” (point de doute: Point de doute.svg)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Privileges and Responsibilities.

"If it is part of the privilege and duty of each Christian to study scripture, and to read it devotionally, it is important that the wider church should be able to hear what individual readers are discovering in the text. Of course, not all private readings will come up with significant new insights; but many will. The church needs to facilitate, through small groups and other means, this bringing of particular viewpoints to the attention of the whole body, both so that the larger community may be enriched and so that maverick or clearly misleading readings can be gently and appropriately corrected."

from N. T. Wright, The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture, 1st ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 134.

Monday, May 20, 2013

GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How? - Concluding Remarks

Two questions were asked at the beginning of this series of posts. First: how can or should hermeneutics be done in community? Second, but conceptually needing to precede the first: what characterizes this community in which and by which hermeneutics is being done? Through our conversations with various historical groups, the following conclusions were drawn. A hermeneutical community is one that necessarily brings together Scripture, Spirit, and a discerning body. This community has come into existence by the proclamation of the Gospel, is sustained by the proclamation of the Gospel, and sustains the proclamation of the Gospel. It is inherently centered on Scripture and Scripture is at the genesis of said community. While this community is centered on a text, this fact does not preclude the possibility that illiteracy is present within the community. Tradition provides a good hermeneutical safeguard but is not a hermeneutical community in itself. The participants' sinfulness requires the working of the Holy Spirit, and requires a communal platform to make sure that the work of the Spirit is being interpreted correctly. All of this precludes a close knit believing community that practices repentance and forgiveness and that does not isolate itself from other communities. This community is composed of people possessing a diversity of knowledge, and it appropriately uses all the gifts with which it has been endowed. What has just been described, then, is a community that is created from the authorial intent of the author of Scripture and that has for its scope the correct understanding of the authorial intent of the author of Scripture.
In addition, four vignettes were presented of possible hermeneutical communities. Two of the vignettes were deemed not to match the three elements of Scripture, Spirit, and a discerning community as described above. The other two communities, the community holding the pastor accountable and the community with congregational participation, did match the criteria for a hermeneutical community and represent two families of possible applications for community hermeneutics.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Vignettes of Community Hermeneutics - Congregational Participation, but What of Divisions?; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

When discussing such a model, the topic of disagreement often is broached.[1] As Fowl claims, disagreement is to be expected, but charity needs to be the governing trait of the participants involved. The community "provides part of the context in which disagreement can best be articulated, debated and, at least provisionally, resolved, so that Christians can live and worship faithfully in the situations in which they find themselves."[2] Ultimately, unity is the work of the Spirit of God, and therefore should be entrusted to Him.

[1]See: Roth, "Community as Conversation," 45.
[2]Fowl, Engaging Scripture, 87. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Vignettes of Community Hermeneutics - Congregational Participation; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

This vignette could have multiple expressions. It is the one that is most fully participatory and which truly requires the threefold characteristic community described above. Murray claims that this type of communal hermeneutics would have distinguished Anabaptists from state churches, Spiritualists, and Catholics. "Given what Anabaptists believed about the nature of the church, the work of the Spirit, and the ability of all to interpret," it is not surprising that many among them seemed to assume the need for a communal process. This can be seen in The Swiss Order, which circulated with the Schleitheim confession and was also known as the Congregational Order. In it, Article 2 states that "when the brothers and sisters are together, they shall take up something to read together. The one to whom God has given the best understanding shall explain it, the others should be still and listen, so that there are not two or three carrying on a private conversation, bothering the others."[1] This also is attested in some tracts where the listener, "bound by Christian love," is compelled to share with the congregation "if something to edification is given or revealed to him." The contributions might "include reading texts of Scripture, expounding them, asking and answering questions, prophesying, and discussing what has been said."[2]
In this model of hermeneutical community, individualism is criticized since due to it "consensus is seldom sought; discussions are mere forums, and in most cases are not intended to lead to binding commitments; controversial issues are avoided."[3] In opposition to this, Burkholder introduces some structural lines describing the framework of what he refers to as a discerning community. First, congregationalism and the congregational meeting (which could take the form of open forums) should be the basic decision-making instrument. Second, discussion should "be considered just as 'spiritual' as preaching and no less central to the congregation's life." Dialogue should "be conceived as an avenue through which the Holy Spirit speaks." Third, "the congregation would live 'under' the Bible, while employing critical methods of interpretation." Ultimately, these discerning communities would need to seek to 'listen' to the Spirit.[4]

[1]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 161. This practice was often referred to as lex sedentium, the Latin for the "law of sitting." The practice was historically connected to the school of prophets instituted by Zwingli, and biblically connected to 1 Cor 14. See: Yarnell, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, 101.
[2]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 161. Also see Ens, "The Hermeneutical Community," 76-86.
[3]J. Lawrence Burkholder, "The Peace Churches as Communities of Discernment," Christian Century 80, no. 36 (1963): 1072. Dumais and Richard, in M. Dumais and J. Richard, Église et Communauté (Anjou, QC: Fides, 2007), 95-96, connect an individualistic relationship with God, due to Calvinism in France, with a loss of communal identity and the exiling of one's religious identity to individual consciences. One can see then why individualism (which is a plight in Western culture) is antithetical to communal hermeneutics. It is not possible to have an individualistic outlook on life and want to participate in a hermeneutical community. Ultimately, the former will inhibit true community formation, rendering the latter impossible.
[4]Burkholder, "The Peace Churches as Communities of Discernment," 73, 75.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Vignettes of Community Hermeneutics - The Community Holding the Preacher Accountable; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

Probably the next simplest type of community hermeneutics is the one where the community serves as an accountability tool for the official teacher. Holder refers to this as a "community of discourse,"[1] and tries to identify it in the hermeneutics of Calvin. Similarly, this mode of community hermeneutics was practiced among some strands of Anabaptism,[2] and is suggested as a viable contemporary model by Westphal.[3]
While John Calvin often is seen as placing the "whole interpretive authority in the hands of the preacher," and as not always accepting criticism and correction there is evidence, according to Holder, in Calvin's writings (including the Institutes) and in the life of the Genevan community to indicate that Calvin saw the church as a discerning community. This communal aspect of interpretation manifested itself in two ways. First, by insisting on a scripturally literate congregation, Calvin "implicitly acknowledges that the understanding of the Scripture by the laity allows, or forces, scriptural sermons to be preached." Therefore, the congregation serves at a minimum as an accountability partner, holding the teacher responsible for correct teaching and therefore for a correct exegesis of the text. This implies the second, closely akin point: the community sits in a place of judgment, judging the exegesis of the text. Calvin warns against "easy credulity, which does not test teachings by what is known of the Word of God," and "specifically warns the congregation against a too-passive reception of the words of the preacher and bids them to test the words of men by the Word of God."[4]
Westphal, after arguing that hermeneutics "cannot be the exclusive task of an ecclesiastical elite, namely, theologians and pastors," points to the claims of the reformation to argue for the involvement of the entire congregation. "If we take seriously the Reformation theme of the priesthood of all believers, we will have to acknowledge that hermeneutical conversation is the privilege and responsibility of the laity as well." By postulating that "to read is to interpret," Westphal asserts that there are therefore three levels of interpretation in which the laity partakes: individual, family, and congregation. It is at this point that Westphal postulates that one aspect of the congregational interpretation is keeping the pastor in check because of his knowledge that others have looked at and thought about the text that he is teaching.[5] Unlike the preceding vignette, this community does fit all three aspects of the threefold description presented above: Scripture, Spirit, and a believing community.

[1]Holder, in Holder, "Church as Discerning Community in Calvin," 277n22, notes that the terminology "community of discourse" is a concept he drew from modern hermeneutics, especially the writings of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur. He also is indebted to Stock for his notion of a "textual community." In the article, Holder defines this "community of discourse" is several ways. At first, he defines it as the "the communal context in which particular textual readings come to have meaning" (277). He then defines it as the "community without which the interpretive project makes no sense–being shorn both of the community to whom the message is addressed and the community of joined interpreters" (277-78). In his conclusion he more specifically defines it as a community which "is consciously and existentially formed by the desire to live by the dictates of the interpretation of this central text, God's Word" (288).
[2]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 17.
[3]Westphal, Whose Community? Which Interpretation?, 146.
[4]Holder, "Church as Discerning Community in Calvin," 275, 277-79, 281. Holder does hedge his argument by warning his reader not to read too much into the texts that he presented and claiming that "Calvin may well have been offering up the task of arbitration to the congregation. He may instead have been attempting to teach it enough so that it would give an educated 'Amen' to his exposition" (287).
[5]Westphal, Whose Community? Which Interpretation?, 143, 146. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Vignettes of Community Hermeneutics - Tradition; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

Like the previous vignette, tradition lacks the third characteristic of a hermeneutical community: a close knit believing community. In addition one has to ask questions about interaction. While Westphal, based on Gadamerian theories on conversation, would argue that static texts can be a conversational partner (and admitting that similar terminology has been used metaphorically in the introduction of this series of posts), it is hard to imagine a conversation with a static document. Conversation has to be dialectic. Therefore, tradition, while a good hermeneutical safeguard, does not in itself constitute a hermeneutical community.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Vignettes of Community Hermeneutics - Openness to Correction; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

Some have seen the Anabaptists' openness to correction as the simplest way in which congregational hermeneutics was practiced,[1] for in doing so they opened themselves up to a conversational partner. This community fits two of the threefold descriptions presented above: Scripture and Spirit. Yet, "openness to correction" as a hermeneutical community is not a very good fit when it comes to the community of believers criteria, for it often lacked the tight interconnection and relationships postulated as essential by Fowl.

[1]See the discussion in Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 166-69. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Vignettes of Community Hermeneutics - An Introduction; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

Throughout the last two millennia there have been different embodiments of the concept of the church. Since the concept of the church is integral to our understanding of what a hermeneutical community should look like, it come as no surprise that since the time of Christ there have been different kinds of communal hermeneutics. These might have "family resemblances," but ultimately will still look different.[1] The following vignettes are an attempt at systematizing some of these families of hermeneutical communities as identified in the literature. The list is not exhaustive or prescriptive, just descriptive.

[1]Michael G. Cartwright, "The Practice and Performance of Scripture: Grounding Christian Ethics in a Communal Hermeneutic," Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics  (1988): 49-50. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Characteristics of a Hermeneutical Community - A Believing Community, but a Community Beyond the Local Church?; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

If this community is defined in terms of an independent hermeneutical body of believers, another question poses itself. Is there not a danger in creating such a hermeneutical community that potentially isolates itself from the rest of the world? Fowl understands that there is always the potential that there might be something wrong with how a hermeneutical community interprets Scripture. Consequently, he suggests that the community should be "willing to subject their interpretive practices to scrutiny and criticism." This scrutiny obviously can come from within, but can also come from members of different Christian communities, or even those outside any Christian community.[1] Ens points out that Hubmaier did envision the possibility of the local church erring in its conclusions and therefore was open to the scrutiny of a wider council.[2] Yarnell highlights the fact that the Anabaptists' belief that "the Spirit spoke to the entire community as it read the Scripture together encouraged the Anabaptists to seek conversation with other Christians." This resulted in their willingness to participate in debates even when it resulted in their persecution and execution.[3] In Anabaptist writings, one often can find open pleas for their enemies to correct them if they are wrong, as long as their enemies only used Scripture to do so. So one can say that this community, while independent from other groups, should be open to the scrutiny of other Christians.[4]

[1]Fowl, Engaging Scripture, 82.
[2]Ens, "The Hermeneutical Community," 81-83.                                                                                                    
[3]Yarnell, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, 100.
[4]We see here the traditional pattern of associations seen throughout Baptist history. Churches who are independent, but who associate for the sake of missions, help, and to demonstrate unity amongst Christians.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Characteristics of a Hermeneutical Community - A Believing Community, but a Community of Scholars?; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

Given the last paragraph, one can ask legitimately: what is the role of scholars, if any, in this type of community? While Murray claims that Anabaptists "searched the Bible for themselves and participated in the congregational process of discerning its meaning and application," he also claims that this did not underplay the role of their leaders, especially educated ones. Instead, this created a special dynamic in the hermeneutical process. The leaders' sermons and writings provided "foundational teachings," but "they did not give authoritative answers to every doctrinal question or final interpretation of every biblical text." In addition, the leaders also provided guidelines that "prevented Anabaptists from lapsing into naive subjectivism." On the other hand, since non-leaders were very involved in "exploring and interpreting Scripture," Murray sees their contribution, "which was encouraged and expected," as providing a way to help "prevent leaders from uncritically adopting traditional or Reformed hermeneutics." According to Murray, it was the leader who set the tone as to whether the congregation would operate as a hermeneutical community or not. The ones who did allow it saw themselves as guides, rather than dominating figures, and acted as facilitators, rather than sole participants. Therefore, "their task was to ensure that Scripture was being read and that, through the contributions of all members, it was being understood and applied." This did not prohibit them from still exerting much influence on the congregation by providing "basic teaching and guidance in selecting and interpreting biblical texts." Even if many Anabaptists underplayed the need for education, Murray believes that in practice, the contribution of educated and respected leaders would carry greater weight, "for in congregational hermeneutics, there is no requirement that every contribution carry the same weight, but every contribution must be weighed."[1]
Even the topic of leaders, though, has the potential of being at the genesis of a hermeneutical community. Although among Anabaptists "communal emphasis was well-established in the very early years while the movement still had some scholars and theologians at its head," Murray postulates that there might also have been some pragmatic reasons for the development and continuation of communal hermeneutics. Murray sees the eventual lack of theologians and leaders, due to persecution, as requiring the congregation to "develop ways of operating that could survive the removal of their leaders."[2] He supports this theory among the Hutterites by quoting Oyer's and Miller's conclusions:
It is possible that for the Anabaptists sharing preaching or instruction . . . was a necessity, since many of the educated leaders were killed off. . . . Maybe they made a virtue out of necessity - since there were few strong, literate leaders, everyone needed to help out. . . . This became known as zeugnis, 'witness,' and such commentary was open to anyone, even those who had quite contrary words to speak.[3]

[1]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 16-17, 163-65.
[2]Ibid., 173, 171.
[3]Ibid., 171. Murray also points to other possible reasons that led to the development of communal hermeneutics. According to him, anticlericalism could have been a reason for communal hermeneutics, since in this hermeneutical model the congregation assumed for itself the key clerical responsibility, that of interpreting Scripture. Murray also suggests that the lack of formal meeting places with typical "church architecture" could also have been a probable facilitator of multiple participation. (171-72)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Characteristics of a Hermeneutical Community - A Believing Community; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

This emphasis on the interaction between the community and the Spirit of God points to a community of regenerate believers, indwelled by the Spirit of God, who are disciples of their Lord Jesus Christ.[1] For the Anabaptists, "obedience as a prerequisite for understanding Scripture meant that only a community of would-be disciples could expect illumination." A community of disciples creates a community of obedience and faithfulness, which is essential, as the Anabaptists knew, for "unfaithfulness could make a congregation unable to function properly as a hermeneutical community."[2] This line of thought parallels Fowl's emphasis on a community that recognizes that it is populated by sinners. Fowl argues that this problem of sin can only be solved by creating vigilant communities where individuals are aware of their sinfulness and the sinfulness of others, and where all are single-mindedly focused on Jesus. This requires a community that is actively practicing forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation, and where the goal is for all to grow in virtue, particularly when it comes to interpreting Scripture.[3] Ultimately, "recognizing oneself as a sinner is necessary but it must lead to growth in virtue, particularly growth in virtue as an interpreter of scripture." This growth should produce individuals who have what he calls a Christological density. In a community, this characteristic allows others to be able to judge the interpreter's interpretation. "Unless Christians can offer this sort of christological density to their judgment about the character of any particular interpreter, they will have good reason to be suspicious of that interpreter's counter-conventional interpretation." [4]
This community has to be tight knit so as to be able to judge each other's interpretation and the to judge the work of the Spirit in each other. As a believing community that is wanting to practice communal hermeneutics, this community also has to recognize and value the diversity of gifts that God has given to it.[5] It has to realize that the work of the ministry of the church is the work of the entire body, not of a select few.[6] Like its Anabaptist predecessors, it should believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to the entire community as it reads Scripture together and should believe in the participation of multiple members in its gatherings.[7]

[1]This can be seen as the ideal of many free churches, and some have identified it as the distinctive mark of Baptist churches. See for example: John S. Hammett, "Regenerate Church Membership," in Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, ed. Thomas White, Jason G. Duesing, and Malcom B. Yarnell (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008). Yet, the free church does not have the corner on this type of community. In many ways, this is the community that is described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as he describes the communal experiment that he experienced with his seminarians at the seminary and at his home in Finkenwalde. Since such a community is a spiritual community, Bonhoeffer argues that its basis must be "the clear, manifest Word of God in Jesus Christ" and truth. Its essence must be light. It must be a community of called ones who will embody the love of Christ in lives of service. This service is simple and humble and characterized by love: "unsophisticated, nonpsychological, unmethodological, helping love." This community is characterized by order and humble submission to one another. It will be ruled by the Word of God alone, which is binding. In it, all "power, honor, and rule" are surrendered to the Holy Spirit, allowing the Spirit to rule the community. In line with the Pauline emphasis in 1 Corinthians 12, this community recognizes the importance of all its members and therefore does not exclude the "weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people," for their exclusion may well be the exclusion of Christ. See: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, ed. Geffrey B. Kelly, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, and Albrecht Schönherr, trans., Daniel W. Bloesch and James H. Burtness, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 39-40, 45.
[2]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 213, 214.
[3]Fowl, Engaging Scripture, 78. In other words, what is envisioned here is a community that practices the "one anothers" of Scripture. For a complete list see: Maël Disseau, Those "one another"s [on-line]; accessed 22 April 2011; available at; Internet.
[4]Ibid., 83, 159.  Cf. Thiselton's similar thoughts about doctrine presented above.
[5]See: Maël Disseau, Hierarchy in the Body of Christ - another small excursus [on-line]; accessed 22 April 2011; available at; Internet.
[6]See: Maël Disseau, The NT Concept of Ministry - a small excursus [on-line]; accessed 22 April 2011; available at; Internet.
[7]Yarnell, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, 101-02. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Characteristics of a Hermeneutical Community - A Spirit Led Community; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

Fowl, who is acutely aware of the effects of sin on the interpreter of Scripture, postulates that "the Spirit's intervention and interpretive work is crucial if the followers of Jesus are faithfully to carry on the mission Jesus gave them."[1] Treier, basing himself on the work of Fowl and Jones, argues for the reading of Scripture to be a pneumatological practice.[2] Yet, this needs to be done heeding Fowl's warning that the work of the Spirit "does not imply that one can ignore scripture." Using Acts 10-15 as his scriptural support, Fowl argues that Christians are to read scripture with the Spirit, but that to do this, they must be able to discern the work of the Spirit in themselves and in others. This necessity for discerning the work of the Spirit in themselves and in others logically results in a tight community.[3] Such tight communities were common among the Anabaptists whose reliance on the Spirit made them open to correction and communal discernment: "they would listen to one another to discern what the Spirit was saying."[4] To summarize, due to our sinfulness we need the Spirit of God to be able to do hermeneutics. This, in turn, requires us to be capable of discerning the work of the Spirit in our lives and in the lives of believers around us, therefore postulating the need for a tight hermeneutical community.
Here again, though, one is confronted with a multidimensional interaction. Human sinfulness requires the role of the Spirit in communal hermeneutics, but at the same time renders the discernment of what the Spirit is doing suspicious. The Anabaptists recognized the importance of the Holy Spirit in the interpretation of Scripture, yet they also "realized the danger of antinomianism inherent in simply allowing everyone to interpret a passage in accordance with some internal impulse ascribed to the Holy Spirit. Hence, the need arose for some kind of 'testing the spirits'," and "the congregation became the locus for that kind of testing."[5] Murray emphasizes the importance of the Anabaptist understanding of the Spirit's work in the gathered church. "Although the Spirit illuminated individuals as they read Scripture, such an emphasis would require that until the individual's understanding was tested in the congregation it was to be treated cautiously. The Spirit's work involved both revelation and unity." The Anabaptist emphasis on the role of the Spirit therefore "meant that only a congregation where there was freedom for the Spirit to guide individuals and unite the community around the Word could operate properly as a hermeneutical community."[6]

[1]Fowl, Engaging Scripture, 98.
[2]Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture, 87.
[3]Fowl, Engaging Scripture, 113, 115. Fowl claims that "to be able to read the Spirit well, Christians must not only become and learn from people of the Spirit, we must also become practiced at testifying about what the Spirit is doing in the lives of others. . . . The only way to counter the privatizing tendencies of contemporary church life, which make it unlikely or impossible that Christians would be in a position to testify about the work of the Spirit in the lives of their sisters and brothers, is to enter into friendship with them" (116-17), and therefore in community with them.
[4]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 145.
[5]Ens, "The Hermeneutical Community," 75-76.
[6]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 146, 213. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Characteristics of a Hermeneutical Community - A Bibliocentric community, but a Community Linked with Tradition?; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

It has been argued thus far that this community is Bibliocentric, but what about the role of tradition or doctrine. What role do they play in a hermeneutical community?
While focusing on the local community, Holder also identifies in Calvin an appeal to a larger "transhistorical community, through the appeal to earlier authorities."[1] Conversely, "Anabaptists who accepted that the church has a role in biblical interpretation located this role in the present rather than the past, in the local congregation rather than a monolithic structure." In general, Anabaptists discouraged the "exploration of earlier writings." Murray claims that this was due to the Anabaptists' radical view of the fall of the church. While this "released Anabaptists from dependence on past authorities to make fresh discoveries," Murray laments that it "impoverished their interpretation and deprived them of much scholarly and spiritual counsel." Ultimately, he sees this as an important warning that it is "unnecessary so completely to jettison the contribution of earlier generations."[2] 
Treier, dealing with the interaction of theological interpretation and doctrine, suggests that imitation allows us to learn virtuous judgment, and consequently echoes what he sees as Fowl's warning that "contemporary Christians need to pay attention to ancient Christian interpreters."[3] Thiselton, also dealing with doctrine, emphasizes that doctrine does not inhibit innovative thought. On the contrary, according to him, "only within a tradition of firm communal identity-markers can constructive 'going on independently' be distinguished from maverick idiosyncrasy and self-indulgence." Therefore, doctrine is not "unimportant, repressive, or merely theoretical,"[4] rather it is a good safeguard and consequently a good hermeneutical tool for the hermeneutical community.

[1]Holder, "Church as Discerning Community in Calvin," 285n37.
[2] Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 158, 180-81. Murray is not the only one to lament the Anabaptists' jettison of tradition. The majority of the authors that discuss this issue do likewise.
[3]Daniel J. Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 89.
[4]Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, 97. According to Thiselton, the system (doctrine) furnishes coherence and boundary and identity markers. He postulates that this is what is seen in the second and third century when "the communal identity of the apostolic church, founded upon biblical writings, could be publicly discerned through what Irenaeus and Tertullian called 'the rule of faith.'" While life experiences were different between each believer scattered throughout the ancient world (life-world), "the interaction between life-world and system guaranteed a continuity of recognizable corporate identity as this trans-local church." (140)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Characteristics of a Hermeneutical Community - A Bibliocentric Community, but What About Illiteracy?; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

It is important to note that identifying Scripture and scriptural knowledge as essential to a hermeneutical community broaches the topic of literacy and its role in the process.[1] Stock notes that "the question of oral versus written tradition need not be framed in inflexible terms. What was essential for a textual community, whether large or small, was simply a text, an interpreter, and a public. The text did not have to be written; oral record, memory, and reperformance sufficed."[2] While, as mentioned above, Calvin strove for a biblically educated commonwealth, Holder does admit that Calvin's assumption was that at least some members of the congregation were reading the Scriptures.[3] It is also appropriate to mention again that even illiterate Anabaptists had intricate knowledge of Scripture. The Book of Martyrs presents many disputations between Anabaptists and their persecutors where even illiterate Anabaptists are described as being able to argue their Biblical hope in front of and to the amazement of their judges. Illiteracy was not then and is not now a barrier to a community's having as its focus the text of Scripture and interpreting it communally. On the contrary, it would seem that the Anabaptists' communal focus was an impetus for the memorization of large portions of Scripture by those who were illiterate,[4] ultimately helping to make Scripture central to the community.
And what of tradition then? We'll talk about it next time.

[1]Roth, for example, in Roth, "Community as Conversation," 43, discussed the oral and visual nature of early modern Europe, in contrast to the print nature of our age. He notes that "many Anabaptists first encountered Scripture through the spoken word -- sermons, disputations, discussions -- rather than in the written word, and in a communal context of conversation and debate rather than as individuals engaged in silent reading and study." Consequently, he questions how this predominantly oral setting could have shaped the understanding of Scripture.
[2]Stock, Listening for the Text, 37. Here, Stock presents Pierre Valdo, the father of the Waldensian movement, as an example of an interpres (the one who was the contact between the illiterate culture and the literate culture), for he "memorized and communicated the gospel by word of mouth." Later in his book, Stock goes on to make a parallel argument when he argues that the Jewish and Christian attitude toward the text "is true for Scriptures that are actually read as well as for those that are memorized and recited, such as the oral gospel and the oral Torah. This recall is a type of reading" (149-50).
[3]In his commentary on 2 Tim 2:15, Calvin writes: "Has not every person an opportunity of reading the Bible?" (John Calvin Commentaries on The Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon 2 Tim 2:15). Holder, in Holder, "Church as Discerning Community in Calvin," 274, identifies four other evidences of this assumption in Calvin's writings.
[4]Ens, "The Hermeneutical Community," 76n26. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Characteristics of a Hermeneutical Community - A Bibliocentric Community; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

Central to any hermeneutical endeavor is the fact that there must be something to interpret. Yet, a Christian hermeneutical community is not necessarily like any other community: it is a community that has come into existence due to the proclamation of Jesus Christ, is sustained by the proclamation of Jesus Christ, and sustains the proclamation of Jesus Christ. Therefore, to use Westphal's terminology,[1] this community's "classic text" has to be the revelation of Jesus Christ: the Bible. As Stock argues, "the 'text' is what a community takes it to be. . . . For, like meaning in language, the element a society fixes upon is a conventional arrangement among the members."[2] Yet, for a Christian hermeneutical community, the text of Scripture is not only the agreed upon text, but more importantly, it is the necessary nucleus of such a community.[3]
This cohesion around a text creates what Stock refers to as a textual community:
Through the text, or, more accurately, through the interpretation of it, individuals who previously had little else in common were united around common goals. Similar social origins comprised a sufficient, but not necessary condition of participation. The essential bond was forged by means of belief; its cement was faith in the reality of belonging. And these in turn were by-products of a general agreement on the meaning of a text.[4]
Consequently, this textual community is by default an interpretive community as well as a social entity. This leads Stock to claim that the Christian community's faith might be in the Word of God, but "proof is in the text" that they are interpreting, therefore again emphasizing the centrality of the text.[5]
This centrality of the text of Scripture to the Christian community is clearly seen in the reformation. In the proclamation of sola scriptura, the reformers identified Scripture as fundamental to their movement. They were "committed to the careful study of scripture, . . . and utterly convinced of the Scripture's authority and relevance in all matters of faith and daily life."[6] Accordingly, one of the characteristics of the participating church in Geneva was Calvin's expectation of a biblically literate commonwealth.[7] Likewise, among the Anabaptists, Scripture was central to their life and their identity as seen by "the intricate knowledge of Scripture that even illiterate Anabaptists expressed."[8]
Scripture is not only at the core of the hermeneutical community, but it is also at the genesis of this community, in both a theological and a pragmatic dimension. Space does not allow a full discussion of the theological dimension. Suffice it to say that in the New Testament there are descriptions of local communities formed around the Word of God. Acts 2 is a good example of such a community, for the believers are portrayed as devoting themselves to the apostles' teachings and fellowship: the scriptural and the communal dimension. In Hebrews 10, believers are instructed to gather for the purpose of encouragement, but only after they are instructed to hold fast to the confession of their hope: the communal and the scriptural dimension, yet again. As for the pragmatic dimension, Ens believes that the importance of Scripture's "interpretation and application to the life of a Christian" was actually a motivating factor that made Anabaptists search "for a process of interpretation that would ensure correct understanding and proper application."[9] In many such communities, this process was that of communal hermeneutics. "The hermeneutical community was both the locus and focus of their interpretation of Scripture and their implementation of it." This dynamic between community and Scripture was in no way "the church sitting in authority over Scripture but the church as the Spirit's chosen location for interpreting Scripture." Their focus was often ecclesio-centric and ultimately, the "congregation both shaped and was shaped by how Scripture was interpreted in order to produce something true to their understanding of biblical ecclesiology."[10] This highlights the multi-directional interaction between community and Scripture.

[1]Merold Westphal, Whose Community? Which Interpretation?: Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church, ed. James K. A. Smith, The Church and Postmodern Culture. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 118. Westphal tries to apply Gadamerian theories on conversation and classic texts to the Bible. Westphal does admit that the Bible being the word of God makes it much more than just a classic text, but he insists that "it is not less than the church's classic text" (147). While discussing classic texts, he concludes that "classic texts found communities, are sustained by communities, and in turn sustain communities. But this means that their interpretation is also a communal affair, a dialectic and not a monological process. It takes place among individuals within a community and among communities. If the Bible is the 'classic text' of the Christian church, that church, in turn, is the community of the Bible's interpretation. It belongs to the church's identity that it is the conversation in which its members and its communities seek to understand the Bible and its subject matter: God and our relation to God." For Westphal, therefore, the relation between Scripture and community is multi-directional.
[2]Brian Stock, Listening for the Text: On the Uses of the Past (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), 146. 
[3]Stock portrays post antiquities textual communalities as not centering on the Torah and the New Testament, but as centering on other texts like the Mishnah and the Rule of St. Benedict, for example. This is because, according to him, "it is the rules, not the Scriptures, that transcend preexisting economic or social bonds, since it is the rules that are both the basis and the result of common interpretive efforts." (Ibid., 150-51.) Since Stock's focus is on medieval society where monasteries were the important textual communities, one can see his identification of documents like the Rule of St. Benedict as the focal texts of those communities. Yet, if it is the Scriptures that are both the basis and the result of common interpretive efforts, as is the case in the communities under discussion in this paper, then it would seem that Stock would agree with the claim that the text of Scripture is the focal text of a Christian textual community.
[4]Ibid., 37. Similarly, Hamilton, in Neill Quinn Hamilton, "Hermeneutics and Community," Drew Gateway 44, no. 1 (1973): 4, claims that "community must arise from conviction rather than arrangements of convenience and expediency." Yet, Hamilton also notes that "Christian conviction has as much power to prevent, as to create community." Cf. Roth, in John D. Roth, "Community as Conversation: A New Model of Anabaptist Hermeneutics," in Essays in Anabaptist Theology, ed. H. Wayne Pipkin (Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1994), 43-44, uses the work of David Sabean on rural communities in early modern Germany to similarly argue that Anabaptist hermeneutical communities "were not united by a specific set of shared values, the familial bonds of love, or even a clear sense of corporate purpose." Yet, instead of providing a text as the cohesive element, he posits that it was the conversations or arguments that each community was engaged in that produced their essential bond. Ultimately, Roth concludes that while Anabaptist hermeneutics were not "merely a reflection of material forces or pragmatic considerations," he thinks that it is "clear that Anabaptist theology did not emerge directly from Scripture." In this he seems to be alone, for while others agree that other factors molded Anabaptist theology, none deny the role of Scripture as he does.
[5]Stock, Listening for the Text, 149, 150.
[6]Roth, "Community as Conversation," 36.
[7]Holder, "Church as Discerning Community in Calvin," 274. Below it will be argued, based on Holder's research, that even in Calvin one can find an element of hermeneutics in community.
[8]Yarnell, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, 102.
[9]Ens, "The Hermeneutical Community," 73.
[10]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 181, 176-77. 

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