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. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

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

Ens, looking at the Anabaptists' view of a hermeneutical community, posits that their understanding of the Bible resulted in its practical application in life. For most Anabaptists, right living had to be "a prerequisite to or concomitant to right knowing," and therefore became "one of the qualifications for proper interpretations." This interpretation-application necessitated a community and "brought together scripture (sole authority), Spirit (essential interpreter-teacher), and church (discerning body)."[1] Here, the Anabaptists furnish us an embodiment of a community seeking to identify the will of the author of Scripture for the purpose of implementing it. In doing so, they elegantly provide a universal paradigm for understanding the ethos of a Christian hermeneutical community. At least two parts of this paradigm, the centrality of Scripture combined with the necessity of the work of the Spirit, seem to recur in most other discussions about Christian hermeneutical communities, confirming its universality. While the elegance of this model is in its simplicity, its outworking is not necessarily simple. As will be seen in the following posts, the interaction between Scripture, Spirit, and community is not one-dimensional and unidirectional, but multi-dimensional and multi-directional.

[1]Ens, "The Hermeneutical Community," 82-85. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Decorating a lemon tartelette

The other day Cindy and I were looking for ideas of how to decorate a lemon tartelette. We looked around for a while, but never did find any ideas we liked, so I figured I'd suggest this one. Blueberries, a mint leaf, and some lemons rind. Enjoy!

GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How? - An Introduction

It's 11:30 am on a Sunday morning in Wake Forest, NC. The members of Messiah Baptist Church are gathered to discuss what God has been teaching them about a specific passage of Scripture that week. Further South in Toccoa, GA, the next day at 1:30 pm a preacher is sitting down in his study, cognizant of the preaching engagement that he has scheduled for that coming Sunday. In front of him he has his Bible, his favorite three commentaries, two systematic theologies, and his Greek lexicon and grammar. Across the ocean in Vatican City at 9:00 am on Wednesday, the Magisterium is gathering around the Pope to discuss matters of doctrine. The next day at 2:30 pm in Fort Worth, TX, a small group of PhD students are gathered in a classroom discussing how best to understand the authorial intent of Scripture. What do all of these meetings have in common? Each, in its own way, might be considered to be the meeting of a hermeneutical community.
The practice of community hermeneutics in Christian circles has been traced back by some to early events like the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.[1] This practice has also been identified in the teachings of 1 Corinthians 14[2] and several other passages in Scriptures. Historically, it was implemented in various forms by groups throughout the last two millennia and is probably most recognized among the Anabaptists. Currently, it is part of the ethos of the postmodern world and the growing house church movement. As Thiselton claims: "all the major traditions of the Christian church formally define doctrine in communal terms, although the emphasis and nature of the community in question varies."[3] For example, in the Catholic tradition, the hermeneutical community is embodied in the bishops that constitute the Magisterium, while in some Anabaptist traditions, the hermeneutical community is embodied by all the believers in the local congregation.
In light of the fact that communal hermeneutics is not necessarily the standard practice in most communities, one may ask: why has Christian community hermeneutics been seen as useful or even necessary by various groups over the last two millennia? As mentioned above, some have followed what they saw as passages describing or even prescribing a participatory hermeneutical experience. Others, instead, have pointed to more conceptual reasons. Fowl notes, for example, that "Christian convictions about sin should play a role in their scriptural interpretation, enjoining them to maintain a certain sort of vigilance over their interpretation."[4] People's awareness of human sinfulness should lead them to seek for wisdom, and as Proverbs 24:6 states: in a multitude of counselors there is safety.[5] In addition, others have identified concepts such as the priesthood of believers (1 Pet 2:9, Rev 1:6), the promise of the law written on every heart (Jer 31:33-34), and the church's possession of the "keys" (Matt 16, Matt 18)[6] as other reasons for a communal approach. No matter what the motivation, though, several questions arise at the mention of the topic of communal hermeneutics. 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?
The journey that was taken to answer these questions resulted in multiple conversations with a variety of sources, from the reformation and radical reformation to modern scholars in hermeneutics. For the sake of limiting the scope of this paper, the primary focus of these conversations took place in the Free Church context. Therefore, while there was some interaction with ecumenical thought and with the general discussion on community going on in postmodern circles, these two aspects will play only a peripheral role in this paper.
Through all these conversations, several patterns seem to emerge in the understanding of what characterizes a Christian hermeneutical community as well as several models of how to practice hermeneutics in community. What follows is an attempt to systematize the patterns found in these various conversations, which ultimately lead to the following conclusions. First, a hermeneutical community is one that necessarily brings together Scripture, Spirit, and a discerning body. The interactions between these three components are multi-dimensional and multi-directional. It 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. Second, there are multiple families of possible applications for community hermeneutics and they can be evaluated by the presence or lack of an authentic hermeneutical community.

[1]See for example: Adolf Ens, "Theology of the Hermeneutical Community in Anabaptist-Mennonite Thought," in The Church as Theological Community: Essays in Honour of David Schroeder, ed. Harry John Huebner (Winnipeg, MB: CMBC Publications, 1990), 86. Cf. Wiarda, in Timothy Wiarda, "The Jerusalem Council and the Theological Task," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46, no. 2 (2003): 236-39, who argues that Acts 15 is not an effective "model for Spirit-led community interpretation of Scripture," since there is a "gap between the apostles and us, and between their time and our own," therefore decreasing the degree of analogy between Acts 15 and our contemporary communities. Wiarda does see this passage as a model, but he narrows the scope of that model to the like-mindedness that is observed within the church. He ultimately fails to connect that like-mindedness to the hermeneutical task observed in Acts 15 or give any insight on how a different interpretive model would affect that like-mindedness.
[2]See for example: Ens, "The Hermeneutical Community," 76, 86; Stuart Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition (Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 1999), 168, 174-77; Malcom B. Yarnell, The Formation of Christian Doctrine (Nashville: B&H, 2007), 101; and R. Ward Holder, "Ecclesia, Legenda Atque Intelligenda Scriptura: The Church as Discerning Community in Calvin's Hermeneutic," Calvin Theological Journal 36, no. 2 (2001): 278.
[3]Anthony C. Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), xviii. Thiselton makes a parallel between hermeneutics and doctrine, pointing out that both draw on "communal understanding" and transmitted wisdom.
[4]Stephen E. Fowl, Engaging Scripture: A Model for Theological Interpretation, Challenges in Contemporary Theology (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1998), 74. Fowl presents a threefold solution to dealing with the effects of sin on interpretation: 1) seeking a one-mindedness with God, 2) living in a close knit community that is also seeking a one-mindedness with God, and 3) being sensitive to the work of the Spirit.
[5]NKJV. Unless otherwise specified, all future Scripture references will be from the NKJV.
[6]For example, Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 173-75, presents these and other passages as having often been used by Anabaptist leaders to justify their communal emphasis on hermeneutics.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Update ...

I know it's been a while since I have posted on this blog. Trust me, it's not because I do not want to, but because life has just been busy. I initially thought that with all the writing that I have to do in this PhD program, I would have a lot of blogging material. Well ... I do, but what I have been lacking is time to transfer those documents to a blog format. In addition, facebook is a much faster way of posting links and quick quotes, so ... here we are, I have not posted anything since August 2012!

I have therefore decided to force myself to post from at least a paper I have written in the not too distant past. I picked one on communal hermeneutics. It was an interesting paper to research and it is in many ways still a work in progress. I do have to warn you that I don't think that my professor was in love with it, but like I said: in many ways, it is still a work in progress. I do hope some of the information and idea will get you thinking about the topic, whether you agree with me or not.


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