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. 

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