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. 

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