14.11.09

First year introduction to hermeneutics



Our lecturer is teaching us about hermeneutics. All the first years gather into a cramped lecture room (cramped indeed, I was told off for upsetting the projection equipment – whoops!). I think I also come with a lot of stuff in my head too, which might upset my acceptance of some of the models which we will be exploring. I can not help but interpret the interpretation too and I sometimes wish I could look at things less critically. Hence whatever my lecturer projects will be slightly shaken by my own thoughts.


I think a basic way into understanding hermeneutics begins with Tom Wright and his 5 act play theory. It is not hard to get your head around, in fact it could probably do with being more particular and less general but it works.
This is exactly what we are introduced to. I was hoping for more analysis of Smith's 'The Fall of interpretation', but I don't mind looking through that on my own.


We are told about how Scripture shaped the people of Israel who longed for the kingdom and Tom Wright explains how narrative is dynamic. It is not going to be like an instruction manual because a manual is not dynamic. I will read 'Scripture and the Authority of God' by NT Wright.


Our lecturer points out how theologians like John Stott will often use Matthew's exhortation that not a jot or tittle has been removed from the law to show how authoritative are the scriptures. We might ask ourselves whether Jesus Christ regarded the Scriptures with the same degree of authority? His fulfilling of the Scriptures means that a new paradigm has been initiated and we see now how commands to honour your mother and father are nuanced by his practices and preaching, for he refused to listen to his own siblings and mother when they called him and instead he believed that fellow believers were his family. When Paul meets the Judiazers he meets people who are being more literalistic about the Old Testament than he is. He rebukes these people.


The story is moving on.
I wonder whether we are being taught to practice a kind of redemption-hermeneutic? I wonder about all of this. It's all more complex and nuanced but I also appreciate that we are only being introduced to hermeneutics.

We are told that there is discontinuity from the rules under the Old Covenant. The sacrifice rituals and the mandatory sabbath are no longer insisted upon. The divide between the Jews and the Gentiles have been left aside. The scriptures have been summed up in Jesus Christ and so there is a new mode. Richard Burridge says that the most distinctive thing about Jesus is that he had a very high moral vision but mixed with everyone.

As an aside we are asked to wonder whether evangelicals wanting to guard their distinctiveness, unhelpfully preach for separation out from others? This is an interesting question to ponder over. I often wonder how unlike Jesus we are being in our claims to follow Jesus.

The Tom Wright 5 Act play analogy
The final act in Tom Wright's play is unfinished, this is where we are. The characters called to produce the play are asked to improvise the ending so that the play can come to conclusion successfully. We might want to stop the play because it seems to share nothing with what has come before. The play might be stopped if it copies by rote scenes from before, when we need the old reinterpreted for the new act. These two examples of where it goes wrong have happened and are happening - those that lose the plot are heretics and those who learn by rote are fundamentalists.(!)

Improvisation is a deeply faithful model.
The first act is God's good creation and there are multiple genres to it but we tell of it legitimately if we convey that God's order is good and beautiful.
In Act 2 this world is flawed by sin and our fall.
In the third act of the story we have the story of Israel and we tell the stories of the prophets. So that we do not become dejudiazed, we understand our call to be salt and light in the context of these first people for whom that was their function.
We are no longer under the law, not because it was odd but because it has all been fulfilled and we live in a narrative that has moved on into Act 4, which is the story of Jesus and we are not there now, we are in the fifth act and we need to interpret how Act 4 has resonance for us today. The cross and the resurrection of Jesus are the climax of the narrative in which we are living.
From Pentecost onwards we are the people of God in Christ, we are the redemptive people of Christ. We see the end is in sight and we are called by the Spirit to improvise the remainder of the story. We do not repeat the same speeches but we must act in character and this is quite a challenge and the Christian debates about how we do this must be constant through this drama. We do not reconstruct the drama or follow the Bible literally: we are a different people and yet we are the same people.

The notion of improvising is important but sometimes misunderstood. There is a careful and needed listening to render faithful the entire dramatic performance. We are called to continue in obedience to the music which we have heard so far and move forward in fresh expressions which will lead us to a full and complete redemption. We have the parameters for the appropriate announcement and we are free to take the music forwards but we are not free to play out of tune.
To return to the 5 Acts analogy, all the actors (us) and the travelling companies (the churches) are free to improvise but we are in the same play and in this way we are more healthy if we act in harmony with one another.

I am not concerned by this model. It makes me think of all things 'indaba' and Lambeth. I think it conveys the flavour of Anglicanism I am serving from within. It is all very Tom Wright and Rowan Williams. It is all very 'listening process', it is all very careful and Christian and I do not mean for my tone to seem cynical. It is our via media, humble and careful expression that attracts me to this denomination. This is all very 'open' evangelical. I am aware at the same time that there are other voices out there too and I expect to hear those voices. I like the messiness, it's exciting so I ask for some challenges now to the 5 Act play. Are there any other paradigms holding sway and in what way do they challenge this wise Durhamesque advocate of all things open and evangelical?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a very Chekhovian/Shavian model of drama - a beginning, a middle and an end. You say that the play might be stopped if we repeat by rote something that has come before. What about 'Play' by Samuel Beckett, where that is exactly what happens. The stage direction at the end instructs the actors to repeat everything they have already said, but faster. Doing something a second time is not the same as doing something the first time. What about Pinter? What about Ionesco? What about the theatre of cruelty and the theatre of the absurd?
This is T Wright's constant weakness. He is so terribly limited. Limited in his understanding of culture. Limited in his understanding of the church. Linited in his understanding of the nature of the Bible.
I love bringing cultural insights into our theology, but we really need to be more informed and better read than Wright if we're going to do this profitably.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Interesting Anon - and indeed I echo your concern that Wright's analogy is somewhat crude. Interesting the idea of the repetition - in some senses redemption is a return to a paradise regained.

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