20.11.09

Hermeneutical circles


The motivation behind Tom Wright's Five Act Play
It is not clear when Wright first thought of the idea of the five act play but a driver was his frustration with people who claim that Leviticus says that we should not mix fibres and hence setting aside bits of the OT justifies our setting aside parts  of the New. This should not be so.Wright started to think about the way that drama works. There are a lot of true doctrines and ethics in the Bible but they are communicated in the framework of a story from the garden to the city.

He is happy to concede that there is a sixth act, but the early acts must not be collapsed. We must not miss out the story of Israel, if we do, we will not understand the allusions to it in the New Testament. Wells and Young have also written about this idea of a five act play: it is a good heuristic tool.

We watch Tom Wright saying these things on the interactive Time-line being produced by Tim Hull at St John's college. It helps us to engage with different theologians over time.

In our module, we are looking at how the narrative idea of scripture has been eclipsed by the enlightenment. We have turned the Bible into a series of propositional statements. Frei's 'The Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative' redeems the sense of scripture as narrative. Balthasar's 'Theodrama' explores this as does Van Hoozer was influenced by Balthasar.

And so systematic theology is rescued, in a sense, from the enlightenment demands for certainty. Balthasar says Barth's Christological concentration was too heavy at the cost of our own role in the story.

What we bring to the story triggers interpretation.

Hermeneutical circles

There has to be a something in a text to which we can relate. We come with our presuppositions.

"Any interpretation is never a presuppositionless apprehending of something presented to us. " Heidegger 191 (Being and Time)

We are living in a culture of interpretation. our lives our a process of interpretation, says Heideggar. Hermeneutics impacts all disciplines, not just theology.

D A Carson
Instead of a straight line there is a hermeneutical circle as the text makes an impact on me and its impact upon me changes. The objective truth evades us because we do not have access to it, only interpreted truth.

Our lecturer wondered, on hearing Carson say this whether he was on a slippery slope to relativism. He asked him in person if this was the case and it did not go down too well.

It is refreshing to hear D A Carson say this. However, Carson does put a hedge around hermeneutics.

I understand our Epistemological modesty and I often think of 1 Cor 13:12 when I am writing up my thoughts about what the Scriptures might mean here.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

We often have this in mind when we engage in theological debates in the biblioblogosphere. I have also found it freeing to discover that there might be something inherently 'good' about our interpretations.

I am wrestling now to shake off life in the old paradigm where the hermeneutical task seemed somehow the natural task for a fallen people, if it is instead the natural task for a people all made unique, then this seems much more positive.

Heidegger (the 20th century philosopher) describes how we have inherited a world-view but then we are dragged along by the crowd and their hermeneutic. This is violent. Derrida says that there is violence done to the text too. There is also a dominant hermeneutic which does violence to the more marginal hermeneutic. I had not thought about this before and I am considering now whether some of own feminist theologies both do a violence to the text and suffer violence from the more dominant hermeneutical models and I wonder which is the bigger violence.

The return to Reason at the turn of the Enlightenment was a reaction to people claiming that divine truth was theirs when claims conflicted.

Smith reflects on the interpretation of interpretation and 'The Fall of Interpretation' is a brilliant book which I would buy if it didn't cost £38. I Must look out for a second-hand copy.

We have been asked to read Sanders who writes about the classical background: the influence of Aristotle and Plato. Greek thought has polluted the way that we do theology. Open theism seeks to liberate Christianity from the dominance of Greek thought.


We have also been asked to consider Bray's argument, defending the Greek philosophical approach.

Carson ('Becoming Conversant with the Emergent Church') believes that the emergent church has left the enlightenment behind and has become very frustrated at the extent to which we are arguing for interpretative difference. He believes we need not choose between a meaning that is wholly determinate and a meaning that is wholly indeterminate. If we travel too far in the direction of relativism, then we are going to have chaos.

There is the idea that the traditional arguments for the existence of God are not valid in a post-modern but this is a fallacy says Craig. Relativism does not pollute all things. There are texts that we trust at first-hand. Our culture remains deeply modernist in terms of its science and technology. We read the Headache tablets packet and the Rat poison packet and we do not confuse them.

Craig believes the the idea of sharing our narrative brings us to a place of postmodern uncertainty which will be the death of the church because there is no objective truth. This sits uneasily when scientific investigation sits more confidently with its declarations of truth. He wonders whether we should not instead reaffirm apologetics and the rational if we want the Church to remain.

How does it work for us? Can we not defend a middle way? There is truth and there is uncertainty as there is with any relationship we have.

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