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This will be a bit different of a blog. This week I have an intensive at school for Theology in the Emergent Church. So, this one will be on Merold Westphal’s book Who’s Community? Which Interpretation. It will be something to think about in preparation for our group leading the discussion on the book. So, here goes.
- This book is a theory on hermeneutics. (Click here for my stolen definition. Yes, I’m a thief!) It can be defined both by what it’s for and against. It’s against a “common sense” method of hermeneutics and for an “epistemic humility” method. I would agree with both.
- “Plain sense” hermeneutics makes the assumption that we can just read an ancient text and the true meaning will just naturally come to us (some would add with the help of the Holy Spirit). Unfortunately, experience and in-depth exegesis doesn’t seem to bear this out.
- Epistemic humility does not equate to relativism where any interpretation is valid. Many interpretations are clearly not valid. However, it does recognize that we all see and read through a filter of our own experiences. So, the reason for various interpretations has largely to do with the fact that the various interpreters all have slightly different filters (presuppositions, knowledge, experiences, values, etc.).
- The best we can do is to make strong attempts to clear ourselves of our presuppositions.
- Because authors inherit language, complete with meaning, they are not the sole creators of meaning when they write. However, readers can understand more and more as they study the writing even if they can never be totally engulfed in the writer’s “original intended meaning” at least in an absolute way.
- It is wise to consult a variety of interpretations when trying to get to the truth of a text.
- Interpretation, such as learning how to ask good questions, appeals partly to art. In this way, conversation becomes an important part of the process of interpretation.
- This conversation should take place between various Christian traditions.
- God is immanent and transcendent as shown in the dialectical tension in scripture on this topic. His revelation is immediate but what we get through scripture is not the immediate. It is His filtered Word. It is His Word spoken through the prophets.
- Theories are subordinate to practice.
Finally, here are some things I question about Westphal’s approach.
- Should we conflate interpretation and application (p. 112) or are they two different things?
- Has Westphal over-minimized the value of foundationalism? Is there value in foundationalism? Do we automatically utilize and accept foundationalism in any other disciplines?
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