Monday Monologue, Interpretation 2.0, May 28, 2018 (Podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I share a prayer for rest and a followup reflection on biblical interpretation.

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

Monday Monologue, Interpretation 2.0, May 28, 2018 (Podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Transcendence_2018

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Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 1

Robert Gagnon, the Bible and Homosexual PracticeRobert A. J. Gagnon.  2001.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press. (Goto part 2; goto part 3)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra, Author of Simple Faith and other books available online.

At one point in seminary I asked a professor [1] to outline the biblical case for gay marriage. He responded that the Bible did not offer a strong case for gay marriage; it was just the right thing to do. Evangelicals typically focus on his first point while progressives typically focus on the second point. Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice outlines a detailed interpretation of the Bible’s teaching on this issue.

Introduction

Gagnon states his objectives as:

“to demonstrate two main points: First, there is clear, strong, and credible evidence that the Bible unequivocally defines same-sex intercourse as sin. Second, there exist no valid hermeneutical arguments derived from either general principles of biblical interpretation or contemporary scientific knowledge and experience for overriding the Bible’s authority on this matter” (37).

Gagnon’s conclusion that the Bible treats homosexuality as sin[2] (a theological statement) should surprise no one, but it is not obvious how the church should respond to it (a problem in ethics). Theology is easy because a statement is either true or not; ethics is hard because it necessarily involves trade-offs between multiple theological principles in tension. We are all sinners and stand in need of God’s grace.  This implies that no sin is unforgivable and we are to share the Gospel with everyone.  But, how do we properly love the unrepentant sinner?  And, what is special about witnessing to someone struggling with gender confusion?  These are not hypothetical questions.  Unfortunately, the postmodern church (like the church at Laodicea) has often neglected to teach the doctrine of sin which leaves it with scarce moral authority to provide advice on any particular sin (Rev. 3:14-19).

Homosexuality Contrary to God’s Intent

Gagnon summarizes his book with 4 reasons “why those who engage in same-sex intercourse act contrary to God’s intentions for human sexual relations”.  Those reasons (487-489) are:

  1. “Same-sex intercourse is strongly and unequivocally rejected by the revelation of scripture.”
  2. “Same-sex intercourse represents a suppression of the visible evidence in nature regarding male-female anatomical and procreation complementarity.”
  3. “Societal endorsement of homosexual behavior will only accelerate the many negative social effects [serious health problems, greater pedophilic behavior, erosion in expectations of marriage, annihilation of gender norms, and marginalization of those that speak out] arising from such behavior…”
  4. “The practicing homosexual’s own relationship with the Creator will be put in jeopardy.”

Gagnon’s argues these points thoroughly.  For example, in talking about the health effects of homosexual behavior, Gagnon cites[3] an unspecified health condition and lists all the possible negative consequences of this condition.  Reading about this list, one is suspicious that the condition is homosexuality—it is not—the condition is alcoholism.  The health consequences of homosexuality are much worse (471-473), including:

  • “A significantly decreased likelihood of establishing or preserving a successful marriage.
  • A 25-35 year decrease in life expectancy.
  • Chronic, potentially fatal, liver disease—infectious hepatitis, which increases the risk of liver cancer.
  • Inevitably fatal-immune disease, including associated cancers.
  • Frequently, fatal rectal cancer.
  • Multiple bowel and other infectious diseases.
  • A much higher than usual incidence of suicide.
  • A very low likelihood that its adverse effects can be eliminated unless the condition itself is. An at least 50% likelihood of being eliminated through lengthy, often costly, and very time-consuming treatment.” (473)

Having worked in a hospital emergency room, this list is not surprising. I lost a pastoral mentor to AIDS as a young person and personally assisted a number of hospital patients suffering from problems on this list, including HIV, when I worked as a chaplain intern [4].  The Center for Disease Control estimates that more than half a million people have died from AIDS in the United States alone.  Meanwhile, more than a million people are currently infected with HIV [5].  Gagnon’s point is that the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality is of continuing relevance in postmodern moral teaching.

Pastoral Response

Ironically, pastors and churches that ignore people suffering from gender confusion (or, worse, condone it) are complicit in the Apostle Paul’s assessment in Romans 1:24-27giving them over to their ungodly passions. Gagnon compares homosexuality with alcoholism both because of the medical problems associated (including an addictive character), but also because recovery is difficult.  Clinical studies prior to politicization of the issue reported recovery rates of about 30 percent (28.8%), roughly on par with success rates reported by Alcoholics Anonymous (420-432) [6].  Recovery in this context means we are able to control our responses, not our temptations.

Background on Gagnon

Gagnon is a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He has a master’s in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and a doctor of philosophy from Princeton Theological Seminary [7]. The acknowledgments section of his book reads like a who’s who of evangelical scholars.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice is written in 5 chapters:

  1. The Witness of the Old Testament,
  2. Same-Sex Intercourse as a “Contrary to Nature” in Early Judaism,
  3. The Witness of Jesus,
  4. The Witness of Paul and Deutero-Paul, and
  5. The Hermeneutical Relevance of the Biblical Witness (5-10).

The introduction and conclusions are not numbered.  These chapters are proceeded by the acknowledgments and followed by both a topical and a scriptural index.

Church Response

The response of the church to gender confusion is the defining issue of our day. Until the 1980s, no Christian denomination considered homosexuality acceptable behavior; now, many denominations, including my own, are having trouble establishing spiritual boundaries of any kind—the teaching on homosexuality stands out primarily in that it is the most obvious.  As a consequence,  Christians need to be aware of the arguments being made. In this debate, Gagnon’s research is an important resource.

Assessment

Here in part 1, I have given an overview of Gagnon’s argument and highlighted health effects of homosexuality.  Christians more normally focus on scriptural arguments.  So, in part 2, I will survey his review of Old Testament passages on homosexuality and, in part 3, I will turn to passages on the New Testament.

Footnotes

[1] The professor was on the faculty at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary.

[2] For example: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Lev. 18:22 ESV)  Also: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Rom. 1:26-27 ESV)

[3] This reference is taken from Jeffrey Satinover’s “Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth” (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 1996).

[4] The issue of health effects relating to homosexual behavior was in the media only this morning (http://bit.ly/1RqrW7X).

[5] http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/basics/ataglance.html.

[6] Earlier I reviewed the story of a Lesbian conversion:  Butterfield Journeys from PC to JC (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-wj)

[7] http://www.RobGagnon.net.

Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 1

Also see:

Fortson and Grams Bible Limits Sex to Christian Marriage, Part 1 

Campbell Turns Gender Confusion into Ministry

Rogers Argues for LGBT Equality, Part 1

Webb: Analyzing Culture in Scripture and in Life

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 3

Vanhoozer_review_04042015Kevin J. Vanhoozer. 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text:  The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan. (Go to: Part 1  or  Part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What does it mean to be a faithful follower of Jesus in the postmodern context?

Ironically, the problem of finding meaning in a postmodern world points to God.  Framing a faithful response to the postmodern dilemma consumes more than half of Vanhoozer  book.  He  writes:

“Derrida’s announcement of the death of meaning alerts us to the indispensable tie between literary theory and theology. Deconstructionism, wholly inadvertently and with some irony, proves that God is the condition for the possibility of meaning and interpretation.” (198).

Following Plantinga, Vanhoozer believes:

“…we as Christians have both a right and a responsibility to begin our reflections about God, the world, and ourselves from Christian premises.  To this list, I now want to add meaning. My contention, briefly stated, is that because the undoing of interpretation rests on a theological mistake, we need theology to correct it. Second, I will argue that Christian theology, not deconstructionism, is the better response to the ethical challenge of the ‘other’.” (199)

His response therefore begins with the question:  “What happens if we begin with explicitly Christian assumptions about reality, knowledge, and ethics?” (200)  Vanhoozer organizes his proposal in terms of the author, the text, and the reader.

The Author.  If God is the ultimate author of scripture, then paraphrasing Proverbs 1:7 Vanhoozer writes:  “the fear of the author is the beginning of literary knowledge” (201)[1].  Citing Ricoeur, Vanhoozer writes:

“To consider the text as an authorless entity is to commit what Ricoeur himself calls the ‘fallacy of the absolute text’…Strictly speaking…texts do not have intensions, nor do they act.  We do not ascribe agency to texts, nor do we praise or blame books; we rather direct our praise or blame to their authors.” (216)

In other words, Vanhoozer writes:  “the author is not only the cause of the text [that it is], but also the agent who determines what the text counts as [what it is].” (228)

Vanhoozer spends an enormous amount of energy reviewing the literature on speech acts.  He writes that: “to respect the moral rights of the author is essentially to receive his or her communication, not revise it.” (202)  Understanding speech acts is one way to receive this communication. The need to respect the author is no less for the ultimate author of scripture. Vanhoozer’s writes:

“My thesis is that the ‘fuller meaning’ of scripture—meaning associated with divine authorship—emerges only at the level of the whole canon…the canon is a complete and completed communication act, structured by a divine authorial intention.” (264-265)

We resurrect divine authorship by consulting the full counsel of scripture.

The Text. The idea that a text can have meaning and understanding that meaning are two different things (281)  Vanhoozer posits that:

“…the text can be a source of evidence and a means of knowledge not only about an author…,but also about what the author feels, knows, observes, and imagines.  Indeed, much of what we have in texts is testimony to something other than themselves or their authors.” (282)

To interpret is to make a claim and be willing to defend it (292).

Vanhoozer reviews a number of views of how to interpret and perspectives on dealing with disagreement. What is more interesting, however, is his view on the nature of the church. He writes:

“..the church represents that community of interpreters who share a primary concern for the Bible’s literal meaning.  It may also be because the church is that community in which the interpretative values—intellectual, ethical, and spiritual—are cultivated…literary knowledge is not simply a matter of having the right descriptions but also having the right dispositions.” (320)

Vanhoozer also explains the doctrine of “sola scriptura” as:

“a reminder that textual meaning is independent of our interpretative schemes and, hence, that our interpretations remain secondary commentaries that never acquire the status of the text itself” (321)

He sees “scripture interpreting scripture” as consistent with “sola scriptura” (331).  According to Vanhoozer, we redeem the text with:  “Correct interpretations describe the beliefs, thoughts, and feelings that guided and shaped the text as a communicative act.”  This is what he means by a “thick interpretation”.  By contrast, a thin interpretation is necessarily abbreviated or reductionistic (332).  He rounds out his discussion of redeeming the text with comments about genre.

The Reader. Vanhoozer is interested in an ethical response of the reader.  He writes:

“Some of the radical-response critics have concluded, consistently enough, that the role of the reader is to play, and to create.  There is no need, they urge, to go beyond aesthetics to ethics.” (368)

Vanhoozer reforms the reader in 4 steps:

  1. Distinguishing using, criticizing, and following a text;
  2. Reading involves implied moral rules;
  3. Honoring the limits imposed on interpretation by the text itself;
  4. Rooting the interpretation in the theology and spirituality of the reader (368-369).

He likens the church as an interpreter of scripture to a musician who is an interpreter of a score (441).  He sees the sins of interpretation as pride and sloth (462).

Kevin Vanhoozer’s Is there a Meaning in This Text? is a good read.  If you are able to spend the time to study it thoroughly, it will form you.  And you will never look at the Bible in quite the same way.

 

[1]The biblical cite is: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Pro 1:7 ESV)

FURTHER READINGS BY KEVIN VANHOOZER

First Theology: God, Scripture & Hermeneutics. 2002.  Colorado Springs:  IVP Academic.

“Body-Piercing, the Natural Sense and the Task of Theological Interpretation: A Hermeneutical Homily on John 19:34”, Ex Auditu 16:1-29

“Imprisoned or free? text, status, and theological interpretation in the master/slave discourse of Philemon,” pp. 51-94 in Adam, Fowl, Vanhoozer, and Watson, Reading Scripture with the Church.

“Ezekiel 14. ‘I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet: divine deception, inception, and communicative action,” pp. 73-98 in Michael Allen, ed., Theological Commentary: Evangelical Perspectives (T & T Clark)

“Ascending the Mountain, Singing the Rock: Biblical Interpretation Earthed, Typed, and Transfigured,” Modern Theology 28/4: 781-803

“Theological commentary and ‘the voice from heaven’: exegesis, ontology, and the travail of biblical interpretation,” pp. 269-98 in Eckhard Schnabel, ed., On the Writing of New Testament Commentaries: Festschrift for Grant R. Osborne on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday (Brill)

“‘Exegesis I know, and Theology I know, but who are you?’ Acts 19 and the Theological Interpretation of Scripture,” in Darren Sarisky, R. David Nelson, and Justin Stratis, eds., Theological Theology: Essays in Honor of John B. Webster

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Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 2

Vanhoozer_review_04042015Kevin J. Vanhoozer. 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text:  The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan. (Go to: Part 1 or Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Each of Vanhoozer’s three aspects of interpretation—author, text, and reader—have been subject to postmodern “undoing”, leaving interpretations to seem arbitrary and subject to manipulation. Vanhoozer writes:

“…the very meaning of ‘interpretation’ has shifted; instead of being a knowledge claim concerning some discovery one has made about the meaning of the text, interpretation has become a way of referring to what the reader makes of the text.  The new-fashioned interpreter recognizes no reality principle (the way it is), only the pleasure principle (the way I want it to be) (38).

Who then is responsible for the consequences of such interpretation for the church and society after the text has been deconstructed and discredited?  Vanhoozer discusses implications of deconstruction for the author, the text, and the reader.

Author

In some sense, the author is to the text as God is to creation.  Vanhoozer writes:  “The author is the one who originates…Authorship implies ownership” (45-46) The author instills both authority and meaning to a text.  When in Genesis we read:

“Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” (Gen 2:19 ESV)

When God, the author of creation, delegates the task of naming the animals to Adam, Adam is functioning as an co-author and regent over creation.  This is why, for example, the word, authority, includes the word, author.

Vanhoozer writes:

“The author is the foundational principle in what we might call the traditional metaphysics of meaning.  According to this standard picture, the author is the sovereign subject of the sign, the one who rules over meaning, assigning names to things, using words to express thoughts and represent the world…Derrida’s deconstruction of the author is a more or less direct consequence of Nietzche’s announcement of the death of God (48).

Clearly, if the voice of the author is obscured either deliberately or by the text itself, then the attachment of the text to a particular social reality is severed and its authority impugned. Who said X, Y, Z?  We clearly care who said what [1].

Closely tied to the author’s ability to express intention or meaning is the idea that an independent reality exists that can capture and carry that meaning.  Vanhoozer writes:

“‘Realism’ is the metaphysical position which asserts that certain things are mind independent. Hermeneutical realism is the position that believes meaning to be prior to and independent of the process of interpretation. For the ‘naïve’ realist, there is a perfect match between language and the world…For the non-realist, on the other hand, human language and thoughts do not correspond to objective realities or to stable meanings.” (48)

Following the work of Jacques Derrida, “deconstruction is a painstaking taking-apart, a peeling away of the various layers—historical, rhetorical, ideological—of distinctions, concepts, texts, and whole philosophies, whose aim is to expose the arbitrary linguistic nature of their original construction.” (52)  Such analysis can yield new insights and interpretations or it can obscure the author and the intent of the author.  Vanhoozer observes:  “If there is no Author, then every interpretation is permitted.” (98)

The Text

In postmodern thinking, texts and books are distinguished.  Vanhoozer writes:

“Whereas the book resembled an unchanging substance, the text is more like a field of shifting forces. Whereas the book can be studied as though it were a discrete object at some distance from the interpreting substance, the text only comes to light as it is observed from some distance from different points of view.” (105)

The idea that the Bible as a book is unified by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit means that it is a discrete unit with meaning beyond the words found in particular chapters.  Thus, a book can have a stable meaning, if we believe in an objective reality and find unity in the authorship of the Holy Spirit. This idea, however, is taken as a theological assumption in postmodern thinking, which questions such assumptions.

Citing Gadamer and Ricoeur, Vanhoozer (106) notes that: “meaning is the result of a two-way encounter between text and reader.”   In this sense, the postmodern sees no stable meaning. Rather, Vanhoozer reports:  “the text is a network of signs and other texts, radically open and indeterminate.” (111)  Meaning requires a context (112).  Because deconstructive literary criticism places no priority on particular contexts, anarchy rules (138).  The idea of dismantling texts in playful interpretation gives no comfort when, having deconstructed the biblical text, nothing is offered to replace ita kind of theft of meaning and security.  Despair is substituted for purpose like a thief steals a purse yet there is no accountability (182-185).

The Reader

Vanhoozer observers:

“…if the author is not the origin of meaning and if there is no such thing as ‘the sense of the text’, then meaning must be the creation ex libris of the reader… Meaning in the age of the reader is located neither behind nor in the text, but rather in front of it … Every literary theory is ultimately a theory about reading. Moreover, to say whose reading counts is ultimately to invoke an ethics, perhaps even a theology, of interpretation.” (148)

Vanhoozer further writes:

“Every reader is situated in a particular culture, time, and tradition.  No reading is objective; all reading is theory-laden.” (151)

It is at this point that cultural presuppositions become important.  If I only read books that were discussed on Oprah’s website, it is more important to know how Oprah picks her books than to know about my own tastes and preferences [2].

Having convinced us that understanding biblical interpretation in the postmodern age requires a sophisticated knowledge of philosophy, where does that leave the anti-intellectual majority of postmodern people? Clearly, the potential for manipulation is far-reaching—especially outside the church where there no presumption of an omnipresent, benevolent God. Is it any wonder that our young people are enormously skeptical of all forms of authority and leaving the church?

Assessment

Kevin Vanhoozer’s book, Is There a Meaning in This Text, gives us a clearer picture of what all the shouting is about in biblical interpretation.  This second part of my review outlines Vanhoozer’s problem statement of our current dilemma. In part 3 of this review, I will examine Vanhoozer’s proposal for how to respond to this dilemma.

Footnotes

[1] Postmodern fights over the authorship of a biblical text frequently infer that the author’s words were “redacted” which implies that only subset of the text has authority over today’s reader. The fact that different critics find different ways to redact a particular text, the idea of placing oneself under the authority of scripture is practically impossible or, alternatively, one can claim that one believes in the authority of scripture but never have to actually change one’s behavior to comply with “authorative” texts.

[2] http://bit.ly/1O4lWC6

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 2

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Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1

Vanhoozer_review_04042015Kevin J. Vanhoozer. 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text:  The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan. (Go to:  Part 2 or Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Biblical interpretation has become a contact sport. The Bible has been the center of the Christian faith since the fourth century and is still today the most widely read book on earth.  Most cultural disputes either originate in biblical interpretation or are mediated by it. How then are we to read and understand the Bible properly?  Even before seminary, my own quest to answer such questions brought me to Kevin Vanhoozer’ book, Is There Meaning to This Text?

Introduction

Vanhoozer starts off with some very interesting observations:

…many of the contentious issues at the heart of the current debates about biblical interpretation, about interpretation in general, and about postmodern interpretation in particular, [are] really theological issues.  I began to see meaning as a theological phenomenon, involving a kind of transcendence, and the theory of interpretation as a theological task.  Instead of a book on biblical interpretation, therefore, I have written a theology of interpretation…the serious student of Scripture needs to develop an epistemology (theory of knowledge) and hermeneutic (theory of interpretation)…not only epistemology, but [also] metaphysics and ethics of meaning (9-10).

Say what? Perhaps it is easier to start with a question.  For example, in scientific study, where do the hypotheses and assumptions come from that are needed before applying logic? Or, in terms of faith, does one need to be a Christian to read the Bible properly?[1] Vanhoozer asks: “What does it mean to be ‘biblical’?”(9) These are not questions easily answered no matter how you stand on the issue of faith. Yet, we cannot proceed in any serious study of the Bible without implicitly or explicitly having an answer.  Clearly, Vanhoozer has taken on an interesting and intrinsically difficult task.

Vanhoozer is ultimately writing a study on hermeneutics—“reflection on the principles that undergird correct textual interpretation” (19).  As he parses this subject, he sees interpretation involving three philosophical issues:  “the nature of reality” [metaphysics], “the possibility of knowledge” [epistemology], and “the criteria for morality” [ethics].  Vanhoozer sees these three questions motivating a fourth:  “What does it mean to be human, an agent of meaning?” [anthropology] (9)[2].

Literary Criticism

Twentieth century philosophy has focused on the problems posed by language (17). The Bible is a book which implies that Biblical interpretation is a form of literary interpretation or “literary criticism”.  Citing Kierkegaard’s reading of James 1:22-27[3], when we read the Bible, do we see in it only ourselves, perceive it to be a love letter, or take it as a royal edict? (15-16)

Vanhoozer sees literary criticism evolving through three stages:  author, text, and reader (25).

  • In the first stage, that of the author, the focus is on the author’s intent in writing (25). Who was the author and what was his audience?  Knowing the author ties the text to a time, place, and social context.  As Christians, we see the hand of God working through particular authors to bring us into closer relationship with Him.
  • In the second stage, that of the text, the focus is on the text itself and how it is to be understood (26). Reformers, such as John Calvin, naturally looked to the Bible itself in understanding a particular passage.  The idea was that scripture can interpret scripture; an unclear passage may be more clearly discussed elsewhere in scripture. As Christians, we intuit the presence of God in a particular text knowing God’s expression in other texts.
  • In the third stage, that of the reader, the focus is on the reader’s context—an inherently ethical question (27). When we consider the question—what does this passage mean to me?—we expect to get different answers because our contexts differ.  Yet, as Christians, we also expect continuity in our reading of scripture with other readings through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

In this latter respect, Vanhoozer writes: “My thesis is that ethical interpretation is a spiritual exercise and that the spirit of understanding is not a spirit of power, nor of play, but the Holy Spirit” (29).  As you might imagine, there is a lot to unpack in this one sentence!

Who is Kevin Vanhoozer?

Vanhoozer is a professor of systemic theology at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois right outside of Chicago[4]. He writes Is There a Meaning in This Text in four parts:

Introduction (Theology and Literary Theory)

  1. Faith Seeking Textual Understanding

Part One (Undoing Interpretation: Authority, Allegory, and Anarchy)

  1. Undoing the Author: Authority and Intentionally
  2. Undoing the Text: Textuality and Indeterminacy
  3. Undoing the Reader: Contextuality and Ideology

Part Two (Redoing Interpretation:  Agency, Action, Affect)

  1. Resurrecting the Author: Meaning As Communicative Action
  2. Redeeming the Text: The Rationality of Literary Acts
  3. Reforming the Reader: Interpretative Virtue, Spirituality, and Communicative Efficacy

Conclusion:  A Hermeneutics of the Cross

  1. A Hermeneutics of Humility and Conviction

In his part one, Vanhoozer seeks to interpret the postmodern hermeneutics as Christian theologian. In his part two he offers an alternative hermeneutical approach (25). These chapters are followed by a bibliography, a name index, and a subject index.

Assessment

Kevin Vanhoozer’s Is There a Meaning in This Text is a book that seeks to explain what “all the shouting is about” in Biblical interpretation [5]. That makes this book must-read for seminary students and working pastors. Be prepared to be challenged both in your knowledge of philosophy and hermeneutics.  In parts 2 and 3 of this review, I will look in more depth at Vanhoozer’s review of postmodern hermeneutics and his proposed hermeneutic.

Footnotes

[1] The 12th century Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm thought so.  Anselm famously spoke of the priority of faith in seeking understanding. If faith must precede understanding, how can it be “objective”?   (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/anselm).

[2] My book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality (T2Pneuma.com), also considers these four questions—metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and anthropology—in trying to understand Christian spirituality.

[3] “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.  If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  (James 1:22-27 ESV)

[4] http://bit.ly/1GiDzNF

[5] I knew that Dr. Butterfield was a serious scholar when I noticed Vanhoozer on her list of readings (87-89; review: Butterfield Journeys from PC to JC; http://wp.me/p3Xeut-wj).

REFERENCES

Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne. 2012.  The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert:  An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith.  Pittsburgh:  Crown & Covenant Publications.

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2014.  A Christian Guide to Spirituality.  Centreville, VA:  T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

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Butterfield Journeys from PC to JC

Rosario Butterfield
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield [1]. 2012.  The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert:  An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith.  Pittsburgh:  Crown & Covenant Publications.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What is conversion?

In postmodern thinking, conversion is an act of treason.  The modern thinker believes in objectivity—a single, objective reality exists which we can study, understand, and agree on.  By contrast, the postmodern thinker believes truth is socially constructed. There is not one objective truth; there is only your truth and my truth. The interpretative community (the social group) in power determines reality. Therefore, the convert from one worldview to another is accordingly a traitor (or heretic) to the interpretive community (social group) left behind.  Because community boundaries are vigorously defended, conversion can be accompanied by significant costs to the convert.

Introduction

In her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Dr. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield writes about her conversion from lesbianism to Christianity.

Dr. Butterfield’s use of the word, convert, in her title suggests the vast distance that she traveled.  One converts from one religion to another, not from one hobby to another.  Lesbianism is a secular (atheistic) religion with its own philosophy (deconstructionism), cultural markers (hair-style; clothing; vocabulary; 8), public testimony (x), evangelism (8), and social networks (50).  She writes:

When I became a Christian, I had to change everything—my life, my friends, my writing, my teaching, my advising, my clothes, my speech, my thoughts.  I was tenured to a field that I could no longer work in (26).

A change in worldview requires a world of change.  She refers to lesbianism as a sin of identity (23).  What this means is that when we establish our primary identity in anything other than Christ, we commit idolatry—sin that violates the second commandment [2].  Workaholism is another common sin of identity.

Exploring Sin

In her biblical exploration of her sin, Dr. Butterfield focuses on an interesting passage:

As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it. (Ezekiel 16:48-50 ESV)

The sin of Sodom was not just immorality but more importantly pridea focus on self, entertainment-driven lust, love of money, and neglect of the poor (30-31).  Does this description sound familiar?

Conversion

The details of Rosario’s conversion experience are fascinating.  Her spiritual journey began with a research project.  She decided to write a book on the hermeneutic (interpretative principles) used by the Christian Right—people such as Pat Robertson.  Her research involved studying the Bible 5 hours a day (12) and led her to begin studying Greek (the New Testament is written entirely in Greek; 7).  A newspaper article that she published critiquing the gender politics of Promise Keepers [3] generated a lot of mail, including a thoughtful letter from a local pastor, Pastor Ken, who invited her to call and discuss the article (7-9).  She called. They began a conversation that extended over a period of years as she pursued her research. But the book was never completed.  From her own study of the Bible (aided by Pastor Ken’s non-anxious pastoral presence and biblical interpretation) Rosario became convinced that what the Bible said about God was true (13, 8).  Baptized and raised Roman Catholic, Rosario began attending and later joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPC) [4].  She later married an RPC pastor (94).

Leader in the Gay Movement

Rosario’s claims to be a leader in the gay rights movement (4) are not lite fluff.  To see this, just check out her reading list in preparing her proposed book on the Christian Right.  For example, she read Augustine’s Confessions (50), John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (17), and Kevin Vanhoozer’s Is There a Meaning in This Text? (87-89). These are books that challenge most seminary students—if they have read them at all—and they are required reading in understanding Christian hermeneutics (study of interpretation) and epistemology (study of knowledge).  If you think that English professors sit around reading Emily Dickson all day, you vastly underestimate Dr. Butterfield’s academic bona fides [5].

Subversive Spirit

A key takeaway from Rosario’s conversion testimony is that it was the subversive activity of the Holy Spirit, not a clever evangelist, that led her to Christ.  Like many converts from Islam, her conversion began with study of the Bible [6].

Another important takeaway concerns Pastor Ken’s ability to be a non-anxious presence for Rosario.  The RPC has a strong intellectual grounding in Calvin’s systematic theology.  Systematic theology is holistic which implies that no aspect of life or faith is doctrinally neglected—its strength lies in its completeness.  A non-anxious presence begins with emotional intelligence but requires intellectual rigor.  Lesbians, like Muslims, ask tough questions.  One earns their respect by being able to field the questions credibly, honestly, and humbly without fear.  Pastor Ken’s RPC background helped him keep up his end of the conversation.

Rosario and Augustine

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert reads like Augustine’s Confessions.  As a young man, Augustine also struggled with sexual sin.  And, after converting to Christianity, he played an important role in the monastic movement which encouraged candidates for ministry to practice celibacy.  Augustine’s deep theology particularly influenced a young monk in the 15th century—a certain Martin Luther whose work was at the center of the Protestant Reformation.  Protestants all owe a debt of gratitude to Augustine, who struggled with and overcame sexual sin.  The Apostle Paul writes:  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)

Organization

Rosario’s book is short having only 5 chapters:

  • Conversion and the Gospel of Peace;
  • Repentance and the Sin of Sodom;
  • The Good Guys: Sanctification and Public Worship;
  • The Home Front:  Marriage, Ministry, and Adoptions; and
  • Homeschooling and Middle Age.

These chapters are preceded by a forward and acknowledgments and followed by a bibliography and other resources.

Rosario’s confession is likely to become a classic, in part, because it is timely and, in part, because it can be read on multiple levels.  On the surface level, it reads as a reinvestment story [7]:  there I was; here I am.  For the surface reader, she provides lots of interesting details about her life both as a lesbian and, later, as a pastor’s wife and home-school teacher.  Beneath the surface, however, lies Dr. Butterfield, the intellectual.  What is a presuppositional problem? (8)  What is the ontological fallacy? (13) What does it mean not to believe in objectivity? (14)  I was intrigued and was sorry that Rosario did not write and explain more.  In particular, why did she become a lesbian? [8]

Copernican Revolution

What is conversion?  For Rosario, it was like the Copernican Revolution. The earth went from being the center of the universe to being a planet rotating around the sun.  The Copernican Revolution simplified the mathematics of planetary motion.  It was much the same for Rosario. When she displaced self with the Triune God, her life was simpler, more joyful, and kingdom focused [9].

Assessment

What are the implications for the church?  For the surface reader, Dr. Butterfield’s conversion is incomprehensible and terribly inconvenient for those that have been co-opted by ardent lesbianism and related postmodern philosophies.  For deeper readers, this review only scratches the surface.  Bottom line?  Read and discuss the book.  It is worth the time for those who believe in the resurrected Christ.

Footnotes

[1] http://RosariaButterfield.com.

[2] You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me (Exodus 20:4-5 ESV).

[3] www.PromiseKeepers.org

[4] RPC adheres to the Westminster Confession which does not permit ordination of women.  http://ReformedPresbyterian.org.

[5] By contrast, her academic specialty, Queer Theory, is a topic that I have no background to evaluate (2).

[6] For example, read or listen to the testimony of Khalil (www.MoreThanDreams.tv/Khalil.html).

[7] See John Savage.  1996.  Listening and Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, pages 82-84.

[8] The only real hint in the book arises when Rosario write:  I had not always been a lesbian.  But once I had my first girlfriend, I was hooked and I was sure that I found my “real” self. (14)  This description reads as if one who, having tasted blood, desired more—an addiction consistent with deconstructionism’s focus on power.

[9] One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven– for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:36-47 ESV)

Butterfield Journeys from PC to JC

 

 

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Introduction to Galatians

GalatiansBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6 ESV).

What exactly is the grace of Christ and what is the Gospel?  What is this different gospel that Paul writes about?  Over the coming six weeks, I hope to explore what Paul has to say about these and related topics in his letter to the Galatians.  My purpose today is to provide some background for this study.

Authorship, Location, and Date

No one disputes that the Apostle Paul wrote this letter (epistle) to the churches in Galatians.  However, since the nineteenth century, there has been a controversy among scholars as the location of these churches because the region of Galatia changed over time and included different ethnic communities.  In general, if Galatia refers to the southern part of Galatia, then the letter corresponds to Paul’s first missionary visit to the region (AD 49); if it corresponds to the northern part, then it corresponds to the second missionary visit (AD 53-57).

Other controversies revolve around lining up Paul’s trips to Jerusalem mentioned in Galatians 1:18 and 2:1 with corresponding verses in the Book of Acts.  Further disagreements arise in lining up the different passages where the region of Galatia is mentioned in the New Testament (NT).  These passages are:  Acts 16:6, 18:23, 1 Corinthians 16:1, Galatians 1:2, 3:1, 2 Timothy 4:10, and 1 Peter 1:1.  The details of these arguments are beyond the scope of this review [1].

Themes

The scholarly debate over Galatians is spirited because the letter compactly states the core themes in Paul’s theology.  Topics addressed include the relationship between law and gospel and between Jew and gentile.  Answers to these questions help define the nature of God’s grace, the role of our faith, and, in effect, the scope of Christian freedom.  The brevity of Paul’s letter forces scholars to interpret statements made in Galatians in terms of Paul’s other letters and the scope of other authors in the NT.

Hermaneutics

Hermes was the messenger god; hermeneutics is according the study of interpretation.  While there are many important schools of interpretation, three dominant interpretive views stand out: author, scriptural, and reader.  The author view asks:  what did the author mean to say?  The scriptural view asks:  when something is unclear, is there a clear statement elsewhere in scripture?  The reader view asks:  what does it mean to me?  John Calvin asked each of these questions and required also that interpretations consult the original languages of scripture—for example, Galatians was written in Greek.

Commentaries

It is helpful to use a wide variety of resources in Bible study even if time and energy are limited.  I plan to use these commentaries:

Bruce, FF. 1982.  The Epistle to the Galatians:  A Commentary on the Greek Text.  NIGTC.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Hansen, G.W.. 1993. “Letter to the Galatians” pages 323-334 of Dictionary of Paul and His Letter. Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship.  Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorn, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove:  InterVarsity Press.

Keller, Timothy.  2013.  Galatians for You.  USA:  TheGoodBook.

McKnight, Scot. 1995.  The NIV Application Commentary:  Galatians.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Of these, the Keller commentary is the most accessible to a lay reader.

I also make frequent reference to the Nestle-Aland Greek NT (Novum Testamentum Graece, 2012, Munich:  Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft) which includes an excellent concordance.

Footnotes


[1]If you are interested, check out:  (Hansen 1993, 327-328).

Introduction to Galatians

Also see:

Galatians 1: Christ Alone 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

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