Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Living Word

After a brief exchange with John’s disciples, Jesus asked the attendant crowds a pointed question about their relationship to him: “What did you got out into the wilderness to see?” One’s aim in listening inevitably shapes what one hears. If it was the curiosity of a shaken reed or a soft-clothed man, they would have been disappointed; if it was the disbelief of the Pharisees, they would have been rebuked. But if it was humility to hear a prophet, “and more than a prophet”, they would have had ears to hear a kingdom come.

Locating one’s own motivation in going to the written Word is not unlike the crowds’. Our posture before the Bible demonstrates this hermeneutic of hearing. Do we go to the text to confirm what we have always thought? Or with a sense of dutiful obedience? Or to be informed? Who among us is not guilty of all of these?

And yet the Scriptures refuse to subordinate themselves to what we are willing to hear. It is the self-attested working, living, abiding, exposing, and equipping Word, burning like fire, breaking like a hammer, cutting like a sword, piercing like an arrow. In short, it is a restless Word. We are not observers but addressees being solicited on every page to respond. As such we cannot read without communion or community – without an ear cocked towards the Author and hands towards the church.

What did you go after the Word to see? To sit down to become learned or confirmed is to address a dead, impotent text foreign to the Bible; not unlike perusing a newspaper pulled from the recycling bin. But to humbly seek reorientation in every engagement is to read with ears to hear a kingdom come.


Paul-David Young said...

Excellent insights. My question is how do we ever get beyond our presuppositions? Is it merely an existential discourse that demands the Spirit to illumine it? Liberals might read the bible mining for social justice, contemporary evangelicals look for fortune cookie verses...

Perhaps Vanhoozer can help in offering a canonical-linguistic approach.

david said...

I think the deconstructionist push has been helpful to once again point to the glaring lack of epistemological grounding in secular thinking. Who has given an adequate account for how we can know anything? 1 Corinthians 2 has been a personal anchor for me this year in that respect. The same Spirit who searches the depths of God (11), is the same Spirit who teaches the things of God (13), is the same Spirit who indwells us to receive spiritual truths (12). The author, the text, and the reader are all divinely accounted for when we approach the Word. If it were not for this, meaning would be meaningless.

Jon Furst said...

It still surprises me how often we leave out the role of the Spirit when we speak of Biblical epistemology, even in conservative texts. You are right, David, to say that it is the Spirit who binds together all of the players in revelation.

This is exactly the thing we miss when we approach the text with our own agenda, and by the same token our presuppositions are inevitably loosed when our seeking is ruled by submission and humility.

John Paulling said...

So is it true that the impossibility of getting beyond our presuppositions has been overstated? Is it possible to come at the text with a blank slate? Is modern positivistic epistemology correct with regard to a person that achieves a posture of humility, and receives the assistance of the Spirit? Or does the Spirit mold, and use our presuppositions to gradually guide us toward truth?

david said...

The 1 Corinthians 2 comment was more a reaction to postmodern incredulity toward meaning and not an endorsement of culture-less truths, suspended in a vacuum, disseminated among blank slates (i.e. as if medieval Europe and modern India share identical conceptions of the Triune God). God deliberately spoke an acted within cultures and I am suspicious of but also guilty of seeking the "unencumbered" meaning behind the text as if I could free myself of my own vantage point.

If it were not for the Spirit's work in believers the transmission of the gospel between cultures might end up look like a twisted game of telephone where each missionary venture is slightly distorted from the one before.

In light of the role of presuppositions (and culture and sin) how might we use the word 'precision' when it comes to theology?

John Paulling said...

Now we're talking. I have something to say about that in light of Jesus' interchange with Peter in Mark 8, but I want to post an entire entry about it. I have another application of that text I want to bring up along with all this.

Paul-David Young said...

It seems that their still remains the idea that the Spirit will lead us to "one big juicy insight of the text". Is it a matter of viewing things in relational terms rather than mechanical, (i.e. because we are relating to God, we can and will have varying correct readings of one text)? I had 1 Cor 2 in mind when I initially responded, it seems that the Spirit can use scripture ways that might be beyond and against the author's intent. how much elasticity is there in the text?

Jon Furst said...

I have often wondered about that too, P.D. I know we tend to scoff at Augustine's hermeneutic at times, particularly of Genesis 1 in which he interprets most of its facets with a double meaning, but is it not possible that the author of books like Genesis could not see the full meaning of the stories, symbols, and images they were recording? If God is the primary author of scripture, perhaps the secondary authors are unaware of the full complexity of what they write. Thus it would not be so foolish for subsequent generations to see double meanings.

Of course, one would have to examine the value in determining the dual meaning of a text since it would be difficult to substantiate.

I have a diagram for this. I will have to figure out how to draw pictures on this fangled site.