The Meaning of "Life": The Giving of Life as a Criterion for Ecumenical Hermeneutics

By Smit, Peter-Ben | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

The Meaning of "Life": The Giving of Life as a Criterion for Ecumenical Hermeneutics


Smit, Peter-Ben, Journal of Ecumenical Studies


I. Introduction

The hermeneutical discussion is one of central importance for the ecumenical enterprise The Faith and Order Paper, A Treasure in Earthen Vessels, (1) witnesses to this. All hermeneutics need criteria, so A Treasure in Earthen Vessels develops a number of them, insisting that ecumenical hermeneutics--that is, a "hermeneutics for unity"--should (a) allow for a "greater coherence in the interpretation of the faith," (b) enable "a mutually recognizable (re)appropriation of the sources of the Christian faith," and (c)"prepare ways of common confession and prayer." (2) Throughout the document, however, another characteristic criterion appears, one that is never clearly formulated, namely, that an interpretation should be "life-giving." After sketching briefly the history of the ecumenical discussion about hermeneutics in order to provide the necessary context, as a contribution to the ecumenical discussion about hermeneutics, I first outline where and how the notion of "life-givingness" appears in A Treasure in Earthen Vessels. Second, I seek sources of clarification in the fields of medicine, biblical studies, and pneumatology. Finally, I conclude that the criterion of life-givingness is probably one of the most promising in the whole text.

The fields of medicine, biblical studies, and pneumatology are relevant for the following four reasons: First, since the question of what life is and how it should be defined is probably most fiercely raised in discussions surrounding abortion, stem-cell research, and euthanasia, the theological discussion could profit greatly from an interdisciplinary approach that considers views from the health sciences. Second, since the Bible is the primary source of Christian thinking and this essay's context is that of Christian theology, it is worth probing the notion of a "biblical definition of life." Third, since the language about life used in A Treasure in Earthen Vessels is strongly shaped both by Johannine pneumatology and, more directly, by the section about the Holy Spirit in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, it will be useful to see the importance of the "Spiritas-Giver-of-Life" in recent pneumatological thought. Including pneumatology will also do justice to the importance of tradition in theology. Finally, some tentative conclusions will be formulated to suggest a way in which insights gained from the health sciences, pneumatology, and the Bible can be combined fruitfully to develop the criterion of life-givingness that will help to discern an authentically "inspired" interpretation of Christian tradition, notably of the Bible.

II. Hermeneutics in the Ecumenical Movement

In general, it is recognized that within the ecumenical movement there have been two distinct approaches to the question of hermeneutics. (3) The first and oldest approach concentrates on achieving a common understanding of scripture and tradition. (4) The central question is: How do we find a way of reading the creeds, for example, that is acceptable to all and that will bring the visible unity of our churches closer, be it in the form of reconciled diversity or in other ways? This, however, is not the question at stake here. This approach is closely related to Oldham's "best and ablest minds" approach. (5)

The second approach reflects a later development. It does not aim at establishing a common hermeneutical framework into which all readings of scripture and tradition can fit or with which all can agree; rather, it aims to develop ways for churches to understand one another's differences. This approach is much more contextually oriented and more frequently borrows its models from the social sciences. Understanding one another is the best description of this approach, or one may call it, with Rudolf von Sinner, a "hermeneutics of acceptance." (6) Von Sinner refers to past World Council of Churches general secretary Konrad Raiser as a prominent spokesperson of this kind of hermeneutics, quoting him as follows: "The legitimacy of inculturation or contextualization is not a matter of debate any longer.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Meaning of "Life": The Giving of Life as a Criterion for Ecumenical Hermeneutics
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.