Discipling Hermeneutics: Interpretation in Christian Perspective

By Stiver, Dan R. | Anglican Theological Review, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Discipling Hermeneutics: Interpretation in Christian Perspective


Stiver, Dan R., Anglican Theological Review


Disciplining Hermeneutics: Interpretation in Christian Perspective. Edited by Roger Lundin. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans. viii + 177 pp. $18.00 (paper).

Disciplining Hermeneutics grew out of a conference held at Wheaton College in 1994 on "Hermeneutics and a Christian Worldview," and the book is dedicated to Arthur Holmes of Wheaton. The nine entries in this book reflect the initial theme but are focused on specific hermeneutical issues and represent the various disciplines of philosophy (Nicholas Wolterstorff), Donald Marshall (English), David Lyon (sociology), and Kevin Vanhoozer (theology).

The price of the book is worth the initial engagement of I. Howard Marshall and Merold Westphal with Wolterstorff's fresh and provocative reframing of the hermeneutical approach to Scripture in terms of "divine discourse" rather than revelation. Wolterstorff's essay is a succinct presentation of a thesis he has presented in Divine Discourse (Cambridge, 1995).

Like Hans Frei, Wolterstorff criticizes the way in which the text of Scripture is neglected by the way both conservative and liberal scholars consider the text as a report of something, rather than as conveying a message itself, a move which he roots in an exemplary way in John Locke. He charges Karl Barth, however, with a similar evasion. Frei and Paul Ricoeur also come in for criticism in the way that they focus on the sense of the text rather than on authorial discourse, which Wolterstorff is careful to distinguish from the Romantic hermeneutic of Schleiermacher. Wolterstorff argues that with the help of speech act theory, we can understand Scripture as an illocutionary act of divinely authorized discourse, a kind of double hermeneutic where the interpreter's purpose is to discern what God is saying through the human writer. Wolterstorff argues that this double hermeneutic is the predominant hermeneutic of the church until the modern period.

While Wolterstorff's idea is an important new approach to Scripture, genuinely moving us out of the box of the past, basic hermeneutical questions such as the post-Kantian questions raised by Ricoeur and Hans-Georg Gadamer, as Westphal argues, still remain. Wolterstorff leaves the role of God quite passive, as I. Howard Marshall indicates, and does not deal with the question of God's providential involvement in the production of Scripture. His view itself is probably best seen as a dimension of the theory of inspiration. While helpful, then, it does not address very much the issue of interpretation, which is Westphal's concern. In other words, we are still left with the question, What did God say?

A dominant theme of the essays, despite disagreements in detail, is that interpretation is not objectivistic but neither is it relativistic.

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