Saturday, June 30, 2007


Most Protestants believe that the Bible is the "last word" on matters of faith and doctrine. They also believe that there is a scientific way to determine what the objective meaning of the Bible is. This method is commonly known as the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation. The problem is that this method contains many unexamined assumptions.

(I have written about the false security that results from using this method.)

I discovered (HT: Brian Russell) an article that addresses the assumptions of this method and compares them to a "missional hermeneutic." Colin Yuckman calls his paper "An Ulterior Gospel." Here's part of his opening paragraph:

Every hermeneutic operates according to a critical rubric. Implied in each critical hermeneutic, however, is some sort of uncritical, fiduciary commitment. That is, in order to sustain a critical approach, one must remain committed to something else uncritically (one cannot be critical of everything, including one's critical operating principles, or else he will philosophically implode). Therefore, an uncritical commitment underlies every critical hermeneutic. The purpose of this paper is to put side by side the hermeneutic operative in much historical criticism (which has had particular privilege in Western, biblical interpretation) and missional hermeneutics, examining their respective commitments, critical and uncritical, and the trajectory on which these commitments have set them. The result will indicate the degree to which each model represents an adequate example of critical hermeneutics and, furthermore, how missional hermeneutics can adopt the benefits of historical criticism without contracting its ailments.

Translation: Every objective method is built upon several unproven assumptions that must simply be accepted "by faith." He intends to explain the assumptions of the traditional method of interpretation and compare them to the assumptions of a suggested missional approach to biblical interpretation.

If you are interested in this topic and are well-read, you will want to read the entire article. Otherwise, you can take a look at my summary and simplification.

Here are the assumptions made by the traditional method.

  1. Independence. This method was conceived by the Church for the purposes of the Church. But now it considers itself free of any responsibility to the Church. It assumes that the scientific method is the ultimate determinant of truth.
  2. Value-neutrality. Those who use this method assume that they are free from needing to make value judgments and commitments. They believe that it is an objective tool. On the contrary, it smuggles in its own value system.
  3. Rationality. This method treats the Enlightenment view of reason as its universal dogma. It operates within a very specific plausibility structure.
  4. Superior Viewpoint. This method assumes that modern practitioners are able to understand the text better than the people to whom it was written.
  5. Special Rules. This method applies a skeptical attitude toward everything except itself. The rules are valid everywhere but "here."
  6. Accidental Theology. This method assumes a particular view of reality, which requires a religious belief. But this religious belief is not acknowledged or examined. It operates behind the scenes without scrutiny.
  7. Fundamentalist Attitude. This method has an intolerance toward other traditions that is just as narrow-minded as any religious fundamentalism.

Here are Yuckman's suggested guidelines for a missional hermeneutic.

  1. Interpretation Organically Tied to Mission. The message of the Gospel requires faith on the part of the listeners to understand it. But it is only the message of the Gospel, accepted and understood, that can bring forth the needed faith. It is only as we are engaged in the mission of the kingdom that we can understand the content of the "mission statement" commonly known as the Bible.
  2. Openly Theological. Missional interpretation is built upon a theological foundation. One aspect of missional theology is that the Church exists for the sake of those who do not belong to it.
  3. Objective Credulity. The historical method depends upon a universal skepticism. It distrusts everything. Missional interpretation remains open to a new view of reality proclaimed by the text.
  4. Biblical Plausibility Structure. Instead of accepting an Enlightenment plausibility structure, missional interpretation "lives" within a thoroughly biblical worldview.
  5. Particularity and Universality. Missional interpretation sees a movement in the biblical narrative from the particular to the universal. Abraham is chosen by God so that he can bless all the nations of the world. "God's very identity is bound up in the intention to draw in the universal through active work in the particular."
  6. Universal Intent. Michael Polanyi argues that all knowledge requires a personal commitment. There is no such thing as impersonal facts. A personal encounter with reality must result in a claim of universal application. This view sees personal commitment as the foundation of a kind of objectivity. Of course, our view of reality could be wrong. But we can discover the truth only by taking the risk of personal commitment and continued investigation. But this is not some kind of a personal truth. It must be a universal truth if it is truth at all.
  7. Congregation as Interpreter. The only reliable context for understanding the Gospel is the believing community.

I admit that these guidelines are somewhat vague and difficult to comprehend. But I think that Yuckman is headed in the right direction. What do you think?

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

1 comment:

daniel the smith said...

This is a very thought-provoking post/article.