Today I’m doing some teaching on hermeneutics at London Theological Seminary. One of the things that has struck me in preparation is how often we slip into individualism and self-sufficiency in this area. We tend to act as though so long as we have a sound methodology we’ll probably manage without the help of the Spirit, and certainly without the help of other believers. Here’s a quote on the importance of viewing hermeneutics as a community project:
“Scripture comes to us in the shape of human words, which are already “contextual” (in the sense of being written for very specific historical contexts) and are, moreover, open to different interpretations. In making the affirmation above I am, however, suggesting a “point of orientation” all Christians (should) share on the basis of which dialogue between them becomes possible. No individual or group has a monopoly here. So, the Christian church should function as an “international [and I’d add historical] hermeneutical community” (Hiebert 1985b:16) in which Christians (and theologians) from different contexts [and eras] challenge one another’s cultural, social and ideological biases. This presupposes, however, that we see fellow-Christians not as rivals or opponents but as partners (Küng 1987:198), even if we may be passionately convinced that their views are in need of major corrections.”
D. Bosch,Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991, p.187
“Still, when we ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares.”(Nouwen, Out of Solitude, 129)
Here’s a nice little book that does exactly what it says on the tin. The latest offering from Kevin DeYoung entitled Crazy Busy: A [Mercifully] Short Book About A [Really] Big Problem looks at the reasons why we allow ourselves to become so busy. For me I think chapters 2 and 3 were best – chapter 2 outlines three dangers to avoid: first, busyness can ruin our joy; second, busyness can rob our hearts; third, busyness can cover up our soul-rot. Chapter 3 outlines the various manifestations of pride which drive busyness – things like prestige, people-pleasing, perfectionism (and other things that begin with ‘p’). All in all its a useful little book and won’t take long to read. It didn’t have anything incredibly insightful, and it feels a bit like a book written in a rush by a busy man, but, nonetheless, there’s plenty to profit from.
I’ll admit it – I watch the X-Factor. What is more, I quite enjoy it. I’m sorry, I know it’s wrong, but there it is. I’m not sure why I enjoy it because most of the time it winds me right up. Like, for example, this past weekend at judges houses. Contestants are almost through to the live televised shows. If they can make it through this then they’ll perform before millions on live telly. Time and time again contestants broke down sobbing (none more so than the over 25s) expressing the belief that they couldn’t possibly let their families down. It would be the end of the world if they had to tell their children they hadn’t made it. Armageddon would immediately ensue if they couldn’t provide for their children the better life they deserve (deserve! don’t get me started). But where do they get this crazy idea that a) their kids deserve a materially prosperous life and b) that is what their kids really need. It’s like their lives are ruined if mummy or daddy don’t get through. All of this was made most plain at the end, when they film these poor dejected rejects going home to break the bad news to their families. One guy (Joseph) walked in all tearful and forlorn to tell his family that Sharon had said no. As soon as he walked in his little boy’s eyes lit up; he ran across the room and threw his arms around his dad beaming from ear to ear. Then dad dropped the bomb. And guess what? His kid couldn’t have cared less – he still clung to dad, laughing, grinning, eyes sparkling, that the most important man in his life was home. Kids don’t need money, cars, houses, fancy schools. What kids want and need is YOU!
A friend of mine is working on a PhD in race relations and theological development in the
US between 1865-1969. Sounds fun heh? The story he traces is fascinating and the implications huge. Here’s the big idea: different cultures or groups have their own presupposed ideological culture. And to the extent that one accepts and inhabits the presupposed ideological culture determines the extent to which one can correctly approach and interpret Scripture. So white middle class westerners look to white middle class westerners to do their theological thinking for them. Black African Christians look to black African theologians. Feminists look to feminists, and so on and so forth. The solution is not to try and block out our cultures or contexts (such a task would be impossible) but rather to read more widely theologians from other cultures and groups. In so doing we, to some extent, ‘de-horizon’ ourselves, become aware of our blind spots, see things from another’s perspective and may actually learn something along the way. So rather than being suspicious or dismissive of those from other stables or groups read, listen, and be prepared to learn.
Historically theologians have distinguished between God’s communicable and incommunicable attributes. His communicable attributes are those things which we, in some way, express by virtue of being made in his image – things like love, goodness, kindness etc.
By contrast his incommunicable attributes are those things he possesses but we don’t – omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience. I’m reading a book by Zack Eswine at the moment entitled Sensing Jesus, and he helpfully applies what should be blinkin’ obvious, but is often forgotten by those with many years of theological training. Here’s the insight – brace yourselves: you don’t have to try and image God’s incommunicable attributes! So you don’t have to be everywhere at once, know everything at once, fix everything at once. It’s ok to be finite and, well, human. I guess we all, but I suspect pastors in particular, struggle with this. We’re often people pleasing control freaks. But the application of the doctrine of incommunicable attributes calls you (liberates you) to let you be you, and let God be God. Sola Dei Gloria.