||Eph 4:14-15: Then
we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there
by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful
scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who
is the Head, that is, Christ.
1:9-10: For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not
stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through
all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life
worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work,
growing in the knowledge of God.
Kevin J. Vanhoozer has written that the church is uniquely
suited to be a place where individuals learn the ethics of understanding. He notes:
[T]he church is that community in which the interpretive
virtues intellectual, ethical, and spiritual are cultivated. For it is not
only a communitys interests but also its virtues that make it an appropriate
environment for obtaining literary knowledge. In short, literary knowledge is not
simply a matter of having the right descriptions but also of having the right dispositions.
In Vanhoozer's vision, the local church can be a place
where we acquire certain habits essential for the proper interpretation of others' ideas.
We learn how to deal faithfully, honestly, and rigorously with sermons,
discipleship studies, creeds and confessions, biblical commentaries, systematic
theologies, and of course, most importantly, the Bible itself. As a result, this
kind of regular practice in reading carries over into the way we deal with all human
texts. We seek to avoid distorting the message; we work to nuance the particulars of
wording; we learn to balance context, background,and genre.
Likewise, this task is not a natural labor alone but is
maximized by the Spirit's work on the human person. God schools us in the handling
of interpretation, teaching us to lay aside our will to twist texts to our own purposes
and to cast suspicion on our own cultural filters when they act to hide us from from what
is there. Equally, he convicts us to read against the grain of a text that teaches
falseness and corruption.
It is sad to reflect on how often churches fail in fair
interpretation. Too many times, churches are places that teach the opposite of
honesty. We learn to bend texts to our own will to power. We promote
half-truths about our political and cultural opponents. We exist in cultural ghettos
with knee-jerk reactions against anything that might even remotely offend. We
quickly condemn when we have not done the hard work of understanding, and thus we bring
ridicule on ourselves and the church as a whole. Instead, we should practice a
hermeneutics of love. We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, and each
of us wants to be properly understood and not distorted.
One of the burdens of some of these selections on worldview
is to suggest that interpretation occurs both in and outside of community, that we need
other voices to help us uncover meaning, even if we also recognize that texts can speak
something other than what our community holds. (cf.
Hermeneutics and Clarity) This is especially the case
with the Christian teaching. We do ourselves a mistake to discount the genuine,
God-given plurality of the universal Church. The Holy Spirit has emphasized
different facets of the unity of his truth through different branches of the people of
God. None of us has a monopoly on scripture and theology. Instead, we learn
from each other how to better unpack the richness that is there. In the same way,
the nature of the Church reminds us that truth is intersubjective; it is best found out
through a variety of approaches and methods and is best uncovered by accounting for the
insights of a larger scope of interpreters than ourselves alone. By doing so, we
practice the virtue of mutual accountability.
* * * * *
Central Insight: Church can
be a lesson in the virtue of proper interpretation, both in how to approach texts and in
how to learn from others in their insights.
Suggestions for Application:
Show how particlar virtues of reading, such as honesty, openness, attentiveness, and/or
discernment, are necessary to explicate the meaning of a particular passage.
Vanhoozer, Kevin J. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.