[Sorry about the spacing on this post. I typed it in another program, and pasted it over into WordPress. WordPress’ text editor won’t let me put spacing between the paragraphs.]
In my first post, I suggested that the received hermeneutic (CENI) may not be the problem, or at least not the primary problem. Before I turn to the real problems in the next post, I want to step back and make a few observations.
First, when I delve into these issues, I want it to be clear (and I hope that it comes through in my writing) that I write out of love, rather than out of any desire to tear down or needlessly criticize. I say that because, at least in part, the claim I’m making is polemical in intent. I think the usual discussion about hermeneutics in Churches of Christ needs to be shaken up. We’re at an impasse and no one is making real progress these days, it seems to me.
Partly, I’m floating a hypothesis, testing an idea, that I’m admittedly not totally sure about myself. I hope that, as you read, you will think along with me, noting where the argument makes sense and where it might need to be sharpened.
Those are necessary caveats, because what I write here may be hard to hear for some. “Conservatives” and “progressives” have invested so much in defending or attacking the received hermeneutic in recent decades that it may be hard to hear anything other than — depending on your persuasion — derision of it or assertions of its infallibility.
In the coming post(s) I will be defending the received hermeneutic….sort of. But my point is not so much to mount a defense as it is to say that the hermeneutic shouldn’t be blamed for things it didn’t do (or for eventualities it was not equipped to prevent).
On the other hand, I also realize that what amounts to a defense of the hermeneutic on the basis of tradition will probably not sit well with some of its staunchest advocates. It is, after all, a hermeneutic built upon a total rejection of tradition (going all the way back to A. Campbell in the preface to the 2nd edition of The Christian System, 1839) as even a modest source of theological truth or authority. In what follows, I openly assume such a (modest) role for our tradition. But it’s a limited role: tradition is not on par with Scripture. Rather, I will assume here something along the lines of the Reformed distinction between the “normed norm” (whether tradition, experience, human reason, or whatever else) and the “norming norm” (Scripture). Go here, and scroll down a bit, for a good definition of what I mean when I say that Scripture is our “norm.” Someone might object, of course, that they appeal to the Bible alone and draw upon no other source of authority. That’s a noble ideal but one that does not exist in practice. The best we can do is to submit all of our other sources of reasoning to the judgment of Scripture. Put another way, Scripture ultimately stands in judgment over all of our traditions (and all of our hermeneutical methods!), even as we allow our tradition a voice in our theological reasoning.
Finally, in undertaking this discussion, I assuming that the received hermeneutic is at the center of our identity as a theological tradition and cannot be wholesale removed without seriously compromising the tradition. I am also assuming that this is not a bad thing: allegorical exegesis was at the center of the early Church’s identity and allegorical and typological readings lay at the foundations of orthodox understandings of Scripture to this day (see, among others, the work of John O’Keefe, Frances Young, R.R. Reno, and Rowan Greer). Some have argued that there is no orthodoxy as we have it apart from that particular way of reading the Scriptures. That’s a discussion for another post, though. I raise this example just to say that hermeneutics and identity are very often closely linked, and that — again — that’s not necessarily a bad thing.