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The Hermeneutical Posture

15 Jan

[Part 3 in our series on Hermeneutics]

There are fundamentally two postures when it comes to hermeneutics. A posture of faith or a posture of skepticism.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, writing in the beginning of the 19th century, referring to poetry, says that when reading, we must do so with “that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.”  In other words, as David Jasper observes in his book A Short Introduction to Hermeneutics, “To read anything requires, if you will, an initial act of faith in the text before us.”

The same can be said of reading the Bible.  At some level, to read it well means we must — if only for the moment — enter into the world of the Bible, believing it to be true.  This “hermeneutics of faith” was the dominant way that scripture was read for 1500 years.

But over the past 400 years or so, the dominant way of reading the bible would better be characterized as a “hermeneutics of suspicion”. This approach entails coming to the text with a caution, even skepticism, determined to test every claim and proposition “against such humanly defined standards as the light of reason or the evidence of history.” (Jasper)  In academics, a “hermeneutics of suspicion” is pretty much the only accepted posture.

However, I am not an academic.  I am a disciple of Jesus.  So I unapologetically embrace a hermeneutic of faith in my approach to the scriptures — an actually think most academics would benefit from that posture, if only as a “suspension of disbelief”.  In other words, to interpret the Bible we should assume that the Bible is what it claims to be.  At the end of the day we are free to reject what the bible says, but we should respect the text as the text.

But as a follower of Jesus, my hermeneutic of faith goes further.

– I believe the text we have is inspired by God.

– I trust in the manuscripts that have produced the text we have today.  In other words, I am not interested in debates about the validity of certain texts.  As an element of my evangelical faith, I accept the canon of scripture affirmed by the universal church.

– I believe no text has as much authority in terms of life and faith as the bible.

– I believe that on issues of faith and life, the bible is accurate and reliable.

– I believe there is a consistent ethic and narrative being told from Genesis to Revelation.

– I believe that the bible cannot just be read from the ivory tower, but must be lived on the highways and the bi-ways and the alley-ways.

So these are some of the assumptions I bring to my reading of the text.  As a follower of Jesus, I unapologetically have a posture of faith.

What is your posture towards the Bible?

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One response to “The Hermeneutical Posture

  1. Ben Dubow

    January 15, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    <p>Nancy…</p><p>Great post. I think your 4-part analysis is pretty solid. I also really appreciate this:</p><p><i>" don?t feel the need to ?have faith? that the Bible is 100% inspired by God, accurately canonized, inerrant on matters of faith and life, and consistent in ethic and narrative. I treat it like it is as a practical matter but I honestly don?t worry about it much; if the Bible was less than all that, I ?have faith? Jesus will speak to me through the Holy Spirit and through Scripture and give me wisdom when I need it."</i></p><p>And I agree… while I do take those things to be by faith, if they were not true it would not be a deal killer or big deal to me. The teachings of Jesus, the leading of the Holy Spirit, the cloud of witnesses, and a dynamic prayer dialogue with the Father is pretty sufficient… and that is, at the end of the day, how I read the Bible… in dialogue with Father, Son, Spirit… and church.</p>

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