Gadamer on time, tradition, and continuity

Photograph of H. G. GadamerStemming from a discussion of Martin Heidegger’s temporal explanation of Dasein, H.-G. Gadamer suggests,

Time is no longer primarily a gulf to be bridged because it separates; it is actually the supportive ground of the course of events in which the present is rooted. Hence temporal distance is not something that must be overcome. This was, rather, the naive assumption of historicism, namely that we must transpose ourselves into the spirit of the age, think with its ideas and its thoughts, and not with our own, and thus advance toward historical objectivity. In fact the important thing is to recognize temporal distance a s a positive and productive condition enabling understanding. It is not a yawning abyss but is filled with the continuity of custom and tradition, in the light of which everything handed down presents itself to us. (Truth and Method, 308)

Thus, Gadamer’s suggestion seems to be that the past is, of course, not our own time, but perhaps neither is it the wholly alien thing that thoroughgoing historicism might represent it as being with respect to the present.

Aubrey on theological lexica

Mike Aubrey has provided an excerpt from an essay of his in Linguistics & Biblical Exegesis (Lexham, 2016). The excerpt strives carefully to work out a middle ground that is neither wholly on the side of theological lexica nor on that of James Barr’s critique of them.

Instead, Mike suggests,

If the failure of theological dictionaries was the assumption that words and concepts are identical, then the failure of the structuralist semantics that dominated the field when James Barr wrote his critique was the assumption that words and concepts are dramatically different. If words mean anything at all, then there must be a substantive relationship between them and the concepts (both associative and denotative) they evoke mentally.

Particularly if language is indeed the medium and horizon of human hermeneutic experience (e.g., H.-G. Gadamer, Truth and Method, 401–514), then the question of theological (or other conceptual) lexicography would still seem to be quite appropriate to ask, albeit perhaps in a chastened fashion in the continuing wake of Barr’s critique.

For the balance of Mike’s reflections, see his original post.

Cognitive bias in biblical interpretation

In the last 2016 issue of the Bulletin for Biblical Research, Aaron Chalmers has an interesting essay on “the influence of cognitive biases on biblical interpretation” (467–80). Chalmers approaches the question from the perspective of cognitive psychology and focuses on “five key cognitive biases”—namely, “confirmation bias, false consensus effect, in-group bias, functional fixedness, and the illusory truth effect” (467).

For Chalmers, bias is almost exclusively a roadblock to proper biblical interpretation that needs to be overcome. Consequently, the latter part of the essay provides five suggestions for “debiasing” oneself. These are understanding cognitive bias, considering opposite views, pausing for adequate reflection, engaging with other interpreters, and avoiding time pressure for completing interpretive tasks (477–80).

In at least one case that I noted, Chalmers explicitly recognizes the possibility of a positive element within the “functional fixedness” type of bias. If biases are not always detrimental but in some ways enabling for our engagement with the world (including, in some respects, its ability to push back on those biases), it might be interesting to consider whether there might be also positive applications for the other four bias types, how to identify these, and how to understand their relations to more negative applications. That being said, Chalmers’s essay certainly provides a concise, helpful rubric for the kind of awareness biblical interpreters should cultivate to avoid simply being “driven along from behind” to where it might not actually be that helpful to go.

Graves, ed., “Biblical interpretation in the early church”

Graves, ed., "Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church" coverNew this month with Fortress is Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church, edited by Michael Graves. According to the volume’s blurb,

Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church is part of Ad Fontes: Early Christian Sources, a series designed to present ancient Christian texts essential to an understanding of Christian theology, ecclesiology, and practice. The books in the series will make the wealth of early Christian thought available to new generations of students of theology and provide a valuable resource for the Church. This volume focuses on how Scripture was interpreted and used for teaching by early Christian scholars and church leaders.

Developed in light of recent Patristic scholarship, Ad Fontes volumes will provide a representative sampling of theological contributions from both East and West. The series aims to provide volumes that are relevant for a variety of courses: from introduction to theology to classes on doctrine and the development of Christian thought. The goal of each volume is not to be exhaustive, but rather representative enough to denote for a non-specialist audience the multivalent character of early Christian thought, allowing readers to see how and why early Christian doctrine and practice developed the way it did.

Hays at B&C

Late last year, Books and Culture interviewed Richard Hays about some of his story and common themes in his work. Stemming from Hays’s similarly titled book, one of the questions addressed is “How is reading backward in a figural sense different from reading prophecy forward?” In response, Hays comments, in part,

To be sure, in the Old Testament, there are a few passages that look forward in hope to a future king who will restore the kingdom, a lot of those particularly in the Psalms. There are also enigmatic passages, of course, in Isaiah that refer to a suffering figure, although that figure is never described there as a Messiah.

But the whole picture doesn’t really come together until you read the text, as I say, “backwards,” through the lens of cross and resurrection. Once you have the story of Jesus, you can go back to the older texts and have a kind of “Aha!” recognition that certain things are foreshadowed there, but there’s a big difference between foreshadowing and prophecy.

When you’re moving forward in a narrative, you can’t know what is foreshadowed until you see the full unfolding of the plot and see what actually happens in the end, and then you can do a second reading of the text in light of its ending. That second reading allows you to unravel clues that you never would’ve seen before.

For the balance of the interview, see the Books and Culture website.

HT: Nijay Gupta

Castleman, Lockett, and Presley, eds., “Explorations in interdisciplinary reading”

Due out this year under Wipf and Stock’s Pickwick imprint is Explorations in Interdisciplinary Reading: Theological, Exegetical, and Reception-historical Perspectives, edited by Robbie Castleman, Darian Lockett, and Stephen Presley. The volume includes essays assembled through the Institute for Biblical Research’s recently concluded study group on Biblical Theology, Hermeneutics, and Theological Disciplines. A key among the essays in the volume is the interplay between Scripture as situated in its own historical contexts and its continuing reception as a canonical whole.

The volume’s ten essays are:

  • Andrew J. Schmutzer, “The Suffering of God: Love in Willing Vulnerability”
  • J. Richard Middleton, “A Psalm against David? A Canonical Reading of Psalm 51 as a Critique of David’s Inadequate Repentance in 2 Samuel 12”
  • J. David Stark, “Rewriting Torah Obedience in Romans for the Church”
  • Darian Lockett, “‘Necessary but not Suffcient’: The Role of History in the Interpretation of James as Christian Scripture”
  • D. Jeffrey Bingham, “Against Historicism: The Rule of Faith, Scripture, and Baptismal Historiography in Second-Century Lyons”
  • Stephen O. Presley, “From Catechesis to Exegesis: The Hermeneutical
    Shaping of Catechetical Formation in Irenaeus of Lyons”
  • Lissa M. Wray Beal, “Land Entry and Possession in Origen’s Homilies on Joshua: Deep Reading for the Christian Life”
  • Craig Blaising, “Integrating Systematic and Biblical Theology: Creation as a Test Case”
  • Susan I. Bubbers, “A Guiding Principle and Question-based Strategy for Integrating Biblical Systematic and Practical Disciplines”
  • Gregory S. MaGee, “Biblical Theology in the Service of Ecumenism: Eschatology as a Case Study”

Hopefully, readers will find my essay will be helpful too. But, based on the preliminary version I read, Susan Bubbers’s contribution is particularly stimulating and thought-provoking in the question-based method that it proposes for theological and practical integration.

It looks like the volume may not yet be up on Wipf and Stock’s website, but it is available on Amazon for pre-order.

Faith, demonstration, and friendship

Fathers of the Church book coverIn his On the Advantage of Believing, Augustine reflects on the necessity of belief but also on the danger of being overly credulous. He comments, in part,

But now consider, you will say, whether in religion we ought to believe. For even if we concede that it is one thing to believe, another to be credulous, it does not follow that there is no fault in believing in religious matters. What if it be a fault to believe and to be credulous, as it is to be drunk and to be a drunkard? One who holds this view as certain, it seems to me, could have no friend. For, if it is base to believe anything, either he acts basely who believes a friend, or, in not believing a friend at all, I do not see how he can call either him or himself a friend…. For there is also no friendship at all unless something is believed which cannot be demonstrated by positive reasoning. (Util. cred. 10.23–24)

To be sure, reasons are important, but reasons have force within the context of some kind of faith toward the source from which the reasons derive.