Tag: Hermeneutics

Join the Conversation

Share

By Bekah Houff

Informative. Enlightening. Thought-provoking. Insightful. Energizing. Stimulating. Engaging. Refreshing. Challenging. Inspiring. Interesting. Hopeful. Enriching conversation.

I could go on. These are just the top reflections from the participants at Bethany Theological Seminary’s inaugural Young Adult Forum entitled “Anabaptism, the Next Generation.”

The goal was to bring young adult ministry practitioners together for a conversation about Anabaptism and its influence on and appeal to young people today. Instead we fostered an intergenerational conversation from college students to seasoned pastors. Some attendees were currently practicing ministry with young adults and some were simply interested in the conversation or were young adults themselves stepping into leadership and ministry.

The Ted-Talk inspired format encouraged speakers to share a “big idea” instead of an all-encompassing lecture.  The format left space for short conversations between talks and allowed for more than just one or two keynote speakers as we are accustomed to at academic conferences. Talk-back sessions brought more than one speaker together so that their talks could interact with one another – music with spirituality, discernment with relationship, leadership with hermeneutics, and so on.

We heard talks that set the background with Anabaptist spirituality and biblical hermeneutics; we heard and experienced how we practice our Anabaptism through music; learned about practicing discernment together, being leaders, and making peace; we also addressed current concerns and practices of ministry with young people considering the multi-ethnic church and ministry with college students. Participants continued conversations in talk-back sessions, during lunch discussions where participants chose topics by sitting at tables with others interested in that conversation, and even during breaks as people met in the hallways of the seminary.

We also embarked upon a new adventure, taking what we were learning inside the walls of Bethany out into the community. We provided a list of locations for participants to go and observe how the context is appealing to the community, particularly young people. They engaged in questions such as, why do people come here? What is the role of this place in the community? How does this place and the work that it does interact with the conversations we’ve been having at Bethany this weekend?

Participants went to restaurants, a church, an ice cream place, and even bars and local hot spots to engage in these questions and observe the context and community in Richmond, Indiana. The goal was not to proselytize or make ourselves known but to take the first step from academic conversation to the streets and neighborhoods of our own cities.

I am grateful for the places where Bethany can grow into this forum and humbled by the things that others got out of the experience. The one thing that struck me the most after poring over the evaluations from this event is how much relationships were a part of this forum.  Participants reflected on learning about the importance of intergenerational relationships, different ways to disciple others, the importance of discernment with the body of Christ, becoming partners instead of leaders, making connections, embracing multiculturalism, and connecting young adults to the church in new ways.  We were invited into relationship with each other during the forum and encouraged to nurture relationships back home.

How are you engaging with each other in your faith community? What do you observe of different generations, ethnicities, and cultures? What is the importance of relationship for you and for your church? How do we marry our Anabaptist heritage to the neo-Anabaptism appealing to many young Christians today? These questions and many others still linger in my mind weeks after the forum. I look forward to observing and engaging them as I continue to participate in my faith community and in denominational gatherings.

If you would like to view the talks from this forum or for more information about this and other Young Adult Forums you can visit www.bethanyseminary.edu/YAForum2015. You will find the list of speakers from this spring, videos of their talks, and the schedule for the event. If you have questions you can be in touch with Bekah Houff or Russell Haitch of Bethany’s Institute for Ministry with Youth and Young Adults at yya@bethanyseminary.edu.

Inspiring and educational talks. Thoughtful and engaging conversation. Friends, old and new. Beautiful singing. Connecting with the local community. Meaningful worship. These are just a few of the things we did together at the 2015 Young Adult Forum. We hope you will come and join us for the next Young Adult Forum April 15-16, 2016 at Bethany Theological Seminary.

Let’s continue the conversation!

Bekah HHouff_wouff is Coordinator of Outreach Programs for Bethany Theological Seminary. She received her MDiv from Bethany with an emphasis in Youth and Young Adult Ministries. Bekah has been active in summer camping ministry, district youth ministry, and served in the Youth and Young Adult Office of the Church of the Brethren. Needless to say, she loves ministry with young people!

Share
Continue Reading

Brethren Hermeneutics

Share

By Andrew Hamilton

I was recently rereading an old edition of Brethren Life & Thought and rediscovered a thought provoking article by Nadine Pence Frantz.1 In her article, “Biblical Interpretation in a ‘Non-Sense’ World,” Frantz offers a thought provoking discussion regarding the Believer’s of both modernity and post-modernity. Modernity, being most notably marked by the epistemological foundation of a Cartesian mind-set, lends itself hermeneutically to the understanding that the source of meaning lies within the individual. The basic idea here is that the individual receives unmitigated information regarding reality allowing the person to apprehend the said reality leading to an objective understanding of that reality. In addition to this objective apprehension is the role of individuality and particularity in this epistemology. First, it is only the individual who apprehends the objective information regarding the object (reality). Any other individual must also understand that which one individual understands regarding said object. Therefore if one person sees and understands the reality of a chair, any other individual will also see and understand the reality of the same chair. Secondly, the reality that is perceived by the individual is a particular reality that is not like any other. For instance the chair that is experienced by the individual is an oak high-backed chair and not just any chair. Therefore according to modernity, the individual can and must apprehend the objective reality of that particular chair. This process of apprehension relies upon the fundamental presupposition that the locus of knowledge and understanding is located within the individual, whom Frantz labels the “unmediated self of the Cartesian ego.”

As Frantz points out, this philosophical posture underlies the development of biblical criticism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Therefore the result of this philosophical foundation was that there could only be one meaning for any text. Consequently the goal of historical criticism is to find the singular meaning that lies within the words written by a particular author during a particular time period. In order for the historical critical method to be applicable for contemporary readers and hearers, one must find the underlying universal principle, which extends out of the singular intended meaning of the text.

This desire and hunt for objective truth, however, eventually succumbed to the criticism and questions of postmodernity. While Frantz notes authors such as Derrida, Foucault, Schussler-Fiorenza, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, one of the most interesting examples is offered by Stanley Fish in his text, Is there a Text in this Class?2 What each of these scholars contributed included the recognition that individual perception is affected by a multitude of external factors including not least of these life experiences. Unfortunately, some of these factors include power, economics, gender, and class. In the real world it is the powerful, rich, and ethnically righteous who have been allowed to provide the normative interpretations and each of these aspects contributes to the shaping of the textual interpretations.

What these postmodern scholars did was to debunk the notion that any text contained a singular meaning. In essence it moved the locus of meaning from the mouth of the author to the mind of the hearer or reader. What postmodernity hermeneutics said was that regardless of what the author intends the hearer or reader creates the meaning. Again Fish illustrates this with the interpretation of a supposed poem by the students of his literary criticism class.3 While the class assumed that what they were looking at was a poem, they indeed provided an interpretation. However, the supposed poem, which they were observing, was in fact merely a list of author’s names. This particular narrative illustrates that the meaning of any text is subject to the individual’s (in community) perspective. What this means is that to live in a postmodern society is to live in a society that accepts a plurality of interpretations and meanings.

This then leads Frantz to pose the question, “Can the Bible mean in a postmodern world?” The answer is found in the relationship of the Believer’s church hermeneutic to postmodern approaches for interpretation. In order to find the relationship one must first understand the nature of the Believer’s church hermeneutic. Unlike other traditions, the Believer’s church traditions do not formulate their hermeneutic according to creeds or even statements of faith. Rather one of the primary factors of interpretation for these churches is the extent to which the believer is living the scriptures. Orthopraxis is emphasized rather than orthodoxy. In Frantz’ view this may offer itself as being a potential link to an encounter oriented postmodern world.

The Believer’s Church traditions understand scripture in a unique manner. Frantz states that her understanding of the Believer’s church’s view of the Bible is one that sees the text as primarily testimonial narratives. She says, “The stories, events, and worship materials recorded in the Christian canon are regarded as ‘a scattered series of documents emerging from the ongoing struggles of a community.’”4 In other words, the text of the Bible is not seen as containing a collection of principle truths or as merely a historical account. These churches understand the Bible to be a narrative of a group of people whose self-perception was defined by its interdependent and dialogical interaction with God. Therefore they emphasized the intent of the Bible as a whole to be a testimonial possessing rhetoric aimed at evoking a response. She specifically describes this as being “that which was told and recorded with the intent to evoke a similar life and faith in other people. It is intended to evoke an encounter.”5 Thus the only appropriate response to this testimony, according to the Believer’s church, was humble obedience.

Moreover the Believer’s church tradition holds to a contextual understanding of revelation. Unlike other tenets of Christianity, these churches do not believe that revelation is some sort of abstract truth. For them it is the insight received by the community of faith seeking to be attentive to the text within a particular context. Frantz describes it as “seeing a new way of interacting or of structuring community life.”6 Instead of attempting to shed the historical contextual information to get at the abstract kernel of truth, their understanding requires the concrete historical circumstances surrounding the text because it is only within real history that Christ can be known.

Modernistic hermeneutical approaches have notoriously attempted to separate the processes of interpretation, understanding, and application. While Frantz points to Hollinger’s compilation of essays, Hermeneutics and Praxis, as evidence toward this end, one can find evidence of this even within the practical manuals of biblical interpretation.7 However, for the Believer’s church tradition there is a fundamental link between epistemology and practice. Life experience is the validation of knowledge. One comes to know God through the living encounter with God as experienced with the reception of the scriptural testimony. In other words, interpretation essentially involves application. The exercise of interpretation is not complete until it is lived. The implication of this is that revelation requires a response to the encounter. Revelation is not revelation unless the recipient responds even as divine revelation demands a response. Revelation cannot exist exclusively apart from a response to it and in the same way the hermeneutical endeavor is not complete unless that which was understood is lived. This idea is perfectly expressed in Bernhard Rothmann’s quote: “And, if we, with constant diligence, earnestly do what we understand we will daily be taught further by God.”8 Therefore as Cornelius Dyke once stated, revealed truth is only received through obedience and understanding is only accomplished through the application of the information.

While postmodernity surely questions and ultimately denies the power of narrative, the Believer’s church tradition challenges postmodernity by an insistence of trusting the scripture to be a continuation of history which shapes our epistemological lenses and ultimately a testimony which elicits a response.

Andrew Hamilton is pastor of Akron Springfield Church of the Brethren and an adjunct professor of theology at Ashland Theological Seminary.This post originally appear on his blog Hermes Table.

  1. 39 no 3 Sum 1994, p 153-166 []
  2. Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), 33ff. []
  3. Ibid., 33ff. []
  4. Frantz, “Biblical Interpretation in a ‘Nonsense’ World,” 158. []
  5. Ibid. []
  6. Ibid., 159 []
  7. See Randolph Tate’s, Biblical Interpretation. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997). In the introduction Tate’s discussion of interpretation completely eclipses praxis. He argues for procuring meaning through the exegetical process. []
  8. As cited in Cornelius Dyke’s article, “Hermeneutics and Discipleship,” Essays on Biblical Interpretation. Edited by, Willard Swartley, (Elkhart: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1984), 30. []
Share
Continue Reading