Real Stories IV: Egregious Hermeneutics and the Rush Offense
March was a busy month for me. My studies are always looming over me, I preached a few times, I've been teaching a Greek class at our church, and I tried my hand at auto mechanics (successfully). Other than those things, I had two interesting opportunities for travel. I went to Alabama for the regional Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) / Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS) conference to present a paper, and the following weekend I went to Minnesota to play in the USA National Broomball Tournament.
The ETS/EPS conference was a little disheartening for me. I knew that the situation was bad as far as evangelicals not interpreting the Bible objectively, but I was shocked at how bad it really is. The plenary speaker was Daniel Treier from Wheaton college. Treier, along with Kevin Vanhoozer, is a major proponent of the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS). As adamantly as these proponents seek to deny that they are advocating reading theology into the text, as I sat listening to Treier present, it was clear that was exactly what he is advocating! Interpreting the Bible in light of our theology, and the early Christian creeds is not a legitimate methodology for interpretation. The creeds, and our theology, were arrived upon by interpreting Scripture, not vice versa.2 Immediately after listening to Treier's presentation a fellow EPS member came directly up to me and questioned me as to whether or not I picked up what he was saying. We both observed that Treier was arguing for a hermeneutic which does not interpret the Bible objectively. The shocking thing was that there did not seem to be many objections to what Treier was presenting.
A further demonstration of the subjective approach to interpretation came in response to the paper I presented. In that paper I traced the philosophy taught by Ludwig Wittgenstein which was then imported via Anthony Thiselton into the field of biblical hermeneutics, giving a critique of both Wittgenstein and Thiselton. Due to the lack of time to present, I was only able to offer one of the critiques from my paper during the presentation–that the approaches offered by Wittgenstein and Thiselton are both self-referentially incoherent.3 The responses that I received from those who were present were quite mixed. On the one hand a fellow philosopher commented that I nailed Wittgenstein and gave a fair representation of his thought. I also had someone who wanted to understand more about Thiselton's approach and whether or not there was any use we can have from his methodology.4 On the other hand I had two objections that demonstrated no understanding of what I presented. One objector assumed that by rejecting Wittgenstein/Thiselton I was advocating a form of Platonism. For the record I am a Thomist; Thomism and Platonism do not make good bedfellows. Nowhere in my paper did I give any hint of a Platonic philosophy of language, but this objector seemingly was only aware of broad categories in the philosophy of language. The other objection could be summed up with this sentence: I still think that what he writes can be helpful for people. This is not an objection at all, but simply an espousal of a utilitarian view of interpretation–it doesn't so much matter what is true, it matters what is useful. This objector also did not seem to understand the death-blow that is associated with being self-referentially incoherent. It was very disheartening to see this collection of academics who are so poor at thinking through these issues carefully. These are the people who are teaching those who teach and preach in the context of the church. It truly frightens me.
The following weekend I took a trip of an entirely different nature. I travelled with two other guys from the Carolina broom ball league up to Minnesota to play with a collection of guys from Nebraska/Minnesota in the USA National Broomball tournament. We actually ended up doing fairly well. We lost our first game in double overtime, but won the next won, meaning that we placed 2nd in our pool. Then we won our first playoff game, and really showed that we were a pretty decent group of guys who were capable of really working well together. During our playoff run I was struggling with a fever, so I didn't feel like I really played as well as I should have. There was another guy on the team from Nebraska who also had a really bad cough, so after every game the two of us were sitting next to each other just hacking away like we had the black lung. Our final playoff game we went down early 2-0, thanks in part to them cashing in on the power play. We were able to claw back into the game and in the second half we dominated possession, but were unable to cash in on any of our scoring chances. There were a few posts and crossbars, and the goalie made a few good saves. One of his good saves came against me, where I received a cross-crease pass and I nailed the ball but he was just able to get his toe on it and keep it from going in. So we lost that game, but the team that beat us went on to win our division, so we feel pretty good about our performance.
What I took away from this trip is that I really, really like to play broom ball. It is a lot of fun, and is a respectable sport in its own right. I used to think it was the ugly step-child to ice hockey, but no longer. It is a difficult sport that requires a mix of skill and conditioning to excel at it. Playing against good competition was a lot of fun. Watching the 'A' division games was unreal. These guys were so fast and making great all-around plays. It was really fun to watch. I really hope to be able to go to the national tournament again. I just they don't find out that a Canadian is playing in the USA National tourney!
1I should clarify that when I speak of interpreting the Bible objectively, I mean interpreting it as though the text actually conveys its own meaning. In other words there aren't several different possible interpretations to a text, there is one.
2This critique is given in response to the presentations that Treier gave at the ETS/EPS regional conference. I confess that I have not read any of the TIS proponents extensively.
3To be self-referentially incoherent means that a system contradicts itself when its own principles are applied to those very principles.
4My answer to this is that the only way to salvage what he teaches is to change the foundational principles that he advocates. But at that point you're no longer doing what it is that he's teaching, you're employing some other methodology. He is useful, however, in his adamant admonishment that evangelicals need to engage more with philosophy. It just so happens that his philosophy is quite poor.