Picking up on the theme from yesterday morning…
In my almost two decades of academic training in the interpretation of Scripture, I’ve met quite a lot of methods and techniques for doing so. Not all methods are equal. That’s fairly obvious and nowhere moreso than when trying to teach students how to preach.
The fundamental goal of interpreting the Scriptures is forming Christian habits within the community of the faithful. Not all interpretive methods tend towards this goal.
As I reflect on the matter, I believe that:
- some methods are edifying: that is, they are good and efficacious ways to nurture Christian habits within congregations.
- some methods are stultifying: that is, they become a comfortable means of ignoring the text to maintain a status quo. (I think of parish Bible studies that seem to consist purely of “This is how this text makes me feel” coupled with hearty wallops of “everyone’s entitled to their opinion”…)
- some methods are pointless: that is, their aims and abilities are so removed from the goal of forming mature Christian communities that it’s a waste of time of attempt to engage them with parish realities.
- some methods are destructive: that is, they are fundamentally incapable of contributing to Christian maturity in any way, shape, or form.
- some methods are corrosive: that is, in small doses they may be helpful, but when used habitually and with out adequate safeguards they become destructive.
- some methods are complementary: that is, some methods need to be paired with one or more other methods in order to be edifying—some methods work well in combination that would function poorly are negatively in isolation.
Having said that, we get to the truly hard part and the place where I find myself pondering the most. To what degree can various interpretive methods be assigned to these categories flatly and to what degree does the assignment depend on the character and composition of the congregation?
I think there are a certain number that can be classed absolutely (i.e., structuralism moves straight to “pointless”), there are some that can be classed conditionally, and yet others that require judicious classification and application.
Like I said, I’m still pondering… What do you think?
Sounds good to me.
I think the method is largely irrelevant; it’s the people involved who either make it creative and spiritually nourishing or destructive. I’ve been involved with historical-critical approaches which went both ways. The difference wasn’t the method. It was the people.
I certainly agree that the person interpreting is a major factor! However, I’m less inclined to see method as neutral. I truly think that some methods are so heavily invested with philosophical a prioris and assumptions that their use in a confessional context is problematic.