Barney and Buck and Hermeneutics: Being courageous enough to examine how we read the Bible.

…but…Neil…you never LISTEN!

.a blog by Neil Hart on the Lutheran Church of Australia.

My spell checker has no idea what hermaneutics means. Im not surprised really. Neither , it seems, do many Lutheran pastors.

(nope…wait a minute….ahhh… i spelled it wrong… hermeneutics…..thats better)

But…i get ahead of myself. Lets start at the beginning and put the record straight, get names named and the guilty shamed.

The era: late seventies.

The place: Christian Life Week campsite. Pt Peron WA.

Some 30 young campers have been lined up and are being questioned by stern faced camp director Fred (although, to be fair, i’m pretty sure his stern faced masked a huge smile and belly laugh just bursting to get out).

The question: Who was it who put vegemite on the toilet seat?

Why the fuss? The one whose nether regions had been soiled by the trap was none other than the newly graduated camp pastor Buck.

Sadly, no-one confessed. No one was punished. Justice was not done.

Well, reader [i know….there is still only one of you :(  ] I am ready to name names and let justice finally be done. As the questioning was taking place there stood in the kitchen 2 red faced camp cooks, chopping up veges and trying to look innocent and inconspicuous. But…IT WAS THEM WHAT DID IT. GUV.  This corresp[ondednt can now reveal that camp cooks Annette Hart (my wife) and Susan Kroeger (wife of camp director Fred) put the vegemite on the toilet seat.

I meantion that little event coz i was reminded of it just yesterday. I was looking at the write-up on the Hermeneutics Symposium on the LCA website when i read these comments.

Christian P.J. Bahnerth MTh., PhD
Said this on 21-10-2011 at 04:57 pm

For LUTHERANS there is only one answer: The Formula of Concord clearly states; “We believ, teach and confess that the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and the New Testaments are the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraise and judged, ..” FC I Ep. 1

There is no other way but to love and obey.

Barney

David Buck
Said this on 22-10-2011 at 06:50 pm

Well said, Barney!

I dont know who Christian P.J. Bahnerth is (although i’m impressed by the MTh., PhD thing) but the above account of the vegemite shows that i have at least met Pastor Buck albeit some decades ago. “Barney and Buck”. They sound so good when said together like that…dont you think? They should really get together and set up a legal firm or something. I would engage them on the sound of their business name alone. But i don’t think they should be writing any theology books or…say…lecturing at the seminary. Coz it seems that they really have no understanding of the whole question of hermeneutics.

Go Go Gadget Wiki…
hermeneutics (English pronunciation: /hɜrməˈn(j)uːtɨks/) is the study of the theory and practice ofinterpretationTraditional hermeneutics—which includes Biblical hermeneutics—refers to the study of the interpretation of written texts, especially texts in the areas of literature, religion and law. Contemporary, or modern, hermeneutics encompasses not only issues involving the written text, but everything in the interpretative process.

( did you notice this?…English pronunciation: /hɜrməˈn(j)uːtɨks/.  Is that really supposed to help me with the correct pronunciation???!!!) but i digress…

I hesitate to limit the idea of hermeneutics by trying to define it but… hermeneutics is about how we understand what we read and hear and see. Hermeneutics explores the stuff  that helps with understanding and the stuff that gets in the way of understanding. It seeks to explore why 2 people who read the same text come up with very different understandings of what that text means. It explores the ambiguity of language.

Hermeneutics accepts the basic truth that all of us have our own bias in interpreting and understanding the things we read.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/currenttrendscolumns/leadershipweekly/cln80225.html

This article talks about how readers of the Bible commonly fall into 3 categories (conservatives, moderates and progressives) and even gives you a quiz to take to find out which category you fall into.

(guess my score. winner gets a free 15 minute lecture from me entitled “why i am always right and you are often wrong.”)

I dont know how useful these quizzes and categoies are but the article and the study of hermeneutics do point to something very important. No..not just important…essential…critical is a better word…

…It is of critical importance that we acknowledge that we all have prejudices and biases, that we strive to be aware of what they are and how they effect our thinking and how we read and understand the Bible.

Wait. Im not sure you got that.

IT IS OF CRITICAL IMPORTANCE THAT WE ACKNOWLEDGE THAT WE ALL HAVE PREJUDICES AND BIASES ,  THAT WE STRIVE TO BE AWARE OF WHAT THEY ARE AND HOW THEY EFFECT OUR THINKING AND HOW WE READ AND UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE.

One more time with different words…

IT IS OF CRITICAL IMPORTANCE THAT WE ACKNOWLEDGE THAT WE ALL HAVE PREJUDICES AND BIASES ,  THAT WE STRIVE TO BE AWARE OF WHAT THEY ARE AND HOW THEY EFFECT OUR THINKING AND HOW WE READ AND UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE.

(ok,,,same words…but to change the wording would have been an acknowledgement that my previous wording was less than perfect. and i think that you and i know that that is just not possible).

Thats what hermeneutics does. it challenges me to constantly examine my presuppositions and everything that effects my understanding of scripture. It helps me identify my biases.It challenges me to look again…think again… and it gives me the tools to do it.

Imagine what would happen if everyone was willing to explore their own hermeneutic(s?) [i’m not sure of the correct language to use here. do you have a hermeneutic or do you have hermeneutics?] imagine if everyone was honest with themselves about the relative strengths and weaknesses it affords them. Imagine if everyone was confident enough in their own standing that they were willing to open their hermeneutic to the criticism of others.  Every gathering of interested parties, every exchange on controversial issues, would see people listening hard and examining  themselves in the light of challenging statements rather than judging the other. Every debate would be a chance for me, not to win an argument but a chance to be broadened in my understanding and a chance for me to broaden others.

(and everyone would smile and the fairies would come and land on everyone’s shoulders and kiss them on the cheeks and we would all follow the flying pigs home with tinkabell and wendy and have toast and marmalaide for tea…..sigh…..)

Ok…so its not very likely….but i can dream cant i?

By the way… if anyone is interested… concordia seminary in the US has a 31 session course on biblical hermeneutics….available through itunes….free! And its done by a conservative so everyone can be happy. have a look…

http://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/biblical-hermeneutics/id426809656

Of course, not everyne has the time to devote to 31 hour long sessions. When i went through the course, sometimes i had to listen 2 or 3 times to particular segments just to get my head around the concepts. So the 31 hours easily turns into 60 or 80 hours. Man its a big subject. Really big.  So much to consider. Sooo much that influences how we read scripture.  Ive been studying this for a few years now and i realise that i have only dipped a toe in the water.

In the face of all of this Barney and Buck say…

For LUTHERANS there is only one answer: The Formula of Concord clearly states; “We believ, teach and confess that the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and the New Testaments are the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraise and judged, ..” FC I Ep. 1

Are you serious guys??? Thats it? All we need to help us understand the Bible is… the Bible? We are locked up as a church with a roughly 50/ 50 split on the question of Women’s Ordination and your answer to the impasse is …..read the Bible???? There are divergent views in our church on homosexuality, euthanasia, abortion and any number of other ethical issues and you have nothing to add to the debate other than…read the Bible?…when it is abundantly clear that our different readings of the Bible are precisely what have brought about our divergent views.

Guys, do you really expect me to keep going back to the Bible and read and re-read it til i come to the correct understanding….namely…yours? Man thats arrogant. There has only been one person in the history of the world who could boast absolute knowledge of the truth ….and you dont appear to be listening to me!

(whats that Jesus? oh…of  course….you too Jesus…yep sorry…i’ll correct that.)

There have only been two people in the history of the world who could boast absolute knowledge of the truth ….and you dont appear to be listening to us!

Sorry Barney and Buck. Your statement is not at all helpful and its belongs somewhere other than in a discusson on hermeneutics. Perhaps you should just stick to private internet forums where people of like mind can agree with each other over and over again and sink deeper and deeper into their entrenched positions. (hey…is that a hermaneutic?] I think it might be!)

Its kinda sad really. The church is full of so many different people with so many different experiences and outlooks and things to contribute to theological debate. And the Bible is so big that it deserves and needs that diversity to even begin to plumb the depths of its wisdom. But we are only gonna benefit from that diversity when we stop being afraid and get willing and even eager to be challenged into new ways of thinking. Honest exploration of hermeneutics affords just that possibility.

An Analogy

We live by the beach and have our own little private laneway to the water. (yeh! I lknow! life’s a bitch :P ) One day when walking down to the beach my youngest grandson said…”its OK if other people want to swim at our beach!”  See!…children can understand grace!

I do lots of fixing things and in acknowledgement of this he once said (with all suitable pride)…”grandad made our beach!”. Now, I’m pretty good at fixing and making stuff. but in all humility i have to acknowledge that “the beach” is a bit beyond even my capabilities. I mean… have you looked at it lately? Its big. Really big. and its attached to an even bigger ocean.

My grandson wants to explore that ocean…to learn all about it, to love it, just like I do. So, i will teach him. Well, initially teach him but eventually (as has happened with my son) learn from him more than i teach. As my grandson and I teach each other/ learn from each other, we will learn to sail and feel the wind and the ocean swell.  We will surf and wipeout and feel the ocean’s power and learn to respect it. We will snorkle and dive and feel this amazing new and alien world surround us, engulf us. We will explore caves and coral reefs. We will swim next to whale sharks and stingrays. We will go out beyond the drop off and stare into the bottomless depths and feel small. And all the time we will feel like we are flying. We will swim out beyond the breakers and float on our backs and loudly dare the great white to take us (and quietly piss our bathers). And all that would be just the start…

Or…i could say….”You want to know about the ocean Grandson? …its all very straight forward. Here it is. It blue and its wet and you can sit in it on a hot day. Come paddle with me!”

So there you have it. Two possible approaches. But it seems to me that only one does justice to the awe inspiring immensity of the ocean. Thats the dangerous one. Its the one that is more than a little bit scary (but the fun is in the scary…isn’t it?). The other approach is safe, very safe.  But…i dunno… its seems more appropriate for a back-yard-inflatable-calf-deep-paddle-pool than an ocean.

Hey Barney and Buck! is that the problem? Are you splashing in your back yard paddle pool when there is a whole ocean out there to be explored? Man…that would be SUCH a waste.