I’ve been involved in several conversations as of late about the hermeneutical influences that often shape our reading, understanding, and application of Scripture. As I’ve stated before, it’s quite helpful if we’re aware of the types of ideas shaping the way that we understand Scripture.
Scholars tend to spend a lot of time analyzing the influences upon certain theologies and interpretive methods. I’ll never be found suggesting that this aspect of scholarship is a waste of time. Understanding how Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, or Barth has shaped one’s theology can be helpful in evaluating it’s truthfulness, etc. This can be true about every area of theological reflection.
In the past few weeks there has been a lot of talk about Katharine Jefferts Schori’s somewhat recent sermon (here and here). Schori is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and her sermon suggested a radically different interpretation for Acts 16:16-34. I’ll let you read the links to find the details of the story. For my part, I find her interpretation to be in conflict with both the intention of Luke, the apostle Paul, and the Holy Spirit… which brings me to my point.
I wonder if scholars, assuming they are orthodox believers, are willing to concede that, ultimately speaking, there may be an often ignored hermeneutical influence at work that goes beyond those that are often suggested? Rather than seeing a hermeneutical influence as being traced back to Schleiermacher, Bultmann, or Gutiérrez, perhaps we should look beyond those human influences and discern that there are spiritual forces attempting to influence human beings all of the time. A key text that indicates this can be found here:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” (1 Tim. 4:1-3)
While it’s no longer fashionable to call a spade a spade, I think it’d be helpful for Christians to remember that some influences go beyond humanity and find their origin in the mind of Satan or demons.
Here’s the problem I think people have in regards to making “judgments” about these types of issues… nobody wants to be mean-spirited. Yet the apostle Paul seems to indicate that one can “name names” and also discern the real influence behind certain “theologies.” After all, after Paul names Hymenaeus and Philetus as among those who have “swerved from the truth,” who lead people “into more and more ungodliness” with talk that spreads like “gangrene,” (2 Tim. 2:16-18), he also reminds his readers to both “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies” and “kind to everyone” (2 Tim. 2:23-24). Thus, one can make “judgmental” statements while still being gracious and kind. It’s hard, but possible.
Of course, this “ultimate hermeneutical influence” concept is pretty clear when Paul writes that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
I guess my point is that sometimes I think our lack of discernment about the true influence upon some theologies actually causes us to faint back from taking a stand for truth. This point can be manipulated to extremes on both sides, of course, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of this hermeneutical issue.