the weblog of Alan Knox

Listening to One Another

Posted by on Nov 12, 2009 in discipleship, edification, gathering | 13 comments

In my previous posts “Listening to Experts” and “Listening to Theological Experts,” I suggested that listening only to those who have been educated in theology creates a invalid distinction between those “in the know” and regular people. Instead of relying on “interpretation by experts,” the church should be involved in a community hermeneutic – that is, the whole church should be involved in interpreting Scripture.

Now, some may be concerned that when I talk about a “community hermeneutic” I mean that anything goes, any view is valid, or any interpretation is considered true or beneficial. This is not a community hermeneutic at all.

Instead, a “community hermeneutic” recognizes a few aspects of life as a church that is often missing when the church relies on an “expert hermeneutic.”

A “community hermeneutic” recognizes that knowledge is not the goal of studying Scripture. Even if a person or group of people know exactly what a passage means, that does not indicate that the Scripture is also correctly interpreted. Why? Because we were not given Scripture to tell us what to know, but to tell us what to live.

Now, some may suggest that we cannot live without first knowing. Fine. However, we cannot stop with knowing either. Our goal must be to live in accordance to what reveals to us, including what he reveals to us through Scripture.

Thus, an expert – in Greek or Hebrew, or Old Testament or New Testament, or theology or philosophy, or history or hermeneutics – can help us understand what Scripture says. But, this type of knowledge is not enough. We also need exhortation and examples in how to live. This type of teaching is just as important as other types of teaching.

Even the type of “knowledge” that we need as followers of Jesus Christ is not always the type of “knowledge” that occurs through education. Parsing verbs and interpreting texts and explaining philosophies and categories doctrines may be very important. But there are many other types of “knowledge” that are just as important – if not more important – for the believer.

For example, understanding the meaning of the Greek term for “patience” may not be as helpful as the life lived and the testimony given by the person who is struggling with a chronic disease.

Understanding “church history” can help us interpret the Scripture, but the example and exhortation of a person following Jesus Christ through 80 years of life can be even more beneficial.

The theologian can tell us about the dangers of “sin” in their particular theological system. But, words and actions of the teenager words who recently left a life of drug abuse or sexual abuse may be more of an encouragement to stay away from sin.

Again, I’m not arguing against education. Education is good, and someone with a theological education can be a benefit to the church. However, we must recognize that every believer indwelled by the Holy Spirit is given to the church by God in order to benefit the church.

We need to listen to one another. The teenager needs to listen to the theologian, but the theologian needs to listen to the teenager too. The person on death’s bed can learn from the linguist, but the linguist can learn from the dying person too. The octogenarian should expect to be taught by the historian, but the historian should expect to be taught by this older saint as well.

We need to listen to one another. All of us can help each other understand Scripture and live a life in obedience to God. The includes the auto mechanic and the philosopher, the stay-at-home mom and the theologian, the elementary school teacher and the seminary professor.

In today’s church, many people look to those of us who are theological trained for scriptural interpretation. While those of us who are educated should help the church interpret Scripture, we should also encourage the church to interpret Scripture themselves. Sometimes, a “community hermeneutic” means that those of us who are trained should speak up and teach others. Sometimes, a “community hermeneutic” requires that those of us who are theologically trained should keep our mouths shut and learn from others.

God placed us together in the church because we need one another. Because we need one another, we should listen to one another.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 11-12-2009

    I was moving in this direction for a post 8). Thanks for writing it and thanks for being an example of a theologian/expert who listens!

  2. 11-12-2009


  3. 11-12-2009


    I see people going to Bible studies. I don’t see as many folks, or enough emphasis placed on living out those studies.

    It really doesn’t matter what you know – it matters ”what you live”.
    Through God’s grace, that’s what I’m trying to do.


  4. 11-13-2009

    Alan very well said.

    Jesus commanded us not to tell what He commanded, but to teach OBEDIENCE to what He commanded. I believe this is one of the traditional churches greatest shortcomings and one of the greatest hopes of an organic church. I can testify that meeting in such a way where the body of Christ can speak as you have described is profound.

    Thanks for unpacking this topic so well.

  5. 11-16-2009

    Hey everyone, thanks for the comments. I’m sorry that it took me so long to respond. So, how do we encourage others to “listen to one another”? (Both for leaders and non-leaders?)


  6. 11-10-2011

    This is what I love about open fellowship without a specific “leader” of special teaching scheduled

    It allows everyone to bring what’s on their hearts without being obligated or locked in on a specific topic

    And when that happens it always seems that scripture will automatically interpret itself as we discuss the topics as they come up

    This at least is my experience

    This is also why it is hard to go into other fellowships sometimes as they already have their set interpretations IMO

  7. 7-31-2012

    “Sometimes, a “community hermeneutic” requires that those of us who are theologically trained should keep our mouths shut and learn from others.”

    Amen. The same spirit indwells us all. God speaks through the babes.

    Some of the best learning takes place in a group when truth is spoken by those for whom God and the Scriptures are new. Some of the worst occurs when no one can get a word in edgewise because of a know-it-all in the room whose mind is a closed book and for whom curiosity and wonder have vanished.

  8. 7-31-2012


    Thanks for the comment. I think the best teaching / encouraging comes from the person who is living it, regardless of his/her education level.


  9. 8-1-2012


  10. 8-1-2012

    I should have said, “some of the best learning for me.” And I also confess that sometimes I have a tendency to be the talkative know-it-all.

  11. 8-1-2012


    Yes, I have a tendency to be talkative as well.


  12. 11-6-2012

    You said “A “community hermeneutic” recognizes that knowledge is not the goal of studying Scripture.
    That is one of the most profound things Ive read from you to date.
    As a homeschooler, you will probably appreciate the following anecdote.
    My wife and I, and our fellowship for that matter, have modeled our learning upon the precept of 2 Peter 1:5.
    Knowledge is added to virtue because without virtue, it puffs us up in pride.
    When our children push the boundary limits on virtue, we stop teaching them knowledge and put them to work. Its usually pride and selfishness that is at the root of their, and our straying from the truth as it is in Jesus, and so feeding the lie that knowledge is something apart from His person is dangerous. Working hard, long and/or at personal cost is a virtue learning experience, and it usually isn’t long before reason returns and school resumes. Knowledge can be like candy to our imaginations, which we are to bring into the captivity of Christ via virtuous lives. I think that’s the working model for the church too.
    We must have virtue between one another, and as we increase in loving and serving one another, knowledge of Him, his plans and ways will empower and guide us, and like Solomon, we will gain greater understanding and wisdom.
    Thanks for such a provocative post Alan.

  13. 11-7-2012


    Thanks for the great comment. Unfortunately, I’ve run into too many people who feel like they’ve accomplished what’s necessary by learning about Scripture and even memorizing alot of verses.