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.