the weblog of Alan Knox

Listening to Theological Experts

Posted by on Nov 10, 2009 in discipleship, edification | 4 comments

In my post, “Listening to the Experts,” I suggested that the early Reformers, while trying to distance themselves from the clergy-laity divisions within the Catholic Church, ended up creating their own clergy-laity divisions because of their insistence on a particular type of teaching for the church.

This problem persists today, even among people who understand that the church should work together to understand Scripture (that is, community hermeneutics). For example, in his book The Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005) Kevin Vanhoozer argues for a type of community interpretation of Scripture. He says:

There is safety, although not surety, in numbers. Truth is not defined by consensus; but consensus, especially the kind formed by the Spirit is often a good indication of where and what the truth is. Orthodoxy does not describe a single, authorized version of Christian theology, however, but only delimits the parameters—the space, as it were—within which discussions about particular shapes and translations may take place. (pg 324)

But, how does Vanhoozer understand the church to come this consensus within Orthodoxy?

He describes theology as drama with Scripture as the script, the Holy Spirit as the director, the scholar as the dramaturge, the pastor as assistant director, and the church as the audience/actors. What is the theologian/scholar’s responsibility as “dramaturge”?

The dramaturge is the person responsible for helping the director to make sense of the script for both the players and the audience… The theologian is an advocate both of the script and of the performing company, with a dual responsibility to understand the play and to make it intelligible to a contemporary audience. (pg 244-47)

Thus, in Vanhoozer metaphor, both the theologian and the pastor stand apart from “the players and the audience” (closer to the Holy Spirit) in order to help them understand the Script. But, in the church, both the theologian and the pastor cannot stand apart from “the players and the actors” because they are also part of the church.

By the way, I appreciate much of what Vanhoozer has written. In fact, I have scheduled this post to be published on the same day that he is speaking in our seminary chapel, and I plan to listen to his lecture. However, I think his metaphor demonstrates the continued divisions between the experts (in theology) and the rest of the church.

While Vanhoozer recognizes the importance of community interpretation of Scripture, his view of the roles of the theologian scholar and pastor as separate from the church and closer to the role of the Holy Spirit works against community interpretation.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the problem is not with experts or expertise. It is good and natural for some people to have expertise in certain subjects. However, the problem here is that obtaining expertise through education in a certain area seems to automatically give that person a right to interpret Scripture for others (that is, those who do not have the same expertise).

Of course, if our desire is for the church to gain knowledge of ancient texts and cultures, of theological systems, or of linguistics and grammar, then experts in these fields would be necessary. However, as important as these fields are for the church – and they are important – this type of knowledge is not what the church needs.

Expertise is important… but not just expertise in areas of theology, biblical studies, ancient history, linguistics, and grammar. In my next post, I will try to give a more balanced approach to experts and expertise, and demonstrate how this balanced approach better lends itself to community interpretation of Scripture.

What do you think?


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

  1. 11-10-2009

    Alan, I appreciate your thoughts and enjoyed reading this post. I have several questions that I have been thinking about and would like your thoughts. First do congregations today see their pastors as apart of the church? Second, do they see them as experts on the texts? Third, is communal hermineutics the best way to go in a postmodern world? Everyone’s view of scripture is so different from eachothers how does the community come to agree on what is right and what is wrong or is there right and wrong way to look at the text as a community?
    What do you think?
    I appreciate you and your blog.
    It is challenging and encouraging to my faith.

  2. 11-10-2009


    I think the answers to your questions depend on the group. I do know of many groups of Christians (churches) who see their pastors as experts on the texts – experts that shouldn’t be questioned. I don’t think that community hermeneutic (that is, the church being involved in interpreting and applying Scripture) has anything to do with worldview or philosophy (postmodern, modern, etc.). The fact that everyone’s view of Scripture is different is one of the reasons that churches should attempt to interpret Scripture together. Every interpretation is not valid. Community hermeneutic does not mean accepting everything that everyone says as true. It means that the church should seek understanding together, not from one source because of that person’s education.


  3. 11-11-2009

    I like this topic.

    Yes, the church should seek to understand (and learn) scripture together. That is what community hermeneutic is all about.

    I think one real drawback of experts is that it keeps people from wrestling with scripture. If I just defer to Master Theologian Knox because he knows what he’s talking about, I have an easy way of just avoiding the impact of a scripture in my life.

    “What does this mean… oh, that’s what it means… good I can just forget about that one now and move on to something else”

    It relates to the story you shared about the woman who wanted to give to help people and wanted to give through the church because she didn’t know any needy people. Once she spent just a little time dealing with it for her self, there was a much greater blessing all around, not only for her but for the church and for those helped.

  4. 11-11-2009


    I’ve found it helpful that if someone starts deferring to “Master Theologian Knox” then I stop answering their questions. In fact, most people have learned that if they ask me a question, they will usually get another question in return.



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