Exegesis as an Act of Love

Some rough thoughts on exegesis and hermeneutical patience…

“Exegesis is the farthest thing from pedantry; exegesis is an act of love.” Eugene Peterson

It seems to me the common appeal to biblical ‘principles’ for whatever issue (ie, ‘biblical’: womanhood, manhood, politics, diet, leadership, business, etc) tends to not only cut the heart out of the gospel as the narrative or story of Jesus (not easily reducible to principles, bullet points, or spiritual ‘laws’) but also position us (even if unwittingly) as raiders of the text as we search for ways to ‘apply’ the Bible to our lives. This is exegesis as an act of power.

Unfortunately, the bulk of Bible study resources/curriculum, the latest book by celebrity mega-church pastors, and ‘Christian Living’ resources merely perpetuate this reality. A steady diet of these resources shape those who use them (individuals AND churches) in both ‘thin’ (co-dependent, co-opted, consumer, individualist, therapeutic) ecclesiologies and dreadfully poor hermeneutical habits.

Let us recover exegesis/hermeneutics as an act of love.

Eugene Peterson says, “[Exegesis] is loving the one enough who speaks the words to get the words right. It is respecting the words enough to use every means we have to get the words right. Exegesis is loving God enough to stop and listen carefully to what he says. God has provided us with these scriptures that present us with his Word. Loving God means loving both what God speaks to us and the way God speaks to us. … Lovers savor the words, relishing every nuance of what is said and written.”

We need to form communities (ie, ekklesia) gathered in conversation with one another around the written word under the cruciform authority of the Living Word and who are willing to slowly listen, and to listen well, to the Spirit speaking in the Biblical text. We need to be willing to be trained/formed in hermeneutical patience.

Hermeneutical/exegetical patience is an act of (triune) love…

Thoughts?

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Stanley Hauerwas on Confusing the ‘American’ We with the ‘Christian’ We

The video below is from a question and answer session with Stanley Hauerwas after a lecture he gave at Azusa Pacific University. His remarks are specifically in response to a question about Christian non-violence, but also speak well to the state of the church in the U.S. as we come off our most recent (and contentious) election cycle.

But an aside before getting to that: I want to be a better blogger, really I do. I am told that blogging regularly requires momentum, something that I can’t seem to really bring to critical mass for myself. Its not like I’ve nothing to write about. I’ve actually quite a bit really – thoughts are always churning through my head, but between the day job, the reading I do (which, while I consider it slow is still vociferous and something of a barely well-managed obsession :-)), and family time I find myself without a lot of uninterrupted time to put these thoughts into something readable. I’m told by a friend with whom I converse about theology and such that my insights and questions are helpful to him, not only in how he thinks about his faith but also in his spirituality (and of course the two are intimately interwoven) and he has exhorted, “Other people need to be able to hear/read what you’re saying. This is good stuff Russell. Why don’t you put this (whatever we are talking about) on your blog?” Well, there’s no quitting my job unfortunately, and the reading/conversations I have are a big part of what provokes my theological imagination. What’s left is family time and I have decided not to cut into that as much as absolutely possible and I think in the short and long run this is for the best. So, all that to say, I want to be a better (ie, more consistent and regular) blogger and less sporadic … but I’m not making any promises.

Ok, now on to the video…

I have a great love for the church. In fact, I see my vocation as being an ecclesial theologian – or that is, a theologian for the church in its 21st century, post-Christendom missional context (we could perhaps try to chase down what this looks like, and I have some thoughts, but I’ll save that for some other time). That being said, I find myself grieving quite intensely for the church in North American right now. On the heels of our presidential election it seems to me that far too much of the church has simply adopted the culture war (seen in terms of polarized American politics and its cultural forms as ‘cultural’ Christianity loses favor with the slow demise of Christendom), civil religion of Americanism/nationalism, and ‘Christian’ nation narratives far too readily.

These narratives have been evidenced in more than one conversation I’ve been privy to since the election that basically says that with the decline of the U.S. as no longer a ‘godly nation’ under Obama, Texas should secede and become its own ‘godly nation’ (I’m serious, this is the actual language that has been used). As far as I can see all three of these false narratives are at play in this kind of talk and are wholly and completely bad for the health, identity, and mission of the church. God has a people and an alternative polis or city with its own differently order ‘politics’ – that of cruciform love. This people and this polis is the church, not a supposed ‘Christian’ or even ‘godly’ nation-state in any form. More could (and needs to) be said on this, but the church, God’s ecclesia, is largely subsumed and co-opted under the weight of these alien narratives; the acceptance of which reveal, I think, that the church at large in the U.S. is in something of an identity crisis. Hauerwas gets to the heart of this identity crisis well in the video when he remarks that far too often,

…the ‘American’ we has been confused with the ‘Christian’ we.

I think Hauerwas speaks well here with much needed wisdom for the church in the U.S. May we heed his words.