Theological Interpretation (pt. 5)

Continuing my posts on theological interpretation, I here offer the sixth of eight principles:

6. The Charismatic Principle
The sixth principle of theological interpretation asserts that theological interpretation is a work of the Spirit of God, the same Spirit who gives the church gifts of grace (Greek charismata). The word charismatic is not intended, however, to suggest that all interpretation is spontaneous, lacking in control or reason. Indeed, if the gifts of the Spirit include wisdom and understanding, then careful, rational exegetical skill is a charism. But the principle does assert that such exegetical skill needs the grace and guidance of the Spirit to achieve its intended end of greater communion with God and with one another (so Augustine, retrieved recently by Steve Fowl).

This principle, like the Chalcedonian principle with which we began this series of posts, also permits and requires the theological interpreter to be open to new, imaginative readings of Scripture that are appropriate outgrowths of the historical, literary, canonical, and ecclesial contexts. These new readings must not do violence to the text but need to be properly analogous to the sense of the text, as best we can articulate it, in the original historical and literary context. This principle of analogy, or what we may call creative fidelity, is really at the heart of theological interpretation. It is in turn based on the theological conviction that because the Spirit of God, like Christ, is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the Spirit’s new work always resembles the Spirit’s previous work.

Above all, then, this principle reminds the theological interpreter of Scripture that the Spirit is absolutely necessary to the church if it is to perform Scripture and not merely study it. The Spirit forms in us the mind of Christ so that we may participate appropriately in the dramatic narrative of God’s salvation—the story of God’s mission to and in the world—that we encounter as we hear or read the words of Scripture. (I will post more about this later under the heading “A Missional Hermeneutic.”)

2 Responses to “Theological Interpretation (pt. 5)”

  1. Sue says:

    The story of Humpty Dumpty has a lot to tell us about the limits of theological interpretation.

    Humpty sitting on the wall is a symbol for the Indivisible Unity of everything and every one. A state of being-existence that needs no long-winded explanations—only ecstatic dance, poetry and music.

    All of theology is done from the fragmented perspective of the countless fragments of Humpty’s broken shell lying on the ground—every theologian having a unique perspective or point of view.

    But as we all know: all the kings horses and all the kings men can never ever put Humpty back together again.

    Put in another way, no individual theology, or collection of theologies, however seemingly erudite and inspiring, can even begin to see things from the perspective of the Indivisible Unity of Humpty sitting on the wall.

    Platos the Parable of the Cave also applies. All theologians, like everyone else are trapped in the darkness of Platos Cave.

    Each sees a glimmer of light through a minute crack in the wall and thus begins to construct a vast explanation of everything based on this tiny fragment of light.

  2. MJG says:

    Sue—

    An interesting comment. May I push you a bit? You said: “Plato’s the Parable of the Cave also applies. All theologians, like everyone else, are trapped in the darkness of Plato’s Cave. Each sees a glimmer of light through a minute crack in the wall and thus begins to construct a vast explanation of everything based on this tiny fragment of light.”

    Three questions: (1) Would you include yourself in this description of humanity’s condition? (2) If so, how much of what you are saying should you, and the rest of us, take seriously? (3) If you do not include yourself, why not?

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