Hermeneutics and The Shape of the Future - Edited by Frank K. Flinn

Hermeneutics of Divine Principle: In Search of a Context - M. Darrol Bryant

By way of introduction to this conference that will deal with hermeneutical questions which surround Divine Principle, I would like to mention the range of questions we will be exploring and note some of the larger historical and cultural developments which stand as the backdrop to our explorations. I offer these remarks, then, as notes towards a context for our discussions here over the next days.

The title of my remarks, "Hermeneutics of Divine Principle" is intended in its double sense. First, the title is designed to ask what, if any, are the structures of interpretation -- theological, religious, philosophical, cultural, sociological, spiritual -- inherent within Divine Principle itself which shape its interpretation of scripture, history, society, and the divine? We will call this "Hermeneutics of Divine Principle I." Second, the title is designed to raise the question of the requisite understandings -- theological, religious, philosophical, cultural, sociological, political, psychological, and spiritual -- which we, as we approach the text, must acquire in order that we might read the text aright. Let us call this "Hermeneutics of Divine Principle II." Although the bulk of our discussion will surround "Hermeneutics of Divine Principle I," the second sense of our title is also critical. Here I will content myself with sketching some of the questions that we might deal with under each.

Hermeneutics of Divine Principle I

At the very outset of our meeting in the Virgin Islands* the question was raised of how Divine Principle is using the Old and New Testaments. For many, the surface similarities between Divine Principle's use of scripture and fundamentalist proof-texting were striking and repellent. It did not appear that there were any consistent interpretive structures which governed Divine Principle's use of scripture. They appeared arbitrary and haphazard. Others felt that Divine Principle used scripture consistently but in accord with an interpretive structure alien to the Bible itself and was, therefore, to be rejected on normative theological grounds. From still others, especially Unificationists, there was an insistence that there was an internally consistent and coherent use of scripture in Divine Principle but there seemed to be some disagreement concerning precisely what that principle of interpretation was. Moreover, there was disagreement within the whole conference concerning the status of any such interpretive structure: Was it the familial tradition of Confucianism? Was it a principle revealed by God to Rev. Moon? Was it an ingenious theological answer to the question of what God's purposes in creation were? Was it something more bizarre than this? Was it some combination of these?

These questions were not resolved, but they obviously warranted further consideration. Moreover, from that beginning point several further questions arose which were posed in hermeneutical terms. Not only was it a question of Divine Principle's interpretation of the Bible, it was as well a question of Divine Principle's understanding of God, of history, of society. What if any were the interpretive structures that inform Divine Principle's account of God? What is the four position foundation? From whence does it arise? What does it illuminate? Is it just a new jargon to bewitch the bewitchable? What about the way Divine Principle traces divine action in history? Are there any regulating structures which govern Divine Principle's tour of history from prehistorical Adam and Eve to the historical time of the patriarchs of the Old Testament through the centuries of the Christian era down to the World Wars of our own time? And why does Divine Principle read society in the way it does? Why the preoccupation with the condition of the family?

Aren't the really important things the structure of the economy, the disposition of power? And so it goes.

These were a part of the cluster of questions that arose and that we have returned to explore again. Underlying the whole discussion was the question of the nature of the language of Divine Principle. How was it to be taken? Was it to be taken literally, or metaphorically, or allegorically, or in some combination of these ways? Was it a precritical text or post-modern? Was it a new mystification or a new revelation?

Hermeneutics of Divine Principle II

It also emerged in our conversation in the Virgin Islands that there were a number of considerations requisite to the understanding of this text, that perhaps there was more going on in the text than many of us had initially presupposed, if only we acquired the eyes to see. What is the origin of the text? When was it written? In what context? By whom? With what intention? To whom is it addressed? Does the cultural context in which this text emerged shape it in any significant ways? If so, how? What were the religious conditions within Korean Christianity, indigenous and Eastern religious traditions, which may have influenced the shape the text took and the questions it addressed? What language was it written in? Are there problems of translation? What is the status of the text within the movement? Is it a new interpretation of the Bible? Or a Third or Completed Testament? If so, what does that mean? What are the implications for the Old and New Testaments, or for the claim of the movement to stand in the Christian tradition? Is this the final version of the text? Were there others? If so, how do they agree or disagree with what we have in the current version? What is the "Principle"? Is it this text? Is it a principle? Is it both? If it is a principle, what does that mean? How is the Principle related to the text? And so it goes.

These questions that we have grouped under "Hermeneutics of Divine Principle I and II" double back on one another to be sure. But there may be some point in initially keeping them distinct from each other in order to clarify the task that lies ahead of us.

While our discussion here, given its focus, is certainly distinct from other hermeneutical discussions currently taking place it nonetheless is relevant to that larger discussion.

Why has the concern about hermeneutical questions arisen? In the summary of scholarship reflected in James Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics published in Edinburgh in 1913, hermeneutics did not even rate a separate entry. Since that time, however, hermeneutics has emerged from obscurity to stand close to the very heart of the contemporary theological conversation and is a major theme in the intellectual discussions of our time. Why this shift in its place and status?

There is both a narrower and a larger context for the emergence of the hermeneutical discussion. The narrower context is the question which arises as a consequence of historical-critical scholarship of the Bible, namely, how can this ancient text speak to the twentieth century? The lines of that conversation are familiar to us, especially as it is focused in Bultmann's proposal for demythologizing the Bible and the subsequent discussions of the "new hermeneutics." But it is also worth recalling those larger developments in Western culture that have given rise to the hermeneutical question. Here let me mention three factors: (1) the rise of historical consciousness with its awareness of different historical eras and of historical distances; (2) the emergent awareness of cultural diversity which has made us increasingly aware that we do not all share the same universe of discourse or patterns of meaning which has forced us to a degree of self-consciousness that was not required when a highly integrated cultural context could be assumed-and (3) the rise of science which has required everyone in theology to reconsider the very foundations of religious claims to tell us about reality. These factors have created a climate in which the very activities of speaking, translating, and interpreting -- the root meanings of the Greek verb from which the term "hermeneutics" derives -- have become problematic.

Against this larger backdrop our discussions here come into focus as a unique challenge to our capacities to speak truthfully to one another, to translate our concerns into terms accessible to one another, and to interpret the meaning of a text and its patterns of understanding in the light of its own unique cultural background. Perhaps this text with its claims to unite science and religion, to unify diverse cultural and religious traditions, and to restore the wounds of a broken history is the right text to confront and be confronted by the hermeneutical questions and quest of our time.

Hermes has returned with a vengeance. Does he still convey messages from the gods?


* The proceedings of this meeting which was held in the Virgin Islands on July 22-29, 1979 has been published as Proceedings of the Virgin Islands' Seminar on Unification Theology, Darrol Bryant, ed. (Barrytown, N.Y.: Unification Theological Seminary, 1980), distributed by The Rose of Sharon Press, Inc. 

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