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


Andrew Wilson: When I was given this topic I tried to sort out what I understood hermeneutics to be about, since that term is used in so many ways. I decided that before we could discuss more complicated issues of meaning we had to get straight if there are any consistent principles by which the biblical text is interpreted in Divine Principle. I will humbly offer a definition of hermeneutics in mathematical language: hermeneutics is a function which operates on a text to give an interpretation. What is the function whereby Divine Principle takes a biblical text and brings about an interpretation? Anyone who reads a biblical text brings some kind of operation to bear on the text which does not come only from the text itself. I'm uncomfortable with the idea that the text can simply interpret itself. Everyone brings with them a world view, a culture and various philosophical attitudes so that one text means different things to different people.

Frank Flinn: I would like to speak about the woun-li concept because it is a relational concept. I happen to like Divine Principle because it talks about relations, give-and-take relationships. Yet I see a kind of conflict in language between substance language and relational language in Divine Principle. Do you see this conflict?

Andrew Wilson: In Confucianism it is not a conflict. Confucianism understands the family as both relationships and hierarchy. I pointed out at the end of my paper that one possible view that Christians could have towards Divine Principle is to see it as an indigenization of Christianity in the East and as a way that people in the West who have become interested in Eastern ways of life can find a Christian expression of Eastern spirituality. Part of the challenge for a Westerner in understanding Divine Principle is to see how hierarchy properly utilized can be a positive good. I don't know if that answers your question.

Frank Flinn: It doesn't resolve the conflict that has developed within the West between relational categories and hierarchical categories.

Durwood Foster: In general on issues of hermeneutics I would like to affirm Andy's view and proposal. It is hermeneutically wholesome and helpful to bring to bear interpretively on any text or anything to be interpreted as wide a range of interpretive insights, categories, and conceptualities as is possible. Indeed this seems to me to be a fundamental principle, implicitly and indeed explicitly for Christian hermeneutics historically. The universality of the Christian Gospel means that all conceptualities everywhere should respond to, amplify, and glorify the word of God. Taking the Gospel to all the world does indeed mean taking it to the principle of li in China and to all other conceptualities, touching and transforming those conceptualities with it. That to me is a hermeneutical general principle of cardinal importance.

More specifically on the matter of li in China, I think it is quite illuminating if we ask what specific strategic help comes from the employment of this principle. Andy says in an overarching way that the following is our situation: in the Bible we have the notion of covenant within the ethos of Heilsgeschichte, salvation history, but only deficiently in the biblical matrix do we have categories to deal with creation or ontology or metaphysical structure. So the Bible is very strong historically but perhaps inadequate or deficient ontologically. The principle of li offers us a way of bringing together creation and history so that we have in contrast with the idea of covenant a more embracing principle that unites two fundamental dimensions of reality. I think that there is something to be said for that affirmatively. The principle of li is potentially useful along these lines.

Where I would resonate somewhat with Frank -- though I am not really clear how "relational" this is and in what sense -- is that it seems to m e that we do have in the biblical tradition far more than merely historical categories such as the category of covenant. In this respect it seems to me, Andy, that your analysis is couched very largely in terms of the Old Testament. You haven't exhausted that either, by any means. To jump to the center of the matter I would suggest that in the biblical tradition the idea of logos or word provides us with a category that does precisely what you are deducing that li also does. There is no reason why we shouldn't also use li as a matter of hermeneutic communication to China and the world. But it does seem to me that in the idea of the logos and of the Christ as the incarnation, enhumanization, and inhistorization of the logos we have in our indigenous biblical tradition a very similar category. You haven't brought that out in your paper. I just want to point that out.

Anthony Guerra: I just want to add a footnote to what Durwood said. If Andy's analysis is correct -- and I think it is -- the Bible is deficient in ontological creation categories, substance categories.

Durwood Foster: That is Andy's proposal.

Anthony Guerra: You share in that?

Durwood Foster: I wouldn't share completely -- because my observation is that the Bible does provide us with a categorically relevant conceptualization along that line, notably logos, or the word of God which is active both in creation and history.

Anthony Guerra: That's true; it certainly comes through the Wisdom Literature which stands in the Jewish-Hellenistic tradition.

The point that I wanted to get to, however, is that the ambivalence which I sense we have when talking about Divine Principle uniting the principle li with the Bible is similar to that of Church Fathers such as Tertullian with regard to Greek philosophy. The Church Fathers did avail themselves of the Greek philosophical traditions which helped them articulate Christian convictions to the contemporary society. It may be the case that Oriental philosophy may serve in a handmaiden role in the articulation of the Christian faith for today's world.

Frederick Sontag: The main issues really arise when you say, "Hence the truth of the Bible is not replaced by Divine Principle, but rather it is explicated and clarified." Now you are not using neutral language. This is very controversial, because philosophers have been doing this for centuries, clarifying and explaining, but the clarification, the explanation is not just neutral. It doesn't just bring out what is there. Obviously we have been clarifying and explaining the Bible for centuries and we don't all come out the same. Clarification and explication depend upon certain premises of interpretation and these are themselves controversial. I think you really see that; I am just saying that there isn't some kind of neutral clarification and explication going on here.

I think the real issue comes on when you say "Divine Principle attempts to systematize and explain the variety of language in the Bible in one coherent system." Now that involves an enormous assumption, because it assumes that there is one coherent meaning in the Bible. If it isn't there -- and I think the vast majority of people agree on that -- then the only way to get it there is to use a framework that tosses it into one coherent explanation. I'm not opposing your doing that. That is quite all right with me, except that you surely see the whole burden falls not upon the biblical text, but upon the principle you are using to do that cohering and systematizing. This comes out most clearly when you say "It is only by rectifying the biblical language that the Christian denominations can be united." Now there is the real crux of the matter. How are we going to be united by rectifying biblical language?

Again later on you say, "Divine Principle gives itself the burden of explicating the truth hidden in the Bible's symbols. Hence it cannot dismiss the validity of any part of the text." But this makes an assumption that there is a truth hidden in the biblical symbols. No w that is an enormous assumption and everything depends upon it. It could very well be that there is no single truth hidden in the biblical symbols; it could be that there are a hundred and one truths. First, how do you prove that there is a single truth hidden in the scripture? Second, how do you prove that the principle you are going to use is the acceptable principle which we should all use?

Andrew Wilson: Your comments are well taken. This paper is trying to describe the hermeneutic that was used, but very rightly some of the resulting assertions need to be questioned. The Neo-Confucian concept is that there is one principle which can be found if things are investigated. It is very similar to the view of modern science, if we study the phenomena of nature enough we will eventually come to one consistent truth about it.

James Deotis Roberts: I resonate with a lot of the issues that have been raised. From my own perspective it seems to me that you do have a situation which is similar to the question of contextualization between African and Afro-American ways of thought, experience, and religion. There are some basic things that we share with the African experience deep down and that makes it a little easier than the problem here would seem to be. You are looking at an Oriental kind of metaphysics and applying it in a Western context. The question is whether or not there is sufficient similarity of culture for people to adapt the conflict that Frank Flinn was talking about so that they can live with it. The other question that has been raised by the paper is whether or not a critique of Western exegesis is really a critique of what is really in the Bible itself or of the exegesis and hermeneutics that have been imposed on it. Even classical theologians like Calvin and Luther brought a bias to the text that does violence to the text. Perhaps one thing that we ought to do is to try and look at the Bible minus the biases which have been brought to it by the interpreters. Certainly the old tradition of exegesis and interpretation has been Greco-Roman as well as Judeo-Christian, and we have a lot of presuppositions built around that.

Kapp Johnson: My question is directed towards your use of the Hexateuch. At what level of biblical text do we begin to do our hermeneutic? It is one thing to use the various theories such as the Hexateuch theory to explain what is in the biblical text. But what do you do if another level of the text in its development seems to contradict what was at the hexateuchal level? One can use a kerygmatic procedure by going through the documentary hypothesis and drawing out the kerygma of the various sources. But what do you do when the various levels begin to contradict each other or have a different emphasis? At what level do we begin to say, "Ah! That is the kerygma for me or for us now today." I think that is a methodological problem that is significant for the discussion.

Lonnie Kliever: I simply wanted to bring together and underline Frank's comment and Fred's comment in reverse order. It seemed to me that the crucial comment that Fred made was that our discussion will begin and end in arguing about the principle of unification or the principle upon which the scriptures are themselves articulated. Then there is Frank's flagging the whole hierarchical language and conceptuality which Andy's paper highlights. As a footnote on hierarchical language, the central kinds of categories that Andy has underlined, the categories of being children, servants, and subjects create insuperable problems of agreement or even understanding. To say it another way, the movement from the enlightenment forward is a movement away from the metaphor of the child, away from the metaphor of the subject, away from the metaphor of the servant in the direction of autonomy -- I started to say of adultery and we have moved in that direction (laughter) -- and certainly in the direction of partnership. It is very interesting that of the five relations that are of utmost importance under heaven the only relationship that seems peculiarly akin to modernity is the last one, the relationship between friends. Yet the relationship between friends -- if amplified into a metaphysic or into an ethic -- seems to be remarkably low key if not absent in the Principle. So I am throwing that out as a kind of further underlining of a point that has been made, because it seems to me that that is the crucial problem that the modern person faces in coming to terms with the Principle.

David Kelly: What happens of course is that statements in one context don't make sense in other contexts. Andy's paper is very nicely done. And I don't think I want any of the things that I am saying or the others are saying to take away from that. All of the things that we have built up in six months of work are now starting to come out.

There is a problem that I have between the kind of statement that Andy just made in his paper that this is an indigenization or contextualization of Christianity into Eastern thought. This is different from the notion that what Unification is really doing is giving us the principle which is going to solve biblical hermeneutical questions, as Durwood pointed out, or which is going to solve social issues on a global level, and which is specifically aimed at the Western scientific "modern" intellect. When the typical layman picks up Divine Principle and opens the first page and it says, Now we are going to tell you in your modern minds. Obviously the typical layman can't understand this kind of arcane stuff. The modern intellect can't figure this out. And I say to myself, "This is somehow going to be an attempt to do this rationally, whatever rationally means." Then we are told that in fact what Unification is a contextualization or an indigenization of Christianity into a very different kind of milieu. There is at least a tension there of whether this is a rational unifying principle or whether Unification is in fact a perfectly delightful addition to Christianity in an Eastern context.

Darrol Bryant: Thank you for getting all your questions out on the table and I would like Henry to make some comments on his paper on use and abuse of the Old Testament in the Christian tradition.

Henry Vander Goot: Just a preliminary point, I am not a biblical theologian, I am a systematic theologian and so I am interested in the problem of the systematic theological consequence of not taking full interpretive advantage of the presence of the Old Testament in the canon of scripture.

Kapp Johnson: The problem of ontology for the Bible and particularly the Old Testament is one which in the last thirty years of Old Testament theology has been a very serious one. This is the case with von Rad and Eichrodt. Eichrodt's covenant theology and von Rad's Heilsgeschichte have fallen upon the rocks of Wisdom literature. They cannot account for the Wisdom parts of the canon. I don't know how that dilemma is going to be resolved by those who are seeking for an ontology. There have been some proposals, e.g., finding an ontology in Yahweh or the Word event. But it is a very difficult problem.

Henry Vander Goot: On Calvin's grounds you cannot get an ontology out of the Bible per se, but you can generate a Bible-informed ontology. The Bible isn't the source of data on creation reality but is the source of reflection on the data given in creation reality. That reflection can take place by several different means. It can take place by the light of scripture or by using the spectacles of scripture, to use Calvin's metaphor. Or it can take place by the light of some other principle. Calvin can speak of sola scriptura acknowledging that not everything that gets asserted is taken out of the Bible. He would say, I think, that you can't get an ontology out of the Bible.

Kapp Johnson: That is my point with both von Rad and Eichrodt. Eichrodt wanted to get an ontology out of the Bible, von Rad didn't. But both had the same problem.

Frank Flinn: I want to point out that we apply terms like "nature" to the Bible but in the Bible there is no term for "nature." There is "the heavens and the earth" but not "nature." Likewise, we apply the term "history" to the Bible -- Heilsgeschichte. In the Bible there is the expression "events of the days" (i.e., Chronicles) and there is also "generations" of men, families, nations. But there is no term proper for "history." You have got to be very careful in saying that there is not a "metaphysics" in the Bible. Why not go all the way, Henry, and say that there is a biblical metaphysics?

Henry Vander Goot: Because the Bible isn't a data book. The Bible, one might say, is a book with a certain qualification. It is a religious book, not a philosophical text. It seems to me that a Christian has no right to want to circumvent the normal processes of thinking about the world. No w the question is always how does the world get thought about? And that is where the Bible plays its important role epistemologically as the means of knowledge but it doesn't provide the content of knowledge.

Kapp Johnson: So it is kind of a tool for an epistemology of the world?

David Kelly: I would consider it very much worth coming to the Bahamas if I could understand how scripture could be its own interpreter. (Laughter) Now I understand the notion of comprehensiveness. That seems to me to be a norm that you want to take the Bible as a whole. I can see that as a basis and how you can fault certain interpretations which focus too narrowly. That I can see but I am still struggling with the question. I don't quite get the notion of creation. I have read Genesis but somehow you are using that as some special kind of category which gives you some comprehensiveness. I don't quite see how that works -- how something becomes a norm. Then you say that the parts disclose each other. One of the problems here is that there is some kind of assumption of internal unity to the scripture, but that seems to me a very questionable unity. The only thing I think you could do to rectify the mistake would be to make Calvin chairman of the editorial board that put together the scripture because it seems to me very badly done for those purposes.

Henry Vander Goot: Almost all of the history of all precritical theology makes that assumption.

David Kelly: Makes what assumption?

Henry Vander Goot: That there is an ongoing narrative unity to scripture. It seems to me that sixteen hundred years of Christian history is based upon that assumption. The Bible was perfectly adequately understood and sometimes even more adequately understood then than it has been in the nineteenth century.

David Kelly: But what if that assumption is wrong? I wonder if there are sixteen hundred years of unity on that. I don't understand that. Most of Roman Catholic theology did not make the assumption that the Bible had inherent unity. I thought that most Roman Catholic theology thought the opposite.

Henry Vander Goot: How the unity gets perceived is a matter of difference of opinion. That the Bible is a unity from creation to consummation, it seems to me, is unquestioned in so-called precritical theology.

David Kelly: Well if that is what you mean by unity -- that there is a notion of creation and that there is a notion of consummation -- then I can see that. But that doesn't give us an authoritative norm. That doesn't give scripture its own interpretative norm.

Henry Vander Goot: It seems to me that a general principle or fundamental motif does bear upon the praxis of exegesis in the major theologians. How that gets worked out specifically can only be demonstrated by the text and the exegetical task. There is no time to discuss that here. 

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