“Who Packed Your Bags?”: Factors That Influence Our PreunderstandingsRelated Media
Edited by Greg Herrick
Those of us who are frequent flyers know that whenever we check in our luggage at the ticket counter, the airline agent always asks, “have you left your baggage unattended at any time, or has your baggage been in the possession of anyone other than yourself?” As a measure to hold terrorism and drug trafficking at bay, airlines have adopted this strategy. The intent of the question is to determine if someone might have placed something in our luggage without our knowledge or permission. To shift this illustration to the hermeneutical realm, as Evangelical interpreters we need to be aware that our conceptual “bags” or textual “preunderstandings” have been “packed,” and sometimes without our knowledge. Whether we have packed our conceptual bags ourselves, or have had them packed by someone else, we all come to the Bible with a slew of acquired prejudices and questions. This may be one reason why such interpretive diversity exists among Evangelicals.
When a fellow Evangelical takes issue with my interpretation of a given text of Scripture, it may well be that the questions or “baggage” she brings to the text stands in conflict to the questions or “baggage” I bring to that same text.1 Once an interpreter has become conscious that she has read certain preunderstandings into their exegeses, a desirable outcome should be “an increased sensitivity to those features of the text that disturb our interpretive framework and thus [create] a greater readiness to modify that framework.”2 While much has been produced on the concept of preunderstanding and its historical development,3 few published efforts have attempted to explain at length how our preunderstandings are shaped and how these preunderstandings can influence our reading of the Bible.4 This essay, then, is an exploration of those elements that can shape one’s preunderstandings, and how those affected preunderstandings may give rise to interpretive differences within the Evangelical community.
At the outset, the proposed thesis of this paper may not jibe well with all Evangelicals. It could be argued that the approach adopted in this essay is by nature subjective, speculative, and, as a consequence, inconclusive.5 To be sure, some controls need to be in place lest I be accused of denying objective truth and its attainability in interpretation. Therefore, by being necessarily brief, I wish to provide an important elucidation at the outset. Because confusion attends to the meaning of the adjectives “objective” and “subjective” in discussions of hermeneutics, it will be helpful to clarify these terms. I maintain that the terms “objective” and “subjective” are not synonyms for “true” and “false.” Likewise, no object of study can receive analysis without a subject. As Barzun and Graff have observed, “an objective judgment is one made by testing in all ways possible one’s subjective impressions, so as to arrive at a knowledge of objects.”6 With all this we say that something is “objective” when the object under consideration refers to an “extra-mental reality or validity.”7 As Carson puts it, “Objective reality exists independently of individual or communal states of human consciousness; objective truth is distinct from individual or communal states of human consciousness and obtains regardless of whether anyone happens to accept it as truth.”8 Therefore, while it is vigorously argued that Scripture is the embodiment of objective truth, at the same time, such objective truth requires an interpreter. The interpreter, regardless of his spirituality and exegetical acumen, brings certain subjective apprehensions to the text. It is this subjective element of the interpretive endeavor to which this paper is devoted. Contra the postmodern Zeitgeist that argues our social formations exert more influence upon us than Scripture itself, I maintain that hermeneutic realism exists. The text, by its own affirmation,9 is a trustworthy testimony to the extra-mental reality of God. The truthfulness of God is that which is preserved in His written revelation to humankind. However, when diversity of scriptural interpretations occur among Evangelicals, one way to account for this is by exploring various elements that can influence the accumulated knowledge that an interpreter brings to the Scripture.
I propose the following definition of “preunderstanding”: Preunderstanding is the personally acquired prior knowledge that, consciously or unconsciously, informs and influences one’s interpretation of Scripture. Working in conjunction with our settled convictions, preunderstanding is the ever expanding conceptual or ideational grid through which we process the phenomena of life and through which we interpret Scripture. As suggested in this definition, a distinction is to be made between preunderstanding and presupposition. At one level, this distinction may seem subtly artificial. Then again, there does seem to be a difference in the way these two terms can be used in an epistemological explanation of biblical hermeneutics. Typically, a presupposition is understood as a fixed and unchanging conviction upon which one’s view of reality is built. Some non-negotiable Evangelical presuppositions include: the authority of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the virgin conception of Christ, a Trinitarian understanding of God, the substitutionary death of Christ, and Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead, to mention several. Presuppositions therefore, “can only be changed and revised with pain, or at least with difficulty.”10 Unlike presuppositions that are fixed, preunderstandings11 are open to adjustment, refinement, and further development.12 Preunderstanding might be described as the ascending accumulation of one’s knowledge that is brought to bear in the hermeneutical process. This process is sometimes referred to as an upward ascent of knowledge in the hermeneutical “spiral.” Thiselton refers to the process as the “ongoing movement and progressive understanding” of the interpreter.13 To some extent this idea comports with the time honored Augustinian axiom of “faith seeking understanding.”14 Though distinct, perhaps it is best to suggest that preunderstandings and presuppositions are not to be separated. Therefore, presuppositions and preunderstandings together serve as the two lenses through which we view the biblical text. The knowledge and non-negotiable presuppositions that accumulate “at the top” of the hermeneutical spiral constitute one’s worldview15 or, to use more current parlance, one’s metanarrative.
Sometimes the terms “prejudice” and “bias” are used in conjunction with preunderstanding. One sense of the word “bias” refers to a preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment. Hence, a “bias” can be an unfavorable or detrimental influence. In discussions of hermeneutical preunderstandings, “bias” can take on this negative meaning. However, English lexicographers acknowledge that “bias” can “be used with equal appropriateness for an inclination that is beneficial. But in a development similar to the one undergone by discrimination, bias has come to be used most commonly when it is believed that some injustice is involved.”16 For this reason, when explaining hermeneutical preunderstandings, it may be preferable to use the words “bias” or “prejudice” in a carefully nuanced way.
In recent discussions, preunderstanding has been likened to an interpretive “grid” through which the interpreter processes biblical data. Erickson, for example, writes, “we screen all we consider through the filter of our own understanding (or ‘preunderstanding’).”17 In the same way, Silva describes the interface between preunderstanding and interpretation as, “adjusting our prior ‘framework of understanding’--integrating the new [information] into the old.”18 Other descriptions of preunderstanding as “the lens,” “spectacles,” or “eye-glasses” through which we view Scripture also suitably illustrate the idea that interpretation is either “magnified” or “blurred” by one’s presuppositions and preunderstandings.19 It is this illustration of the two lenses of presuppositions and preunderstandings that will be employed in this paper.
Elements That Influence Preunderstanding
In his ground-breaking study on the role of preunderstanding in NT interpretation, Geoffrey Turner suggested that preunderstanding is marked by two principal features: (1) concepts that inform the interpreter’s understanding and (2) cognitive interests that motivate his exegesis toward a practical end: “It is only when we are faced with a practical problem that we acquire sufficient knowledge to overcome it.”20 Turner’s study provides a helpful starting point. Nevertheless, he did not attempt to explain how the interpreter acquires these concepts and cognitive interests. Therefore, what follows is a discussion of the elements that serve as probable influences upon an interpreter’s conceptual understandings and cognitive interests.
I submit that there are at least six specific elements that can influence a person’s preunderstanding: tradition, experience, education, culture/society, and psychology. I readily concede that the proposal that follows suffers from oversimplification. Obviously, there is more complexity here than can be adequately covered in one online essay. For the sake of space, I am pressed to give but a brief treatment of an intricately complicated series of interwoven ideas. At the risk of giving the appearance of an appeal to anecdotal evidence, I hope that my proposal might be viewed more as an exercise in hokm, a reflective insight on the nature of things that seeks theological skillfulness as an intended goal. With this said, as I have reflected upon the hermeneutical literature over the past decade, and as I have observed and engaged in various dialogues, the elements I have enumerated above seem to cover most of the formative influences of an interpreter’s preunderstanding. As regards how these influences affect our preunderstandings, the terms causation and correlation are appropriate to use in this connection. That is, certain influences may have a direct influence upon our accumulated knowledge; and other influences may simply correlate with our preunderstandings and interpretive conclusions. Along these lines, it is posited that there is also an overlap between the suggested elements of influence. This is expected since one should expect to see some measure of coherency in an interpreter’s presuppositions and preunderstandings. That is to say, an interpreter’s academic exposure may be tied directly to his theological tradition, and this correlation will be reflected in his exegetical conclusions. It should also be pointed out that the suggested elements of influence are both external and internal in nature. In other words, there are factors outside the interpreter that shape his or her preunderstandings, and there are factors within the interpreter that do the same. Thus, one might suggest a linkage between the internal and external elements of influence. An internal motivation may result from an external influence. Internalized perceptions of reality can therefore influence one’s interpretation of the text. Finally, some measure of flexibility is needed when viewing these suggested elements in their orders of importance. From interpreter to interpreter it is probably true that some of the suggested elements carry more weight than other elements in shaping one’s preunderstandings and consequent interpretive decisions.
The Element of Tradition
With the term tradition, I am referring to theological tradition or one’s theological heritage. The definition of tradition offered by Grenz and Franke, is helpful for our purposes: “The Christian tradition is comprised of the historical attempts by the Christian community to explicate and translate faithfully the first-order language, symbols, and practices of the Christian faith, arising from the interaction among community, text, and culture, into the various social and cultural contexts in which that community has been situated.”21 Once a person is born into the family of God, he or she is immediately embroidered into the fabric of creeds, confessions, and a pastiche of other denominational and “non-denominational” distinctives that can influence one’s conceptual preunderstanding. Even those Evangelicals who claim “the Bible alone” as the sole authority for faith and practice have implicitly adopted a creed. If tradition is “the process of interpretive transmission,”22 then it follows that specific theological themes will play a major role within representative strands of Evangelicalism. Across denominational lines the aesthetic appeal and ingrained familiarity of liturgical tradition—or lack thereof--can also serve as a powerful formative influence in shaping the contours of one’s preunderstandings.23 Each Evangelical group has its pre-eminent theological emphases that can direct one’s concepts and cognitive interests into one direction or another.
An area where theological tradition can inform preunderstanding concerns the content of faith of OT saints. Specifically, how much did OT saints know concerning the person and work of Christ24 and the afterlife? The implications of this question are far-reaching, especially for determining the nature of salvation in the OT25 and for determining the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.26 At issue is the nature and scope of progressive revelation. Accordingly, as Longenecker explains, “it is necessary to recognize how relations between the testaments have been understood historically and what mental baggage we each have inherited in order that we may be properly critical in carrying out the work of biblical interpretation today.”27
Throughout church history, different interpretive stances have been taken on 1 Peter 1:10-12 and Hebrews 11:13, texts implying that OT believers had some level of cognizance of the advent of a messianic redeemer and life in the hereafter. A text that has received limited treatment in this discussion is Jesus’ statement to His detractors in John 8:56: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad” (NASB). For Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 120-202), this text was instrumental for establishing a theological unity between the two testaments. This text was part of his polemical ammunition in countering Marcion’s and Valentinus’ bifurcation of the two testaments. Commenting on John 8:56, Irenaeus wrote:
Since therefore, Abraham was a prophet and saw in the Spirit the day of the Lord’s coming, and the dispensation of His suffering, through whom both he himself and all who, following in the example of his faith, trust in God, should be saved, he rejoiced exceedingly. The Lord, therefore, was not unknown to Abraham, whose day he desired to see; nor again was the Lord’s Father, for he had learned from the Word of the Lord and believed him; wherefore it was accounted to him by the Lord for righteousness.28
Elsewhere in Against Heresies similar ideas regarding Abraham’s prophetic vision are found (IV. 7. 1; V. 1. 2.). Furthermore, Irenaeus maintained that Abraham’s faith prefigured the faith of Christians (IV. 21. 1), and that a timeless reciprocity of actions occurred between Christians of his own dispensation and that of Abraham’s (IV. 7. 1.). Therefore, since Abraham was a type of the Christian, the Christian by faith also acknowledges and rejoices in things future. It follows then that Abraham in his day also rejoiced in things future, specifically, the death and resurrection of Christ and the salvation of those who would believe in Him.
Perhaps Irenaeus took his cues from Genesis 20:7, YHWH’s disclosure to Abimelech that Abraham was “a prophet.” Perhaps Irenaeus was also aware of extra-biblical tradition where Abraham was regarded as an apocalyptic visionary.29 However, the parallels between Irenaeus and apocryphal and pseudepigraphical works are not exact and some of this material postdates Irenaeus’ era. It is thus suggested that the key factor that lead Irenaeus to emphasize Abraham’s prophetic role is a comprehensively integrated and organically unified view of the two testaments. Irenaeus implemented a typological interpretation of history that identified theological continuities between persons, things, and events in different stages of redemption history.30
While the content of Abraham’s faith may have indeed been as full as Irenaeus claimed, it does seem that he may have exaggerated the meaning of Jesus’ words in John 8:56.31 As Irenaeus of old, some Evangelicals today assume or have a preunderstanding that OT saints had rather developed and specific knowledge of future events. I remember attending a recent ETS study group where the lead presenter suggested that David had rather limited understanding of the future scope of the things he wrote in the Psalms. Gasps and groans were heard among some in the audience. This reaction came because it was presumed or pre-understood that unless there is a decidedly forward-looking prophetic element to certain OT Scriptures, the integrity of the relationship between the two testaments would be threatened. Especially is this said to be so in light of a text such as Acts 2:30-31: “Since he [David] was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah” (NRSV).
As a dispensational theologian, I have taught undergraduate and graduate level students the idea of later revelation progressively and gradually building upon earlier revelation. I have also taken pains to discuss the intricately complicated nature of typological-prophetic correspondences between OT and NT texts.32 Based on 1 Peter 1:10-12, I have taught that OT saints had a rather sketchy understanding of such things as the afterlife, the substitutionary death of Christ, and His resurrection. Using Senator Howard Baker’s now classic question from the Watergate trial (“What did the president know and when did he know it?”), I will ask my students: “How much did OT saints know and when did they know it?” Apparently the OT saints knew something, but did they know as much as we think they did? Sometimes students will find my approach both eye opening and helpful. Their preunderstandings are therefore open to adjustment on this matter. At the same time, other students find my explanation of progressive revelation disruptive and troubling. Their view of the relationship of NT texts to OT texts has become a fixed and unchanging conviction, or, if you please, a presupposition. In their minds, my view not only undercuts the apologetic value of prophecy, but it also undermines the organic unity of the two testaments. Therefore, some--perhaps many--Evangelicals believe that a measure of hermeneutical “refraction” is necessary when reading the OT. In other words, there is legitimacy in reading NT realities back into the OT since this is what the NT interpreters appear to be doing with OT Scripture.33
Regardless of the approach adopted by the interpreter in this matter, one must recognize that his or her view of the relationship between the two testaments has not been acquired in a vacuum. One’s understanding is the product of a cumulative theological tradition. Because the Evangelical interpreter belongs to a community of “transmitted belief,” it is inevitable that tradition will govern conceptual preunderstanding, and consequently, exegesis and theology.34 This is not wrong, but it can be if an interpreter fails to recognize this. Without an awareness of theological biases, there can even be calamitous consequences in the practical outworking of our faith.35 Hence, the interpreter needs to be a student not only of the Scriptures, but also as a student of his or her theological tradition. By taking this approach, a consciousness of tradition informing exegesis will ensue.36
The Element of Experience
Without mentioning the experiential and emotional extremes observed within some quarters of Evangelicalism, experience remains an active force of influence in shaping one’s conceptual preunderstandings. “Experience” might be termed as the conscious perceptions of reality that we have accrued over time. In discussions of philosophical hermeneutics, the concept of Erlebnis, or “lived experience” refers to “what is directly given to the individual consciousness and thus has a cognitive function.”37 In reaction to the experiential excesses of Schleiermacher and Bultmann, and perhaps because of rigorously rationalistic epistemological assumptions, some Evangelicals are averse to experience for fear of a capitulation to subjectivism and relativism. Of course, some boundaries are necessary whenever experience is appealed to as an informing source of theology.38 At the same time, church history bears ample testimony to the role of experience in the lives of its luminaries, particularly those held in high esteem by the Evangelical community. As examples, one thinks of Augustine and the voice he heard in Ambrose’s garden in Milan; Luther’s embittered struggle over the meaning of Romans 1:17; Calvin’s understanding of “the internal testimony of the Spirit”; and Jonathan Edwards’ acknowledgement of the role of the “affections” in conversion and spirituality. Each of these instances deals with the individuals’ subjective apprehensions.
To illustrate how experience has informed one’s preunderstandings and consequently one’s interpretation of Scripture, a specific example merits consideration. Wilbur Pickering, Director of Public Relations with Wycliffe Bible Translators and a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary recalls his experience on the mission field in Brazil:
I went to the Amazon jungle in 1963 in order to begin our ministry among the Apurina people (along the Purus River in the state of Amazonas, Brazil). So far as I know I was the first one to challenge Satan’s dominion over this people, a total domination over the centuries. My basic purpose in being there was to see if I could remove that people from Satan’s house and take them into Jesus’ house, if I could transfer them from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. But unfortunately, in spite of a Master of Theology degree and having read the Bible through several times, I was not aware of these truths. I got clobbered! I got it without mercy, until I had enough. Satan wiped the floor with me. He didn’t think my idea was the least bit funny, and I didn’t know how to defend myself--actually I didn’t really understand what was happening. You see, I was skeptical about the activity of demons. Oh yes, I knew that demons and Satan exist, because the Bible is clear and emphatic on that score, but I knew very little about how they operate and virtually nothing about the use of our weapons, whether for defense or offense. My theological background, both formal and informal, was strictly “traditional”--casting out demons and things of that sort was “pentecostal.” My professors transmitted the idea that a servant of Christ was untouchable or exempt from demonic attack; that sort of thing wouldn’t be a problem for us … . Sadly, our missionary organizations have not concerned themselves about this matter as a rule.39
Faced with years of what he perceived and believed to be demonic phenomena, Pickering was compelled to corroborate his experience with Scripture. Exorcism and other measures of offense against the spirit world became a significant part of Pickering’s belief system. Consequently, a major shift occurred in his conceptual preunderstanding of demon possession and spiritual warfare.
Whether consciously or unconsciously ascertained, experience affects the way Evangelicals interpret texts that deal with sign gifts,40 divorce and remarriage,41 assurance of salvation,42 social justice,43 the Apostle Paul’s ministerial hardships,44 and apocalyptic,45 to mention only a few. Furthermore, the experience of personal physical suffering and the physical suffering of loved ones can reshape our perceptions of God found in the text of Scripture.46 One’s conceptual preunderstanding may change in the heat of crisis, or in the accumulation of experiences in the mundane procession of life. Both for good and for ill, experience colors our perspective and adds definition to our preunderstandings.
The late Robert McAfee Brown, a foremost analyst of and defender of theologies of liberation, has maintained that experience grounds and places an interpreter within a particular viewing location in life. Regarding one’s perspective of reality, he concludes that:
(1) What we see is not necessarily what is there.
(2) What we see depends on where we are standing.
(3) When others tell us what they see, we need to know where they are standing as well as where we are standing.
(4) No matter how much anybody sees, nobody sees it all.
(5) What we see is always subject to correction.47
While Brown’s statements invite critique at several points, it can be agreed that perspective, the interpreter’s location of hermeneutical surveillance, is affected by his or her prior life experiences.48 Acknowledging this does not mean buying into the praxis driven assumptions of liberation thought or a whimsical hermeneutical relativism. However, it does lead us to the irrefutable truism that Evangelicals “stand” at different places of surveillance in their reading of Scripture. If we can concede this point, then Ommen’s comments on Gadamer’s correlation of experience to theology are worth pondering.
Theological work properly reflects a life-long involvement on the part of the theologian in the experience and language of the Christian community. A continuity of experience links the horizon of past Christian communities and the texts they produced to the interpreter in the present. As the theologian is molded by the Christian community and its uses of language, he or she is introduced into a chain of experience which extends back to the scriptural beginnings of the tradition.49
Experience, then, is not necessarily a nemesis to sound doctrine. Rather, doctrine can provide a framework that supports and gives meaning to the spiritual experience of the community.50 Because, as McGrath keenly notes, “It is the sheer elusiveness of human experience, its obstinate refusal to be imprisoned within a verbal matrix, which underlies the need for … doctrine … .”51 In this same connection, Frame’s reminder is salutary:
… there is … experience by which we grow in Christian maturity—the experience of living the Christian life, meeting challenges, succeeding, failing, praying, finding answers to prayers, persevering when answers aren’t given, struggling against sin, and enduring hardship for Christ’s sake. In many situations we live out those experiences described in Scripture; we experience what the Lord Jesus and His great saints experienced. Experience in this sense is important in showing us the meaning of Scripture.52
While acknowledging that experience serves a role in informing our theological preunderstandings, there is an ongoing need for balance and accountability in this matter. Ideally, “Scripture and tradition in the midst of the living, worshipping community will serve as the means whereby one’s personal experiences will be informed and will mature.”53
The Element of Culture/Society
There are some definitional clarifications that must be made before discussing the next element: the cultural-societal element. First, although I recognize that by definition “society” and “culture” can be distinguished, I have chosen to put these two terms in the same category since these elements do seem to be closely connected.54 With this said, it is crucial to point out that the term “culture” is rather elastic in meaning.55 Within Evangelical circles, “culture” has been generally defined along the following lines: “an integrated system of beliefs … , of values… , of customs … , and of institutions which express these beliefs, values and customs … , which binds a society together and gives it a sense of identity, dignity, security, and continuity.”56 Though this is a good working definition, recent cultural theorists have moved away from the notion of overarching forms or ideas that a society uses to integrate all of learned behavior. Shared similar experience is said to be the defining feature of culture. A decidedly postmodern twist is being attached to the meaning of culture as of late.57 Sensitive to these recent shifts, Grenz and Franke define the concept of “culture” in the following terms.
Culture includes the symbols—the language, material objects, images, and rituals—that provide the shared meanings by means of which we understand ourselves, pinpoint our deepest aspirations and longings, and construct the worlds we inhabit. And through the symbols of our culture we express and communicate these central aspects of life to each other, while struggling together to determine the meaning of the very symbols we employ in the process.58
The magnetism of the Gospel is that it transcends cultural bounds and finds acceptance and application within a diversity of cultural expressions and settings. All the same, there is ever the need for “contextualization,” the ability to communicate biblical doctrine so that different people groups and communities of thought become conscious of “the hermeneutical obligations of the Gospel.”59 Because the accumulation of one’s socially transmitted behavioral patterns and norms can appreciably affect the interpreter’s preunderstanding, there is a need for cultural consciousness on the part of the interpreter.
Moving from a definition of “culture,” I now want to clarify how I am using the term “societal.” By the “societal” element of influence, I am referring to the human relationships that exist within the organizations and institutions of life that motivate and shape the interpreter’s preunderstandings. Some sociologists refer to this process as “religious socialization.” Of this process, Herzog writes:
The most basic process … “primary socialization” [is the process of] presenting a child with a “world” before the child really comprehends what world is. One’s family and kin transfer their paradigm [of hermeneutics] to the new family member, and it is composed not only of their particular experiences and wisdom but the collective vision of a larger culture and society as well. As one enters into society, through education and wider social contacts, one’s primary socialization is reinforced through “secondary socialization.” In this process, the values and ideologies of a particular system and social structure (including class consciousness, orientation and values, racial attitudes, justification of stratification and economic distribution, etc.) are inculcated so that the new member of society can internalize them and confirm them. While such socialization may reflect specific social location and forms of regional color, its major goal is the integration of the individual into a social construction of reality so that the person believes it is the way things are. In this way, “what is” becomes accepted as “what ought to be,” and world with all its inequities and biases, becomes canonized as “the world.”60
Consequently, through parents, peers, teachers, and friendship networks inside and outside the Church, the Evangelical interpreter receives his “religious socialization.” Hence, “[r]eligious socialization is important not only because it provides the individual with a world view, but because it channels individuals into personal communities that sustain a particular world view through the adult years.”61
As regards societal influence of conceptual preunderstandings in the interpretive process, three factors are key: (1) the sociological determinants of theological positions; (2) the social significance of a particular interpretation; and (3) the social context from which a view emerges.62 Herzog lucidly summarizes the gist of these three key features, “No scholar is a detached mind but a member of a social class dependent upon social institutions, and as such, he or she brings a multitude of engaged interests to any projection of interpretation.”63 Or, in Carroll’s terms, “Christians in dissimilar national, racial and class settings will often emphasize different texts and themes because they are naturally reflecting, and trying to respond Biblically to what they perceive are the concerns and needs of their own context and situation.”64
In order to acquire a heightened awareness of cultural and social influences upon one’s preunderstandings, Carroll adduces three practical measures: (1) a self-analysis of the interpreter’s social framework through the utilization of the social sciences; 65 (2) an appreciation of the insights that the social sciences can lend to the study of Scripture; and (3) valuing dialogue and reflection within multicultural communities within Christianity.66 A word is in order concerning Carroll’s second point on the utilization of social sciences in hermeneutics. Though written nearly thirty-five years ago, the seminal work of Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann67 still commands respect among social analysts.68 In particular, Berger and Luckmann’s “sociology of knowledge” construct has proven helpful in understanding objective and subjective perceptions of reality in one’s social milieu. Their enduring thesis is that objective reality consists of the roles and institutions that are external to a person, whereas subjective reality consists of one’s consciousness of his placement and role within a given context.
Having set forth some definitional preliminaries, I want to consider a specific example of how cultural and societal influence can affect one’s preunderstanding. The nature of “authority” in the theologies of Evangelicalism, though subject to much recent discussion, remains a matter for continued clarification and nuancing. While obviously pertinent to the complementarian versus egalitarian debate, the nature of authority is equally pertinent to a host of concerns (e.g., ecological responsibility, evangelism, church government, and church discipline). For those who constitute the laity in Evangelical churches, the nature and scope of authority may at times seem a vague and indefinable idea—maybe even one of those “I know it when I see it” sort of things. Even for those in church leadership, authority can be a priori assumed but not always carefully explained. Laypeople and scholars alike may also blur the distinctions between the power of personality and true servant leadership. If ambiguities exist concerning the nature of authority, most often this is a reflection of the broader American cultural and societal milieu where authority is pervasively misconstrued; “Americans do not generally understand what healthy authority is—and so frequently confuse it with what it is not.”69 Additionally, we live in a “post-hierarchical” era, a period where decentralized management styles have become the trend of America’s cutting edge institutions, not only its Fortune 500 corporations, but its mega-churches as well. Then too it is becoming popular to speak of “empowerment,” the granting of personal rights to others for the sake of their individual development and advance. One lesson that church history has taught us is that no Christian is immune to the cultural and social forces of our age. Try as Christians scholars might to be separated from the sway of secular culture, we invariably are the products of our age. This is not always to the degree where Christianity is corrupted or compromised, but the culture and societies in which we find ourselves nonetheless inform our presentations and practice of truth.70
In the last decade of the twentieth century and as a response to Evangelical egalitarianism, the following definition of “authority” was offered by leaders of the complementarian viewpoint, “authority in general is the right, power, and responsibility, to direct others. But the form and balance of these elements will vary in the different relationships of life according to the teaching of Scripture.”71 As definitions of authority go, this one is helpful, especially with the important qualifying statement on cultural influence that follows several pages later:
Whether [Evangelical] feminists are more influenced by the immense cultural pressure of contemporary egalitarian assumptions, or we are more influenced by centuries of patriarchalism and by our own masculine drives is hard to say. It does little good for us to impugn each other on the basis of these partially subconscious influences. It is clear from the literature that we all have our suspicions.72
As this debate continued, it did seem that both sides were still using the secular cultural influence argument.73 Cultural and social influence can be subtle in the way we interpret Scripture. As regards one complementarian perception of authority, let us consider the assessment of Schreiner regarding the fundamental inclinations of women and why Paul prohibited women from the “teaching office.”
God’s order of creation is mirrored in the nature of men and women. Satan approached the woman first not only because of the order of creation but also because of the different inclinations present in Adam and Eve. Generally speaking, women are more relational and nurturing and men are more given to rational analysis and objectivity. Women are less prone than men to see the importance of doctrinal formulations, especially when it comes to the issue of identifying heresy and making a stand for the truth. Appointing women to the teaching office is prohibited because they are less likely to draw a line on doctrinal non-negotiables, and thus deception and false teaching will more easily enter the church. This is not to say women are intellectually deficient or inferior to men. If women were intellectually inferior, Paul would not allow them to teach women and children. What concerns him are the consequences of allowing women in the authoritative teaching office, for their gentler and kinder nature inhibits them from excluding people for doctrinal error. There is the danger of stereotyping here, for obviously some women are more inclined to objectivity and are “tougher” and less nurturing than other women. But as a general rule women are more relational and caring than men. This explains why most women have many more close friends than men. The different inclinations of women (and men!) do not imply that they are inferior or superior to men. It simply demonstrates that men and women are profoundly different. Women have some strengths that men do not have, and men have some strengths that are generally lacking in women.74
They [women] are more prone to introduce deception into the church since they are more nurturing and relational than men. It is not that they do not have the capacity to teach doctrine or the ability to understand it. Women are less likely to perceive the need to take a stand on doctrinal non-negotiable since they prize harmonious relationships more than men do.75
In the main, Schreiner’s assessment is carefully nuanced and the balance of probability may actually favor his view of the fundamental distinctions between men and women.76 Testability of this distinction might pose some challenges,77 but his reasoning is plausible. While in general agreement with the conclusions of Schreiner and his colleagues in the volume that this statement appears, I wonder if the terms “relational” and “nurturing” and the ideas those words convey would have been as familiar to Paul as they are to us today. As a first-century Jewish male from Tarsus of Cilicia, would Paul’s “social construction of reality” have been explained with the conceptual nuancing that we presently assign to the terms “relational,” “nurturing,” “rational,” and “analytical”? As we now use them, the descriptions of the fundamental inclinations of women as “relational” and “nurturing” have been the conclusions arrived at by secular psychological research, pop-psychologists, Christian psychologists, and even anecdotal evidence. Over the course of time, words such as “relational” and “nurturing” have become a part of an American vocabulary and a “social construction of reality” for describing the differences between men and women. Yet, would Paul have agreed with Schreiner’s assessment? Perhaps so, but I think that at best Schreiner’s explanation for why Paul prohibits women from teaching men is a postulation, a postulation that is informed to an extent by contemporary psychological categories. If this appraisal is correct, then Schreiner’s culturally informed preunderstanding needs to be subject to the further scrutiny of Scripture and corroborated by evidence from extrabiblical sources of Paul’s period before it can be accepted as the basis for Paul’s prohibition in 1 Timothy 2.
Depending too on what is meant by “nurture,” a term with the general sense “to promote and sustain the growth and development of,”78 it does seem that it is the Christian male’s primary responsibility “to nurture” based on Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:28-30: “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also [does] the church, because we are members of His body” (NASB). On occasion, Paul and his coworkers exemplified a nurturing role to those to whom he ministered, “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing [mother] tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:7, 8) (NASB). Though there is certainly room for clarification of terms here, does not the command of shepherding the church (John 21:16; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2) imply a primary nurturing responsibility for male leadership? “Nurture” as a primarily male responsibility might also be indicated in Paul’s statement regarding qualifications for elders: “if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim. 3:5).79 As a means of clarification to this discussion, it may be necessary to make a distinction between fundamental male/female inclinations and fundamental male/female responsibilities. In other words, men may have strengths in rational objective analysis, but they are responsible to be nurturing and relational as well--whether or not these are their innate inclinations.
When used in contemporary discussions of distinguishing inclinations of women, the terms “nurture” or “nurturing” convey a rather specific range of meaning, specifically, the care of children or family, or giving attention to the development of relationships (i.e., either female to female, or female to male). Carol Gilligan, a noted feminist psychologist, has proposed that while there are shared inclinations among men and women, in the matter of moral judgments, women express themselves more in relational terms. Women will change “rules” in order to preserve relationships. By contrast, men abide by “rules” and regard relationships as dispensable if matters of justice are at stake. Consequently, Gilligan made the distinction between a feminine ethic of care and a masculine ethic of justice. Women are more willing to include others for the sake of relationship, whereas men are willing to exclude others if it is perceived to be the “right thing” to do.80 Gilligan’s thesis is intriguing and has taken several different trajectories within the American public imagination.81 Yet can such a thesis,82 or a similar one, serve as an underlying explanation for Paul’s prohibition of women from teaching doctrine and having authority over men? If “nurture” were a category in Paul’s “social construction of reality,” how might he have articulated that?
Did Paul actually understand that, “men are more given to rational analysis and objectivity”? Again, I am not in disagreement with Schreiner’s conclusion that “men and women are profoundly different.” Nevertheless, the way by which he arrives at this conclusion may well reflect an anachronistic reading of contemporary cultural and social categories into Paul’s prohibition. Though it may appear to be true in twenty-first-century North America today, do we know that men in Paul’s day were less “relational” than women? While we might argue for fundamental inclinations that distinguish men and women, it does seem that socialization plays an important role in the development of a person’s fundamental inclination. One’s cultural and social “situtatedness” will have some bearing on their perceived roles as “nurturers” or “analyzers” within their respective Evangelical sub-cultures. The words “relational,” “objective,” “nurture,” and “rational,” and the ideas conveyed by these words carry implications that need to be carefully unpacked to allow for a more viable fusion of hermeneutical horizons between the first-century Mediterranean world and our present contemporary milieu.
Though more of a theological quibble, another difficulty that attends to this matter is our understanding—or preunderstanding—of the pre-Fall condition of Adam and Eve. Does Schreiner suggest that humankind, in its pre-Fall state, possessed “strengths” and “weaknesses”? Or, does Paul’s rationale stated in 1 Timothy 2 apply to women in general after the Fall? Or, perhaps, is it a case of both—and? While it is agreed that, “[w]omen have some strengths that men do not have, and men have some strengths that women do not have,” would it fair to read this distinction into the pre-Fall condition of Adam and Eve? Was Adam’s condition of being “alone” (Gen. 2:18) an indicator of incompleteness to the degree of “weakness”? Was Eve vulnerable to temptation because of her restricted abilities to analyze objectively the words of the serpent? How did Adam’s fundamental “weaknesses” of being less “relational” and “nurturing” play into the Fall? Doriani maintains that theological explanation for male and female distinctions is necessary because, “few traditionalists [complementarians] explain God’s reasons or explore how he may have etched his decree in nature.”83 Theological explication of the fundamental inclinations between men and women is a worthy pursuit. However, beyond what Scripture expressly states on this matter, it does seem that any argument for fundamental inclinations between men and women should be offered and acknowledged as an exercise in the integration of theology and psychology. The outcome of such an argument would also seem to be more heuristic than dogmatic in character. Furthermore, the outcome of such a study would seem tentative by nature; good until further psychological research could confirm or contradict the original thesis. There is always the potential for incomplete theological hypotheses to be advanced as doctrine because these hypotheses seem to make the best sense of what Scripture teaches. In short, while life experience and psychological research may seem to point to Schreiner’s distinctions of gender inclinations, there is no explicit biblical evidence to suggest that this distinction lies behind Paul’s prohibition of women teaching men.
To summarize this section on the cultural and social element of influence upon preunderstanding, I will be the first to admit that as a white American male Evangelical, I have unconsciously breathed of the spirit of my age. That is one of the principal purposes for writing this article, to awaken others and me to the blurriness of our preunderstandings. As Evangelicals we may have “caught” things, more than we have been “taught” things. That is to say, we unconsciously adopt ideas and incorporate them into the explanation and application of our faith, oblivious all the while from whence we have borrowed these ideas. Unbeknownst to us, the validity of these “caught” ideas may also be open to question. We adopt a vocabulary and corresponding conceptual frameworks that derive from our culture and assume that the biblical authors thought, believed, and spoke within these same frameworks. We employ terms and concepts that might be implied from or correspond to Scripture (e.g., “clergy,” “office,” “surrender,” “community,” “self-protection,” “mentoring,” “controlling,” “ownership,” “bonding,” “denial,” “connection,” “dysfunction,” “boundaries,” or “relationship”). However, whether or not the biblical authors would have agreed with our terms and concepts is a matter that requires more careful attention and elucidation. Whether we are talking about authority, wine in the Bible, holy kisses, veils, nose rings, or even “preunderstanding,” we do well to acknowledge that the conclusions we set forth will, to some degree, reflect the intellectual currents, social and cultural mores, and the norms and values of our contemporary North American milieu. Social and cultural mores can and do shape the interpreter’s understanding of Scripture, not always to a necessarily negative degree, but the influence is real just the same. We might be unaware of this influence as it is happening. Especially is this so if we isolate ourselves from the input of those from other Evangelical viewpoints. Should the Lord tarry, our Evangelical progeny, having the benefit of sagacious hindsight, will probably look back and detect the cultural and social influences of this generation’s convictions. In the meantime, irenic and robust dialogue will be an important step in alerting us whenever we bring incomplete culturally and socially influenced preunderstandings to the text.
The Element of Education
Although closely linked to the element of tradition, the educational element deals with the nature and extent of knowledge accumulated by the interpreter either by formal or informal means. A frustration that is sometimes felt within the local church is the educational breach between the lay person and the lettered scholar.84 What may seem important to the scholar may appear to the layperson as esoteric, irrelevant, and impractical. Although both may stand within the same interpretive tradition or denominational heritage, the lay person and the scholar sometimes arrive at disparate interpretations of a given text of Scripture. More often than not, these points of disagreement are attributed to the different ways biblical data is processed through the interpreter’s acquired grid of preunderstanding. Stated in another way, differing interpretations between the scholar and the layman can often be credited to differences of opinion concerning the perspicuity of Scripture, that is, the sufficient clarity of the Bible in matters of faith and practice.85
In addition to this, another challenge that faces the layperson is the idea of hermeneutical “distanciation.”86 In the formal education of the Evangelical interpreter, his or her acquired approaches to ontology, epistemology, history, and anthropology will direct the outcome of his exegetical decisions. Moreover, as the interpreter acquires the tools of historical-critical exegesis, he also develops and expands his conceptual matrix of preunderstandings. On the other hand, the interpreter who is not formally trained will not attain the same level of “hermeneutical distanciation” as the seminary-trained interpreter. “Hermeneutical distanciation” refers to “an ultimate distinction between the knower (subject) and the text (object).”87 Distanciation entails a self-conscious distancing of the interpreter from his or her point of hermeneutical surveillance and, as such, is an attempt to survey or understand the text as the biblical author might. A fusion of hermeneutical horizons begins when the interpreter understands that there are chronological, cultural, geographical, linguistic, and literary considerations that exist between himself and the biblical author. Carson elaborates on the significance of distanciation as it relates to academic enterprise:
Whenever we try to understand the thought of a text (or of another person, for that matter), if we are to understand it critically—that is, not in some arbitrary fashion, but with sound reasons, and as the author meant it in the first place—we must first of all grasp the nature and degree of the differences that separate our understanding from the understanding of the text. Only then can we profitably fuse our horizon of understanding with the horizon of understanding of the text—that is, only then can we begin to shape our thoughts by the thoughts of the text so that we truly understand them. Failure to go through the distanciation before the fusion usually means that there has been no real fusion: the interpreter thinks he knows what the text means, but all too often he or she has simply imposed his own thoughts onto the text.
It follows that if an institution is teaching you to think critically … , you will necessarily face some dislocation and disturbing distanciation. A lesser institution may not be quite so upsetting: students are simply encouraged to learn, but not to evaluate.88
Carson’s remark about a “lesser institution” not only applies in an academic environment, but also in a local church context. As an illustration, a pastor who is concerned with transmitting biblical content that has relevance for the needs of his congregation may not see his aim as teaching his parishioners how to study the Bible critically. Consequently, the layperson learns content, but is not taught to evaluate. Within a local church context where the pastor assumes a majority of the preaching and teaching responsibilities, a lay-person may develop an unswerving loyalty to a pastor’s teachings without considering them critically. Hence, hermeneutical distanciation with the layperson is necessarily controlled and confined. Perhaps this would be so to a lesser degree with the well-read layperson.
The nature and extent of knowledge acquired by the interpreter will affect his distanciation, and consequently, his conceptual preunderstandings. The more learned an interpreter is does not necessarily make him more “objective” in his exegetical conclusions. Instead, his preunderstanding is more conceptually developed and nuanced, and there is—or at least there should be—a greater degree of “hermeneutical self-consciousness.” Poythress offers a needed reminder to the biblical scholar.
We are not to be elitists who insist that everyone become a self-conscious scholar in reading the Bible….We are not to despise laypeople’s understanding of the Bible. We are not to reject it just because on the surface it appears to ‘read in’ too much. Of course, laypeople may sometimes have overworked imaginations. But sometimes their conclusions may be a result of a synthesis of Bible knowledge due to the work of the Holy Spirit. Scholars cannot reject such a possibility without having achieved a profound synthetic and even practical knowledge of the Bible for themselves. 89
Occasionally, students will come to me and confess that they were not expecting such intellectual disruption during their university experience. They thought that their university education at an Evangelical institution would serve a more confirmatory, rather than a disruptive function in the formation of their beliefs. However, as I attempt to explain to them, it is not a case of “either-or,” that is, either a quality Christian education should be disruptive or it should serve a confirmatory function. It is more the case of “both-and.” Intellectual disturbance that comes with learning should not come as a surprise. A sage of old once observed, “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow” (Eccl. 1:18 [NRSV]). Disruption within an educational context must serve the overall aim of building up one’s systematized body of beliefs. This may mean that some mistaken beliefs will be replaced with true beliefs. Therefore, intellectual disruption is not of necessity synonymous with destruction of one’s beliefs.
All of this calls to mind Festinger’s proposal of “cognitive dissonance,” the mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information. Festinger maintained that the conflict that the new information provokes can be controlled several ways: (1) one can reject, explain away, or avoid the new information; (2) one can persuade oneself that no conflict actually exists; or (3) one can attempt to reconcile the differences in a way that preserves the stability or order in his or her worldview. Festinger’s thesis was that dissonance reduction serves as a primary component in cognitive functioning.90 In light of this, a final question seems pertinent here. If I am correct to suggest that disruption of preunderstanding is a necessary part of education, is there any sense where churches should serve as settings of intellectual disruption for laypeople? This does seem implied from Paul’s declaration regarding the usefulness of Scripture “for reproof, for correction” (2 Ti. 3:16), and from Hebrews 4:12 where the Word is “able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” If we can agree that Scripture serves a disruptive function in the lives of the people of God, what might this look like within a sermon, or within any other small group context in the local church? A part of the church worker’s task in teaching is to correct (and graciously so) the flawed preunderstandings that the people of God bring to the Bible, and affirm laypeople’s preunderstandings that are sufficiently grounded in Scripture.
The Element of Psychology
The final element is what I term the psychological element. This is a “catch-all” category that I have devised to describe the inner motivations of our immaterial dimension that can affect our conceptual preunderstanding. Because this element deals with the psychological and emotional motivations of the interpreter, it is the most complicated element thus far considered. To say the least, it is difficult to gauge the operations of the psyche with consistency and measurable predictability. Therefore, the observations I make are general by nature.
With respect to the idea of cognitive interests that was mentioned earlier, they may constitute one part of the psychological element that influences our preunderstanding. The idea of cognitive interests in epistemological discussions was first brought to light by Jürgen Habermas who wrote, “Interest in general is the pleasure that we connect with the idea of existence of an object or an action … . Either the interest presupposes a need or it produces one.”91 To put it another way, a cognitive interest is “a practical interest which determines the perspective within which he [an interpreter] acquires knowledge.”92 Cognitive interests, then, are motivated by a practical concern on the part of the interpreter: “It is only when we are faced with a practical problem that we acquire sufficient knowledge to overcome it.”93 These interests are practical in nature, but they also serve in organizing the totality of life experiences. Cognitive interests are not surefire guarantees for exegetical decisions. Instead, they provide the motivation for acquiring knowledge, and they act as conscious safeguards against ideas that do not suit the theological or practical needs of the interpreter. Cognitive interests also serve as safeguards against viewpoints that stand in opposition to the interpreter’s.94
It is difficult to deny that our areas of theological-exegetical expertise are most often those areas that provide us the greatest measure of intellectual—and dare I say, emotional and psychological—satisfaction. Moreover, because Evangelicals are issues-oriented and often motivated by practical needs and concerns, it follows that our cognitive interests are often driven accordingly. This may be more axiomatic than we are willing to acknowledge. This article, for example, would not have been written if it were not for a cognitive interest and perceived need on my part. If there is any validity to the notion of cognitive interests, we need to be consciously aware of what they are as we do exegesis. This may involve some personal inquiry or soul searching on our part. Woelfel provides some stimulating questions that the interpreter may need to ask himself:
What are the main theological themes with which I have been preoccupied? What elements in my own life history may have played a role in choosing to emphasize those themes and not others? Who are my theological “heroes”? What is it I admire about them—their themes, their methods, their style, their persona, and their life-experience? Why do they strike responsive chords in myself [sic]? Why do I tend to simply ignore some thinkers and movements that are obviously worth attention? What are the elements of rationalization in the reasons that I give for my theological likes, dislikes and indifferences?95
In addition to these queries, we must also ask ourselves what is at stake when we assume one interpretative option over another. During this process of self-examination we may discover that our interpretations are ideologically driven. Bloesch has sagaciously observed that “the taint of ideology colors our religious commitment and accounts in no small part for the way Christians treat one another and why they are so often at loggerheads with one another.”96 Spoken of neutrally, ideology can refer to: (1) a set of doctrines or beliefs that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system; or (2) an orientation that characterizes the thinking of a group or nation. Yet, in the negative sense of the term, ideology can also refer to the, “views of the whole of reality, especially of historical and social reality, which are believed by a community, which claim to be the truth about the whole, but which actually represent a particular point of view or bias, and … which in that bias represent and further the interests of a certain class or group.”97 A courageous self-examination is in order to determine which of these aspects of ideology, if any, may be subtly swaying our exegeses.
Moving now from cognitive interests, I want to consider a specific psychological influence that can shape an interpreter’s conceptual preunderstandings, namely, motivations of fear. Lest I be accused of succumbing to psycho-subjectivism, it is important to remember that the Bible speaks of “motivations,” “purposes,” and “intentions” of the “heart” (Prov. 16:2; 21:2; Acts 8:22; 1 Cor. 4:5; Heb. 4:15). Perhaps it is better to speak of motivations of fear as linked to theological anthropology over against what we commonly refer to as “psychology.”98 Regardless of which rubric we choose to adopt, it is appropriate to speak of fear as a motivation that can affect our preunderstandings and, consequently, our interpretations of Scripture. By “fear,” I am referring to, “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”99 On the one hand, there is certainly nothing wrong with this kind of “fear.” It can serve as a healthy way of establishing boundaries for our doctrinal orthodoxy. On the other hand, when surrounded by postmodern relativism, militant feminism, secularism, neo-paganism, burgeoning religious pluralism, and cults, some Evangelical subcultures seem to adopt an apologetic theology that is ostensibly driven by fear. Add to this the perceived threats within Evangelical circles such as: egalitarianism, limited inerrancy, open theism, salvation outside Christ, disclaimers concerning Hell, tolerance toward certain kinds of homosexual relationships, the TNIV of the Bible, and lax views of divorce, fear can also be a motivation that drives one toward a reactionary posture in exegesis and theology.
One all too familiar way that fear plays itself out, both at the lay and academic levels, is to resort to the argument of the slippery slope. This informal logical fallacy contends that a certain outcome must eventually follow from a preceding event without any argument for the inevitability of an alleged consequential event. Since, event A has occurred (or will or might occur), therefore event B will inevitably happen. With this fallacy, one fails to acknowledge that there can be a series of steps or gradations between one event and a consequent event. Generally, no reason is given for the absence of mention of the intervening steps or gradations. The slippery slope argument is fallacious because there is no reason to believe that one event must inevitably follow from another without a sufficiently convincing explanation for why such a claim must of necessity happen. Especially is this so in instances when there are a significant number of steps or gradations between one event and another. In very general terms, the slippery slope argument of some Evangelicals is sometimes based in a suspicion and an emotional conviction that if certain beliefs are taught and embraced, they will inevitably lead to the erosion of Evangelical doctrinal conservatism.
As an example of the argument of the slippery slope, a noted and respected proponent of pretribulationalism once wrote, “In too many cases where the precious hope of the rapture has become dim, it is the prelude for departure from the faith in the fundamentals, as neglect in one area of theology often spreads to another.”100 If this statement were true, then one would need case specific examples to demonstrate that taking a different view of the rapture has led to doctrinal apostasy. An additional question is to be asked: What were the historical-contextual ideas, assumptions, and circumstances that lead to doctrinal heresy in specific instances throughout church history? If an interpreter suspects that his or her views are “dangerous” in that they invite—or seem to invite—the erosion of Evangelical “orthodoxy,” then some safeguards need to be put in place. When an interpreter or theologian is seeking to refine, reinterpret, or restate something in a manner different than his or her predecessors, it behooves the interpreter to be acutely aware of what those who preceded had to say on this particular matter.101
Having said all this, there is another difficulty with the argument of the slippery slope; Evangelicals differ concerning where other Evangelicals are on the slick incline of doctrinal heterodoxy. McGrath’s words bring us to the nub of the matter.
Evangelicalism is a broad term, embracing a broad network of individuals, seminaries, parachurch organizations, and journals, each with a distinctive “take” on what constitutes the essence of evangelical identity. Precisely because evangelicalism is a loose and contested concept, disputes regularly break out over who’s in and who’s out—disputes that generally achieve little in way of clarification, apart from temporarily raising the temperature within the evangelical community and setting a long-term agenda of personal reconciliation between individuals who are alienated from each other as a consequence!102
Those within the sub-communities of Evangelicalism must determine what the doctrinal non-negotiables will be. Moreover, if there is any proven viability to the argument of the slippery slope, then the points leading to “the slope” must be defined. Perhaps one way to begin discussion on these matters is to speak of taxonomy, a hierarchy of doctrine, or of doctrinal priorities.103 All of this is to say that fear within the different communities within Evangelicalism can be a good thing if there is legitimate grounds for believing that certain ideas will lead to doctrinal degeneration.
Along with the fears resident within Evangelical subcultures, to one degree or another, fear may reside within the Evangelical interpreter himself. Fear of shoddy work, fear of compromising cherished doctrines, fear of a lack of peer approval, fear of supervisory reprisals, fear of producing less than fresh work, or “scholarly politics”104 are but several ways that fear can sway our conceptual preunderstandings. Along these lines, Johnson makes a pertinent observation:
Too often with Evangelicalism there is an emotional and political commitment to incomplete theological and hermeneutical models. Creative prophets are silenced, ostracized, or paternalistically tolerated. Fear of such responses cause many a prophet to surrender critical judgment for the sake of acceptance in the group.105
Consequently, an interpreter may always be “looking over his shoulder” to gain approval from peers and pundits.106 Without a doubt, hermeneutical accountability is essential to the integrity of careful scholarship, particularly within a confessional environment. However, when scholars challenge cherished interpretive traditions because these traditions have veered away from Scripture, fear may creep in and persuade them not to voice their conclusions too loudly. Especially may this be so if one perceives that job security hangs in the balance. In short, from within and without our fears can shape our conceptual preunderstandings. Again, this is not a necessarily bad thing, but failure to acknowledge fear in the hermeneutical process can evidence itself in a rationalized defensiveness that may have its roots more in the flesh than in the Holy Spirit.
To be sure, a tome is required to plum the depths of the psychological elements that can guide our preunderstandings. What complicates this discussion even further is the depth and scope of our fallenness as interpreters. By this I am not suggesting that we are incapable of accurate interpretations of Scripture. Rather, the complexity of the matter hinges on the role the Holy Spirit plays in helping us transcend that notoriously depraved network of compulsive attitudes and beliefs in our hearts. In the final analysis, and so far as it is possible, cognitive interests and skewed motivations must be brought to light. Johnson suggests some necessary steps toward this end, “A psychotherapeutic relationship, the prayer closet, the community of believers, the inner activity of the Holy Spirit and the Bible itself provide the necessary correctives for personal bias.”107 By “psychotherapeutic relationship,” Johnson is not referring to the interpreter’s need for clinical counseling. Instead, in his words, “The quest for personal insight needs an environment where fear is minimized and acceptance and freedom are predominant.”108 Do—or can—our Evangelical institutions and society meetings provide such an environment?109
“We All Have Preunderstandings—So What?”
If it has not become apparent already, this article has been written with a heuristic end in view. Fundamentally, this essay is aimed at eliciting a lifelong enterprise of prayerful self-awareness on the part of the interpreter. As we turn our attention to the task of biblical interpretation, it is incumbent upon us to be critical students of ourselves. We must be alert to any elements of our tradition, experience, culture, society, education, and even our own inner workings that can influence our acquired understandings that we all bring to the biblical text. Calvin’s now-classic maxim can take on fresh relevance in this connection, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”110
Concurrently, we must recognize the limitations of preunderstanding. The notion of preunderstanding can neither be conclusively proven nor completely refuted. As Hirsch has correctly observed, “The doctrine of preunderstanding is logical or phenomenological rather than empirical, and it would no doubt be very difficult to devise an empirical test for it.”111 By its very nature, phenomenology focuses on the structure of consciousness and immediate experiencing.112 Thus, the significance of Hirsch’s observation is that preunderstanding is concerned with the subject (the interpreter) more than it is with the object (the Scripture). Because it is difficult to adduce empirical evidence that demonstrates the hermeneutical outcomes of preunderstanding, testability of this phenomenon is tricky—tricky perhaps, but not totally elusive. More often than not, preunderstandings tell us more about ourselves than they do about the text. Yet, we can come to understand our preunderstandings more fully as we engage in scrupulous and affable dialogue with those who differ with us. Sometimes it will take a person from outside our denominational or theological tradition, to show us that our preunderstandings have been informed from sources outside Scripture. Occasionally scholars caution against interpreting Scripture through preunderstandings that contradict the truth content of Scripture. For example, Osborne writes, “Preunderstanding only becomes negative if it degenerates into an a priori grid that determines the meaning of the text before the act of reading even begins.”113 While we can agree in part with this statement, there may be times when the interpreter unconsciously reads his or her preunderstandings into the text. As regards the professional scholar, this seems most likely to occur as a consequence of cultural limitations114 or other varieties of distanciation blindness. Perhaps a desirable goal is to suggest that the interpreter’s preunderstandings be subject to an ongoing process of harmonization with Scripture and subjection to correction by Scripture.115 Again, dialogue may be the necessary stimuli to achieve this end.
Being aware of how our preunderstandings are shaped does not necessarily imprison us in a labyrinth of subjective introspection. At the same time, self-examination of our presuppositions and preunderstandings must not detract from our commitment to the interpretive process, and more specifically, to Scripture itself. As enunciated earlier in this essay, preunderstandings are a part of the ascending accumulation of one’s knowledge in the hermeneutical “spiral.” The hermeneutical enterprise is yet another expression of the Augustinian axiom of “faith seeking understanding.” Augustine exhorted Evodius accordingly:
Be of brave spirit and believe what you believe, for there is nothing worthier of belief, even though reason why it is true may lie hidden. For to hold God supreme is most truly the beginning of piety … . With this belief as our foundation, let us then strive, with God’s aid, toward … understanding … .116
Following in Augustine’s legacy, Anselm’s classic Credo, ut intelligam was thus articulated: “For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, that unless I believed, I should not understand.”117 Both Augustine and Anselm worked from an epistemological conviction that sought to understand Scripture and church tradition through reason. Applying this to our discussion of preunderstanding, it would be ill advised for us today to put the Credo, ut intelligam on its head thus making understanding or preunderstanding the basis for understanding Scripture: (pre)understanding seeking faith.118 When preunderstanding takes this point of departure in interpretation, interpreters adjust the content of their faith according to what seems reasonable, or what best comports with the knowledge one has already acquired on a matter. As Ganssle maintains, “[o]nce understanding is made a prerequisite for continuing to hold any controversial or difficult doctrine, those doctrines will begin to disappear and we may find we have regressed to a theology which has been significantly impoverished. When this regression occurs, I wonder whether we should call our … method Christian.”119 Stated succinctly, we must hold the Scripture to be true and seek to understand it rather than conforming the Scripture to our understanding or preunderstandings.
So what do we do with our preunderstandings? We ignore them to our detriment, and we exaggerate their significance to our peril. At times, sin and personal prejudice may taint them, or at other times, they may be morally neutral. In other instances, our preunderstandings may be deficient thus reflecting degrees of ignorance on our part. Perhaps we do well to hold our preunderstandings in a careful balance, not dismissing their effect upon our interpretations, yet not crediting them with more control than is warranted. This will be a challenge. At the same time, subjecting our interpretations to those who differ can draw our attention to any flawed knowledge we may have brought to the Bible. Perhaps before our exegeses and theological ideas go to press or pulpit, we would be prudent to allow our critics and peers to review our work first, and then incorporate their critiques into the final product. Notwithstanding, our critics are not the only ones who are keen to the faulty preunderstandings we may read into Scripture. Our own theological communities of faith (e.g., educational institutions, parachurch groups, and churches) can be a rich informing source to this end. Doing theology and exegesis without “communitarian” input can lend itself to shortsightedness regarding preunderstanding. Autonomous individualism in the interpretive and theological enterprise may also reflect a kind of subtle spiritual pride. This may be another variation of “the lone prophet” way of thinking. By this I mean the unwillingness or inability to see the vital role community plays in developing our concepts of rationality, and in exposing the incomplete knowledge that we transport into our exegesis and theology.
To conclude, awareness of how our preunderstandings are shaped requires humility on our part, a humility that is essential to our growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Humility is a virtue that accords well with the integrity that should be the sum of all literary knowledge.120 Corduan says it well, “Humility is called for by the interpreter’s awareness that final truth may not always be in his grasp. But commitment signifies that the interpreter never give up in his quest to find the truth.”121
1 Graham Stanton, “Presuppositions in New Testament Criticism,” in New Testament Interpretation: Essays On Principles and Methods, ed. I. Howard Marshall (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 67.
2 Moiss Silva, Explorations in Exegetical Method: Galatians as a Test Case (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 210.
3 Among the many works produced on this subject, several in particular merit special consideration: Anthony C. Thiselton, The Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description with Special Reference to Heidegger, Bultmann, Gadamer, and Wittgenstein (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), 103-14, 133-39, 194-97, 236-39, 303-10; New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing House, 1992); Richard E. Palmer, Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1969).
4 Over two decades ago Stanton’s seminal essay addressed this matter, but only in a cursory fashion. For example, he suggested that individual personality, cultural factors, and scholarly politics are some of the influences that can affect an interpreter’s presuppositions. Stanton, “Presuppositions in New Testament Criticism,” 61-62.
5 One noted Evangelical thinker concluded that the notion of interpretive preunderstandings is fraught with problems: "This hermeneutic is ultimately committed to relativism and is patently anti-intellectual . . . . The Bible may now to be 'understood' in a new way to fit the belief that is brought to it. The Procrustean Bed is complete as the Bible's message is cut, sawn off and denuded to fit contemporary categories of existential philosophy." R. C. Sproul, "A Response to Philosophical Presuppositions Affecting Biblical Hermeneutics," in Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible: Papers from ICBI Summit II, eds. Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1984), 521.
6 Jacques Barzun and Henry H. Graff, The Modern Researcher, 4th ed. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1985), 183-84.
7 D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 120.
9 Wayne A. Grudem, “Scripture’s Self-Attestation and the Problem of Formulating a Doctrine of Scripture,” in Scripture and Truth, eds., D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1983), 19-59.
10 Thiselton, New Horizons, 45.
11 In this essay I am using the term in its singular form, “preunderstanding,” and its plural form, “preunderstandings.” In both instances I am referring to a conceptual framework or matrix that comprises a host of understandings or concepts.
12 Thiselton, New Horizons, 45; see also, Lee Hardy, “The Interpretations of Alvin Plantinga,” Christian Scholar’s Review 19 (1989): 164-66; and Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Wheaton, IL: Bridgepoint/Victor Books, 1993), 59-60.
13 Thiselton, Two Horizons, 104.
14 Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There Meaning In This Text?: The Bible, The Reader, and The Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 30-32.
15 Darwin K. Glassford, “The Hermeneutics of Reading Scripture and the Symbols of Faith in the PCA: An Exploratory Essay,” Premise 3 (1996): 10.
16 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3d ed., s.v., “bias.”
17 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983-85), 26.
18 Moiss Silva, Has the Church Misread the Bible? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 6.
19 Alister E. McGrath, “Engaging the Great Tradition,” in Evangelical Futures: A Conversation on Theological Method, ed., John G. Stackhouse, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000), 147.
20 Geoffrey Turner, "Preunderstanding and New Testament Interpretation," Scottish Journal of Theology 28 (1975): 233, 238-40.
21 Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2000), 118.
22 Clark H. Pinnock, Tracking the Maze: Finding Our Way Through Modern Theology from an Evangelical Perspective (New York: Harper & Row, 1990), 177.
23 As an illustration of this, consider the testimonies of Evangelicals who grew up in church traditions absent of liturgical symbolism, and who eventually found refuge and solace in Anglicanism. See, Robert E. Webber, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1985).
24 See the essays of Fred H. Klooster, “The Biblical Method of Salvation: A Case for Continuity,” and Allen P. Ross, “The Biblical Method of Salvation: A Case for Discontinuity,” in John S. Feinberg, ed., Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationships Between the Old and New Testaments. Essays in Honor of S. Lewis Johnson Jr. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988).
25 John S. Feinberg, “Salvation in the Old Testament,” in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, ed., John S. and Paul D. Feinberg, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), 40.
26 As a topic of dialogue between Reformed and dispensational scholars, this discussion has generated an industry of articles and published essays. Perhaps the most significant along these lines is the aforementioned monograph John S. Feinberg, ed., Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationships Between the Old and New Testaments. Essays in Honor of S. Lewis Johnson Jr. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988).
27 Richard N. Longenecker, "Three Ways of Understanding Relations Between the Testaments: Historically and Today," in Gerald F. Hawthorne and Otto Betz, eds., Tradition and Interpretation in the New Testament: Essays in Honor of E. Earle Ellis for His 60th Birthday (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 28-29.
28 Irenaeus, Irenaeus Against Heresies, in The Anti-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, Vol. 1, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T & T Clark/Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989), 467.
29 See the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch 4:4, Esdras 3:13-15, 4 Ezra 2:14, and, most notably, the Apocalypse of Abraham. Specific Rabbinic and Mishnaic writings portray Abraham as a seer of eschatological events (e.g., Sanh. 38b; and Mek. 20:18). The vision of Abraham in Genesis 15:17-21 occasioned a disagreement between Rabbi Akiba and Johanan ben Zakkai; see Genesis Rabba 44:21, 28a. A tradition in Judaism ascribed “rejoicing” to Abraham when his promised son Isaac was born (Jubilees 16:16-29 cf. Gen.17:17; 21:6).
30 William Horbury, Old Testament Interpretation in the Writings of the Church Fathers, in Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading, and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed., Martin Jan Mulder (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 766.
31 Although not to be ruled out of hand, the likelihood of Abraham receiving a prophetic vision of the kind described by Irenaeus seems doubtful based on the following considerations. (1) Throughout Against Heresies Irenaeus minimizes OT patterns in their original contexts and reads the developed significance of pattern fulfillment in the NT back into the original OT text. A similar problem arises with the contemporary notion that OT saints had a rather developed cognizance of the substitutionary death of Christ; see, Feinberg, “Salvation,” 50-53; and Ross, “Biblical Method,” 170-72. (2) Connected to the preceding point, Irenaeus lived in a stage in the early Church when its exegetes were oblivious to the historical-contextual subtleties of the progress of revelation in redemption history. In general, the Church Fathers articulated a rather primitive understanding of progressive revelation in their writings, an understanding that did not fully consider the human dimension of revelation. See, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, “The Church Fathers and Holy Scripture,” in Scripture and Truth, eds., D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1983), 217-18. (3) Rather than speaking of a vision imparted to Abraham, it may be that Jesus is making a typological correspondence between Himself and specific promises to Abraham in the Genesis narrative (Gen. 12:1-3; 22:13-15). Whether a direct prophetic vision given to Abraham, or Jesus’ typological reading of the OT, “the fact remains that Jesus identifies the ultimate fulfillment of all Abraham’s hopes and joys with his own person and work” (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing House, 1991], 357).
32 See the helpful summary of typological-prophetic texts in the OT in Blaising and Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 102-04.
33 Darrell L. Bock, “Evangelicals and the Use of the Old Testament in the New, Part 1,” Bibliotheca Sacra 142 (1985): 213-14; “Evangelicals and the Use of the Old Testament in the New, Part 2,” Bibliotheca Sacra 142 (1985): 306, 309, 316-17.
34 As an interesting case study of presuppositions and developing preunderstandings in exegesis and theology, see the dialogue between Reformed exegete Vern S. Poythress and dispensationalists Paul S. Karleen and Robert Saucy in the series of articles in Grace Theological Journal 10 (1989): 125-64.
35 McGrath, “Engaging the Great Tradition,” 148.
36 Silva, Explorations in Exegetical Method, 210; see also, Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 315; and Glassford, “Hermeneutics of Reading Scripture,” 10, 14-15.
37 Georgia Warnke, Gadamer: Hermeneutics, Tradition, and Reason (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987), 28.
38 Johnston suggests that the following controls are necessary whenever implementing experience as a source of Evangelical theology: "(1) Christian experience must never be viewed individualistically but nurtured and evaluated within the Christian community past and present. (2) Experience and reflection must not become isolated from each other. Word and Spirit must remain complementary expressions of the Trinity. (3) The Spirit who is experienced cannot be reduced to only the Spirit in creation, or Christianity risks degeneration into psychology . . . . Neither can Christian theology be concerned only with the Spirit of redemption, for then Christianity risks isolationism and mysticism." Robert K. Johnston, "Experience, Theology of," in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 398.
39 Wilber N. Pickering, "Spiritual Warfare," Unpublished Paper, January 1, 1990, 35. Compare with similar experiences in C. Fred Dickason, Angels, Evil and Elect (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), 190-91; and Timothy M. Warner, Spiritual Warfare: Victory Over the Powers of This Dark World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991).
40 Jack Deere, Surprised by the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993); Surprised by the Voice of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996). See Deere’s biographical sketch in Glenna Whitely, “True Believer,” Dallas Life Magazine, 17 April 1988, 10-14, 22-26.
41 Haddon Robinson, “CT Readers Survey: Sex, Marriage, and Divorce,” Christianity Today, 14 December 1992, 29-32; see also the examples cited in William A. Heth, “Divorce and Remarriage: The Search for An Evangelical Hermeneutic,” Trinity Journal 16NS (1995): 90-91, 97-100.
42 Michael Eaton, No Condemnation: A New Theology of Assurance (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 4-8.
43 Particularly illuminating in this regard is the biographical brief of James Wallis, founder of Sojourner Fellowship, in Robert H. Krapohl and Charles H. Lippy, The Evangelicals: A Historical, Thematic, and Biographical Guide (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999), 310-11.
44 Mark Strom, Reframing Paul: Conversations in Grace and Community (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 242-43.
45 Though the literature on this topic is vast and ever-expanding, one of the more sober treatments is Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1992).
46 Daniel B. Wallace, “Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit?: The Uneasy Conscience of a Noncharismatic Evangelical,” Christianity Today, 12 September 1994, 35-38.
47 Robert McAfee Brown, Theology in A New Key (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978), 60.
48 Brown’s statements call to mind Bultmann’s caveat: “The historical picture would be falsified only if the exegete were to take his or her preunderstanding to be a definitive understanding” (Rudolph Bultmann, “Is Exegesis Without Presuppositions Impossible?” in The New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings, ed. Schubert M. Ogden. [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984]), 149-50.
49 Thomas Ommen, “The Preunderstanding of the Theologian,” in Theology and Discovery: Essays in Honor of Karl Rahner, S.J., ed. William J. Kelly (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1980), 248-49.
50 Alister McGrath, The Genesis of Doctrine (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 66-72.
51 Ibid., 68.
52 John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1987), 334-35.
53 Pinnock, Tracking the Maze, 178.
54 As Berger notes, "Culture consists of the totality of man's products. Some of these are material, others are not. Man produces tools of every conceivable kind, by means of which he modifies his physical environment and bends nature to his will . . . society is, of course, nothing but part and parcel of non-material culture. Society is that aspect of the latter that structures man's ongoing relations with his fellowmen." Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (New York: Doubleday, 1969), 7-8.
55 Grenz and Franke, Beyond Foundationalism, 134-166.
56 Lausanne Occasional Papers No. 2—The Willowbank Report: Gospel and Culture (Wheaton: Lausanne Council for World Evangelization, 1978), 7.
57 Grenz and Franke, Beyond Foundationalism, 134-38.
58 Ibid., 147.
59 Harvie M. Conn, "Contextualization: A New Dimension for Cross-Cultural Hermeneutic," Evangelical Missions Quarterly 14 (1978), 43. See also, Grenz and Franke, Beyond Foundationalism, 154-58.
60 William R. Herzog, "Interpretation as Discovery and Creation: Sociological Dimensions of Biblical Hermeneutics," American Baptist Quarterly 2 (1983): 112.
61 Marie Cornwall, "The Social Bases of Religion: A Study of Factors Influencing Religious Belief and Commitment," Review of Religious Research 29 (1987): 44.
62 Oliver R. Whiteley, "Sociological Models and Theological Reflection," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 45 (1977): 79.
63 Herzog, "Interpretation," 113.
64 M. Daniel Carroll, "The Relevance of Cultural Conditioning for Social Ethics," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 29 (1986): 310.
65 Ibid., 311.
66 Ibid., 311-12.
67 The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1966).
68 Grenz and Franke, Beyond Foundationalism, 139.
69 Eugene Kennedy and Sara C. Charles, Authority: The Most Misunderstood Idea in America (New York: The Free Press, 1998), 4-5.
70 Princetonian theologian Charles Hodge is an example of an innovative integrator of classic Reformed theology with other philosophical currents of the nineteenth century (e.g. Scottish Common Sense Realism). See, Mark Noll, “The Princeton Review,” Westminster Theological Journal 50 (1988): 283-304. Silva offers the following corrective concerning the negative effects of Hodge’s utilization of Common Sense constructs: “Without denying that some aspects of that background had a negative effect, attention must be paid to the positive results as well. In any case, it is my opinion that the indebtedness of Hodge and later Princetonians to Realism has been greatly overstated” (Silva, Explorations in Exegetical Methods, 208). A similar sentiment is expressed in John D. Hannah’s book review of Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind in Bibliotheca Sacra 152 (1995): 235.
71 John Piper and Wayne Grudem, “An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 79.
72 Ibid., 84-85.
73 Craig S. Keener, book review of Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, in The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41 (1998): 514.
74 Thomas R. Schreiner, “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15: A Dialogue with Scholarship,” in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, eds. Andreas J. Kstenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner, and H. Scott Baldwin (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1995), 145-46.
75 Ibid., 153.
76 For a more recent argument for fundamental “inclinations” between men and women, see Judith TenElshof, “Psychological Evidence of Gender Differentiation,” Women and Men in Ministry: A Complementary Perspective, Robert L. Saucy and Judith K. TenElshof, eds. (Chicago: Moody Press, 2001), 229-46.
77 Keener, book review, 515.
78 American Heritage Dictionary, s.v. “nurture.”
79 Paul’s rhetorical conditional question is framed in an illustration of household management. He uses the terms pro?<istamai (“manage”) and evpimele,omai (“take care of”). As a form of a qal wahomer argument from the lesser truth to the greater truth, Paul uses the two terms in a parallel fashion suggesting an overlap in their semantic meaning. The term evpimele,omai in its verb and noun forms, as used elsewhere in the NT and the secular literature of Paul’s day, carries the general sense of “helping,” “giving aid,” “to care for,” “to provide whatever is needed.” So, Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), 35.12, 44; Bo Reicke, “Proi<sthmi,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), 6:702; and James Hope Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing House, 1985), 241-42, 541. In whatever manner one chooses to understand the semantic force of these terms in a context describing household management and child disciple, it would not go too far to suggest that proven “nurturing” responsibility is requisite on the part of men who aspire to be elders.
80 Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982).
81 The conviction that males are born with and develop inclinations that that are justice and logic centered, while women are innately and developmentally relational served to influence popular level writer and speaker John Gray, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (New York: Harper Collins, 1992).
82 For a deft and trenchant analysis of Gilligan’s research, see Christina Hoff Sommers, The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000); and “The War Against Boys,” Atlantic Monthly, May 2000, 59-74; for Gilligan’s rejoinder to Sommers, see www.theatlantic.com/issues/2000/08/letters.htm.
83 Daniel Doriani, “Appendix 1: A History of the Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2,” in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, eds. Andreas J. Kstenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner, and H. Scott Baldwin (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1995), 260-61.
84 Oftentimes it is the role of the pastor, Sunday School teacher, or small group leader to "stand in the gap" between the scholar and the layman. See, Lewis S. Mudge, "Thinking in the Community of Faith: Toward an Ecclesial Hermeneutic," in Lewis S. Mudge and James N. Poling eds., Formation and Reflection: the Promise of Practical Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), 103-119.
85 For an explanation of biblical "perspicuity," see, Silva, Has the Church Misread?, 77-97.
86 From Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons,” “distanciation” is a term employed by D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 24, 104, 128-29.
87 D. A. Carson, "Recent Developments in the Doctrine of Scripture," in D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, eds. Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1986), 41.
88 Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 24.
89 Vern S. Poythress, "The Divine Meaning of Scripture," Westminster Theological Journal 48 (1986): 275, 278.
90 Leon Festinger, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson, 1957); and Eddie Harmon-Jones and Judson Mills, eds. Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1999).
91 Jürgen Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), 198.
92 Turner, "Preunderstanding," 238.
93 Ibid., 238-39.
94 Ibid., 240.
95 James Woelfel, "The Personal Dimension in Theological Inquiry, Encounter," Creative Theological Scholarship 5 (1981): 232.
96 Ibid., 75; see also Vanhoozer, Is There Meaning?, 174-175, 381-392.
97 Langdon Gilkey, Message and Existence (New York: Seabury Press, 1981), 30.
98 Jeffrey H. Boyd, “Biblical Psychology: A Creative Way to Apply the Whole Bible to Understanding Human Psychology,” Trinity Journal 21NS (2000): 4, 12. Theological anthropology, or what we might currently describe as “psychology,” has a longstanding tradition in the literature of Christianity. See, Robert C. Roberts “A Christian Psychology View,” in Psychology and Christianity: Four Views, eds. Eric L. Johnson and Stanton Jones (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 150-52.
99 American Heritage Dictionary, s.v. “fear.”
100 John F. Walvoord, The Church in Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1964), 120.
101 Stanton, “Presuppositions in New Testament Criticism,” 68.
102 Alister E. McGrath, “Evangelical Theological Method,” in Evangelical Futures: A Conversation on Theological Method, ed., John G. Stackhouse, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000), 26.
103 On this point I am indebted to M. James Sawyer who allowed me to peruse a pre-publication manuscript of his The Survivor’s Guide to Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, forthcoming).
104 Stanton’s prudent explanation of “scholarly politics” is worthy of note: “Younger scholars are often under considerable pressure to publish their results as quickly as possible; short cuts are sometimes taken, awkward evidence ignored, and hypotheses all too often become proven results. Scholars rarely criticise the work of colleagues and friends as rigorously as other work. There may be subtle pressures from a publisher with an eye on his market and, in the case of the biblical scholar, from various official or denominational quarters” (Stanton, “Presuppositions in New Testament Criticism, 61-62).
105 Cedric B. Johnson, The Psychology of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), 117.
106 Ibid., 94.
107 Ibid., 118-19.
108 Ibid., 106.
109 Atchison aims at a desirable ideal for such a safe environment when he speaks of “comfort” and “freedom” as distinguishing characteristics of the Christian university. Liam Atchison, “The Idea of the University: A Community Engaged in the Leisure of Scholarship,” Mars Hill Review 3 (1997): 12.
110 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols., ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 1.1.1.
111 E. D. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), 259.
112 Peter Homans, "Psychology and Hermeneutics: An Exploration of Basic Issues and Resources," The Journal of Religion 55 (1975): 337.
113 Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 412.
114 Stanton, “Presuppositions in New Testament Criticism,” 61.
115 Ibid., 68.
116 Augustine, De Libero Arbitrio I, ii., trans. Anna S. Benjamin and L. H. Hackstaff (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1964).
117 Anselm, Proslogium, Chapter 1 in St. Anselm: Basic Writings, trans. S.N. Deane (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1968), 7.
118 Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, 20th Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 17.
119 Gregory E. Ganssle, “Copernicus, Christology, and Hell: Faith Seeking Understanding,” Philosophia Christi 20 (1997), 13-14.
120 Vanhoozer, Is There Meaning?, 463-67.
121 Winfried Corduan, "Humility and Commitment: An Approach to Modern Hermeneutics," Themelios 12 (1986): 83.
Related Topics: Introduction to Theology