Archives For Hermeneutics


[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”0300222831″ locale=”US” src=”” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”206″]Reading with Creative Anachronism 
A Feature Review of 

Biblical Truths: The meaning of Scripture in the 21st Century.
Dale Martin

Hardback: Yale UP, 2017.
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Reviewed by Jordan Kellicut
Biblical Truths: the meaning of Scripture in the 21st Century is billed as a ground-breaking book which seeks to give a framework for how to think theologically in light of our postmodern world. From the first page Martin lays out intriguing and frequently scandalous methods of interpretation. His introduction is a critical introduction to his thesis and methodology. Martin argues, rather persuasively, that there is a difference between pre-modern and modern Biblical interpretation. Namely the pre-modern Christian assumed that everything in the Bible was written to that person, in that place and that time. Thus the meaning of the text was not necessarily what the author meant. This is striking since the prevailing thought in both academic and popular understanding is the meaning of a text is located not “in” but “behind” the text – what I learned to call “authorial intent.” A substantial amount of Martin’s introduction is dedicated to tracking how this hermeneutic progressed into modern theology. He then contends that the division between Bible and theology is a modern invention and not a helpful one.

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Marilyn Chandler McEntyre - Reading Like a SerpentA Careful and Nuanced Reading

A Review of

Reading Like a Serpent: What the Scarlet A Is About

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2012
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Reviewed by Mary Bowling

Well, I admit it. I never had to read The Scarlet Letter in high school. Consequently, I didn’t read The Scarlet Letter in high school- or college, or after.   I imagine that my initial reaction to the book- when I finally did read it – was similar to many others’: a vague sense of appreciation for Hawthorne’s multi-dimensional treatment of his characters coupled with a vague sense of confusion as to what, if anything, he was ultimately getting at.  Luckily, the high-school student whose book I inherited had understood perfectly well and had written very succinctly on the last page “Theme: human beings should not judge others.  Moral: Be true to yourself.”  There you have it, as easy as pie, the exact same moral contained in every single Disney movie ever released!

Enter Marilyn Chandler McEntyre with her book, Reading Like a Serpent.  After years of coaxing college students through Hawthorne’s novel, she feels compelled to provide the public with an opportunity to read this American classic again and to draw from it not only a critical understanding of Hawthorne’s purposes in his own storytelling, but  also insights that come from scripture.  McEntyre, like Hawthorne, writes to a Christian audience and urges them on toward a more full and true reading of scripture. Each chapter in McEntyre’s book expounds upon a biblical theme that is elemental to The Scarlet Letter, such as confession, childlikeness and children, judgment, and love of neighbor.  Central also are ideas related to the use and misuse of language, and the roles of civilization and wildness.

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“The Right Book for the Right Time
in the Right Spirit

A Review of
The Bible Made Impossible:
Why Biblicism is not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture

by Christian Smith.

Reviewed by Michael J. Bowling.

The Bible Made Impossible - Christian SmithThe Bible Made Impossible:
Why Biblicism is not a Truly
Evangelical Reading of Scripture

by Christian Smith.
Hardback: Brazos Press, 2011.
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When the churches of Asia were struggling under the weight of first century Roman imperialism, God gave to them letters and a Letter (Revelation) to encourage continued faithfulness and to give particular direction for that faithfulness. At the end of each letter (found in Revelation 2 and 3), one finds the familiar words, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Whether in perceived crisis or not, churches need to listen for the voice of the Spirit. Appropriately, churches today listen for the voice of the Spirit in the words of the Bible. However, what is being heard and that which is being lived out together by church members is stunningly diverse and visibly contradictory. When these differences among various congregational expressions of the one Church of Christ are probed, one finds many sincerely held convictions which are defended tenaciously as precepts which are rooted deep within the Bible.

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Just in time for Easter, here are two excellent videos of NT Wright discussing the importance of the resurrection of Christ for the Christian faith.  We will be running a review of Wright’s newest book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, in our next issue due out this Friday.

Also, there is less than a week left to enter our Easter N.T. Wright Book Giveaway (with over $250 of N.T. Wright books to be given away as prizes!). If you have not yet entered, you will want to do so soon!


Review of Merold Westphal’s
Whose Community? Which lnterpretation?
From Christian Scholars’ Review

Whose Community? Which Interpretation? belongs to a series by Baker Academic called “The Church and Postmodern Culture.” The editor, James K. A. Smith, provides the rationale for reading Merold Westphal’s contribution: “For ‘peoples of the Book’ whose way of life is shaped by texts, matters of interpretation are, in a way, matters of life and death” (9). Based on “To Read or Not to Read,” a2007 report from the National Endowment of the Arts, we are living in a post-literate or sub-literate culture where, it is safe to conjecture, the biblical text plays a diminutive role in the formation of Christian identity.  Friedrich Nietzsche’s once controversial claim-“there are no facts, only interpretations”-seems irrelevant in the absence of a text to interpret.

For the remnant of Bible-reading Christians, “matters of interpretation are, in a way, matters of life and death” (italics added). Do not miss the qualifying clause. While we are no longer witnesses to the violence behind sixteenth-century Protestant and Catholic persecution of Anabaptists, such violence is sublimated behind present-day Orthodox anathemas of iconoclasts or Emergent denunciations of Calvinist creeds. In short, interpretative practice
often fosters animus among brothers and sisters in the household of faith.

Read the full review:

Whose Community? Which lnterpretation?
Merold Westphal.

Paperback: Baker Books, 2009.
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Andy Crouch Reviews Two Recent Books on
World Christianity and American churches

Both Robert Wuthnow’s and Mark Noll’s new books puncture a number of commonplaces about global Christianity and America’s place in it, although they do so from notably different angles. Wuthnow is an eminent sociologist of religion who possesses a formidable capacity for memory and analysis combined with an abundance of research assistants. He synthesizes a vast amount of background reading, original research, and reinterpretations of standard datasets to survey the ways American Christians currently relate to the wider world.

One of Wuthnow’s stated aims in Boundless Faith is to refute what he calls the “Global Christianity paradigm,” a narrative of Western Christian decline and Southern ascent that has given rise to many of the hasty conclusions summarized above. (Inevitably, Wuthnow finds the source of this paradigm in Philip Jenkins’ influential book The Next Christendom, though Jenkins does not focus nearly as much on Western decline as readers of Wuthnow might be led to believe.) Wuthnow musters evidence from far and wide to push back strongly against the idea that the United States is a fading force in global Christianity. To the contrary, wherever his sociologist’s gimlet eye turns, whether to sources of funds, centers of theological education, or activities of local church members, he finds continued American activity and influence, and in many ways he finds that American Christians may be more internationally minded than they have ever been.

Read the full review:


A Brief Review of the
First Two Books in the “Ancient Context, Ancient Faith” Series

The Bible and The Land.
( Ancient Context, Ancient Faith #1)
Gary Burge.

Paperback: Zondervan, 2009.
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Jesus, The Middle Eastern Storyteller
( Ancient Context, Ancient Faith #2)
Gary Burge.

Paperback: Zondervan, 2009.
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Reviewed by Chris Smith.

The first two books, both by Gary Burge, in the “Ancient Context, Ancient Faith” series have just been released by Zondervan.  Burge, a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, does a fine job at setting an introductory historical — and to a lesser extent theological — context for certain biblical texts.  The first book in this series is THE BIBLE AND THE LAND, and it provides a basic contextual explanations for essential biblical elements like Land, Wilderness, rock, water and bread.  Burge’s work, albeit rather elementary in content, serves as a good introduction and the book itself is a really nice piece of work with glossy pages and relevant color photography supplementing the text on almost every page. Unfortunately, this first volume in its broadness — covering a specific set of terms across the whole of Scripture — does not cohere as well as the second one.  This second volume, JESUS, THE MIDDLE EASTERN STORYTELLER, is a lot more focused, namely on the parables of Jesus, and I imagine will prove to be a more useful text.  Similar in style and layout to the first volume, it begins with a brief introduction on the world in which these stories were told.  Burge writes in a super accesible style, occasionally weaving in a story from his own experience that sheds light on a particular topic.  He does a fine job at making sense of biblical texts, especially the parables of Jesus in volume two, in which the story’s significance has been obscured by our historical distance from the culture into which the story was originally told.  Either book would be appropriate for use in a Sunday School class or Bible Study group, but I believe that readers will find the second volume, on Jesus’ parables to be clearer and more helpful.


A Brief Review of
Jesus, Interrupted:
Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible
Bart Ehrman.

Hardcover: HarperOne, 2009.
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Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Bart Ehrman’s most recent book JESUS, INTERRUPTED is one of the most popular  books today on Scripture and theology.  Ehrman, who by his own admission grew up conservative, and eventually as a result of his scholarly work was led away from the Christian faith and into agnosticism.  In this book, Ehrman details the “hidden” contradictions in the Bible that have been uncovered by historical-critical scholarship.  Although Ehrman’s tone overall is not overly combative (he repeatedly insists that one scriptural scholarship does not necessarily dictate a rejection of the Christian faith), one of his primary objectives is to debunk naive misconceptions about the Bible and its origins.  Indeed, JESUS, INTERRUPTED could be taken as a popular survey of the present state of scriptural studies.  There are, as Ehrman emphasizes, significant challenges to the idea of biblical inerrancy and the popular modernist notion that scripture is true according to Western scientific/philosophical standards of consistency, etc.


    However, Ehrman makes a grave error in basing his arguments on the false dichotomy between “devotional” readings of scripture (rooted in individual practice) and “scholarly” readings (rooted in the academy).  A hermeneutic practice that is rooted in the discernment of the church community and draws at times upon both devotional and scholarly readings is apparently unknown to Ehrman.  Such a practice of reading scripture together was common among the early Anabaptists (see Essays on Biblical Interpretation: Anabaptist-Mennonite Perspectives, W. Swartley, editor) and is likewise relevant in our postmodern age when modern squabbles about texts, their origins and meaning have taken a back seat to a holistic view of scripture as the broad historical story about the One who is the Truth (see Fowl and Jones READING IN COMMUNION or Scot McKnight’s THE BLUE PARAKEET).


    JESUS, INTERRUPTED is a fine book expositing as it does the challenges that historical-criticism poses to some modernist – and dare I say, idolatrous – views of scripture.  However, in the end, its value to the Church is limited because despite the broad cultural relevance that the Bible has found in modern, Western culture, it is primarily a book for the Church, the people of God.  Indeed, the Church is the stumbling block which topples Ehrman.  No wonder he has found frustration and ultimately rejection of the Christian faith, for it is only in the obedient, covenanted relationship to the church community – a relationship that is lacking in both the devotional and scholarly readings of scripture – that the Holy Spirit begins to reveal the meaning of scripture.


A Brief Review of
Divine Presence Amid Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua
By Walter Brueggemann.


Reviewed by Chris Smith


I picked up Walter Brueggemann’s new little book Divine Presence Amid Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua, because I was interested in his interpretation of Joshua 11 – the book’s key passage – and specifically how he dealt with the question of God’s role in Israel’s brutal conquering of the land of Hazor.  What came as a pleasant surprise, however, is that although questions about God and violence are central to the text, this book is just as much about the “contextualizing” and questions of revelation and how we read Scripture.  As Brueggemann emphasizes in his introduction (and as he has developed elsewhere), his hermeneutic approach is rooted in an epistemology that is both local and contextual. The first two chapters address questions of interpretation and revelation respectively and I found this section of the book to be a wonderfully clear and concise summary of the challenges of biblical interpretation in the present.  The remainder of the book continues to explore issues of interpretation, but with the Joshua 11 passage in mind.  Brueggemann explores the domination of the Canaanite people, and the resistance to which God leads the Israelites, concluding that even in our time and place in which we are seated on the side of oppressive power, Joshua stands as a reminder “from the other side” (as it were) that empires and other communities of domination “have no warrant for arms and control, but that this God is in inscrutable ways is aligned against the horses and chariots, working through the hardness of heart, until the whole enterprise collapses” (64).


Divine Presence Amid Violence:
Contextualizing the Book of Joshua.
Walter Brueggemann.

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2009.
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