On this blog, each post "of late" has come with some disclaimer. This time, it is "I will be through seminary in less than two weeks."
My last reading assignment has shed light on a question that has vexed me for years. The assignment was “Were the English Puritans the ‘Saints of the Most High’?” by W. Sibley Towner. I'm pasting below a modified version of a homework question on the reading.
On one level, the article points out that it is perilous to force correspondence of every detail between a Scripture text and an event. Prophetic visions aren’t to be taken as prenarration or even allegory. The article aims to take the edge off the fact that millennia of Scriptural interpretation have gone against what seem to be sane exegetical principles. It speaks to my issues with interpretation. I describe my tension with the title of an essay written by John Walton (now of Wheaton): “Inspired Subjectivity vs. Hermeneutical Objectivity.” What made it okay for Peter to say, “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, ‘May another take his place of leadership,’” which are two versejacks extraordinaires, but I intuitively know that what many interpreters do to texts is simply similar violence? The only difference seems to be that Peter was inspired, and since the canon is now closed, none of the rest of us is permitted to ravage the text to carry off our own edificatory plunder. Where Towner’s article succeeds is in offering a plausible alternative to this tormented worldview. Of late I’ve been wrestling with certain African hermeneutics where it seems Spirit-filled people are truly enlightened by their terrible exegesis. Why can’t the Spirit work in his people this way? So Towner says we should see both sides of the exegetical transaction as serving a greater reality. The greater reality is God’s grand purpose in his creation, and a valid interpretation of a text is one that corresponds in a similar way with the ethos of God’s creative and redemptive work. So the text and the interpretation are both equidistant from the greater reality. It so happens that the text is canonized and thus scrutinized till kingdom come. I’m not yet willing to say I fully agree with this, but it is such a refreshing alternative to a decade of wrestling that I must consider it.