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Sep 14 2008

Like Tai Chi, Kung Fu, and Karate

By John Immel

On occasion you will hear me (and hopefully others) talk about Exegetics and Hermeneutics when discussing bible ideas related to the post.

It occurred to me that some may not know what Exegetics might be.

There is no quick way to do this particular subject justice, but it is essential that this body of ideas enter the minds of as many people as possible. What follows is a bit of self-plagiarism from a book that will be published one day to achieve some part of my plan to take over the world. The following article is a very basic effort to explain Higher Critical Methodology as the broad category that Exegetics and Hermeneutics fall under.

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Like Tai Chi, Kung Fu, and Karate

Trust me this is going somewhere. I like metaphors and we are already talking about the Arena of Ideas where fighting goes on. The following is a break down of the avenues of Theological combat, oops, I mean, studies; see it’s a cool metaphor…or maybe it’s a simile…who can tell?

Biblical Theology is similar to Systematic Theology (to be discussed in a moment) in as much as it compiles Scriptural references to gain a whole picture of God’s ongoing revelation. The difference is that Biblical Theology starts its inquiry with the scriptural roots, the cultural belief structure, behind the text.  With this starting place, Biblical Theology extracts pervasive themes and concepts. Interpretation is done by using these themes to filter what God is trying to say to man. For instance, the theme of covenant was suggested by some big Theology muckity-muck named Gerhard Von Rad. [1] Then he read every passage, every recorded action, to filter Bible literature. Some doubt the adequacy of this approach because it often seems to set aside portions of text. But that is another discussion. Some contemporary movements are based in Biblical Theology. For example, there are a whole host of Pentecostal churches that read every recorded passage through the day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Word of Faith churches interpret the Bible placing their emphasis on God’s Word being alive and apprehended by Faith. 

Historical Theology is the study of Christian thought through the succeeding centuries of Church history. One can study the entire body of thought of say, the second century.  Or one can study the Theology of a given thinker or schools of thought, like Augustine and his intellectual children Luther and Calvin.

Practical Theology or Task Theology is really just a fancy name for “How the heck do we apply all these big words and big ideas to people living their life and paying their bills and raising their kids.” (The Scholar types reading this are going to luuuvvvv me.)

Systematic Theology seeks to give an ordered account of major themes in Scripture, taking each reference and compiling it with all others to form a rational picture of bible commentary. The major themes are designated by some big Greek words that are easy to get once you understand the root words. Logos means teaching, or words, or doctrine.  The prefixes tell us what the words or teachings are about. Theology then, would be easily translated: Doctrines of God. The remaining six themes are:

Anthropology: doctrines of Man

Christology:  doctrines of Christ

Soteriology: doctrines of Salvation

Pneumatology: doctrines of the Spirit

Ecclesiology:  doctrines of the Church

Eschatology:  doctrines of End Things

All right, we’re studying and studying and studying; we’re trying to compile our stack of scriptures to Systematically make our 20th century doctrinal point. Suddenly, lo and behold, (a little biblical language for you) some bright boy raises his hand and says, “But what did those Israelites think about God? I mean, they were closer to the source. Wouldn’t that make their understanding better?” So we say, “Oh, darn. Now we have to figure out what their culture and politics and so forth were to understand what they believed.” We have to draw out the meaning from their culture. This is called Exegetics.

Once we figure out what they thought and believed and practiced, we have to figure out how to apply it to our 20th century brains and make our own practice. This is called Hermeneutics.

Exegetics is the art/science of extracting biblical information. Hermeneutics is the art/science of interpretation.

Exegetics in Brief

Thomas Aquinas brought modern intellectual inquiry to the study of the bible, and from him Higher Critical Methodology has evolved with different influences.

What does Critical mean? It means that the Bible needs to be sifted through to establish its veracity, and to determine what parts are dependable for what resources. For about 1200 years men have employed an increasingly complex, science/art to draw out authoritative truth. Historical Criticism, Redaction Criticism, Textual Criticism, Literary-Source Criticism, and Form Criticism, are a few of the sciences.

Hermeneutics in Brief

Taking what you have drawn out of scripture and finding a way to apply it to your own life is the essence of Hermeneutics. Interpretation is an iterative process done by everyone.  Most people interpret by saying to themselves, “Well, this means to me.” The “This means to me,” approach to interpretation is of the flip open the bible and point variety. It is self-actualization at its highest expression; Henry David Thoreau would be proud. For most, this is not a terribly disastrous methodology. But trust me, it is very limiting.

(Oh, hey. I’ve got a really funny church trick. Walk up to a hard core Reformed Theologian and say, “I was reading the bible the other day and this passage means to me . . .” and watch the smoke roll out his ears.)

How people have interpreted has changed drastically over the centuries. The traditional method was allegory: a teaching device where each character, object, and event symbolically represented a moral or religious principle. Mostly these elaborate allegories were created for the ignorant masses, so that they could grasp complex spiritual truths.

As the masses became more educated, the learned bible teachers moved into the varied forms of Higher Critical Methodology.

When I use the words Higher Critical Methodology, think of a belt full of weapons. Having the right weapon for the fight decides whether you live or die. Or maybe those timid souls amongst the readership would like a more pacifistic metaphor or simile…who can tell?  Think of a belt full of tools. Having the right tools means you can build the right house.

The action of reading the Bible requires the action of interpretation. I don’t care at what level you are reading. From a child’s beginning effort to grasp John 3:16, to a Seminary graduate wrestling with Theodyssey (the problem of evil) you are engaged in some form of interpretation. And therefore, by default, you are applying some level of critical thinking to what you read so that you might understand.

Now back to Exegetics and Hermeneutics. The art/science behind the two words are the questions that a person learns to ask. The better one gets at asking the right questions, the better one becomes at getting the right answers from the Bible.

Are there basic questions that that average Joe Six Pack can ask without having to learn about all that . . . that  . . . that four-letter word stuff?

And by the way, I am assuming that your Joe Six Pack is drinking Coke or something.  Certainly, there is a Christian version of Mr. Six Pack. We’ve got a Christian version of everything else.

Anyway, back to this Theology stuff.

What are the most basic questions of Higher Critical Methodology? Take notes, there is a quiz later.

Here they are:

Who is talking/writing?

Who is listening? OR who is the Audience.

What is the occasion?

Say them out loud. Learn these questions. Live these questions. Love these questions.

[1] G. Von Rad.  OT Theology, 1957.

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    1. 1
      Butterfly

      John,

      Great post. I found it really helpful. But you know I love your sense of humor most – because it is sarcastic (which I like) and also has alot of truth in the sarcasm. I really liked this comment:

      “And by the way, I am assuming that your Joe Six Pack is drinking Coke or something.  Certainly there is a Christian version of Mr. Six Pack.  We’ve got a Christian version of everything else.”  That is so true! I find it can make me ill sometimes. Have you shopped for a new bible lately? You have the college student version, woman’s bible, men’s bible, bibles for the outdoorsman, bibles for those that have only two minutes to invest a day, bibles for those that want to read the whole thing in 90 days, life application bibles (so someone can tell you how to apply it to your life-no need to pray or hear from God). Then the books! I saw one this week that was called, “Looking for God in Harry Potter” and is described as…”gives parents and teachers a roadmap for using the Harry Potter books to teach children Christian truth.” Granted I didn’t take time to read it but you are right there is a Christian version of everything… 

    2. 2
      Jim

      I’m Joe 2 pack-Sam Adams light, please.

      Does that count?  :-)

    3. 3
      John Immel

      Butterfly…

      You have the college student version, woman’s bible, men’s bible, bibles for the outdoorsman, bibles for those that have only two minutes to invest a day, bibles for those that want to read the whole thing in 90 days, life application bibles …

       
      And some of the folk who buy these bibles would be the first to stand up and scream about “extra” biblical teaching at the same time they are reading through the footnotes …. I do sooo love irony. 
       
       

      Then the books! I saw one this week that was called, “Looking for God in Harry Potter” and is described as…”gives parents and teachers a roadmap for using the Harry Potter books to teach children Christian truth.”  

       
      NO Way!????  Oh, that is hysterical.  Both in the sense of funny ha ha… and screaming ranting nuts.

    4. 4
      John Immel

      Well, Jim, you’re one up on me…

      I’m a John one pack.. er… one drink  (just one ’cause I have the alcohol tolerance of a 5-year-old.) it’s gotta be a foo foo drink… with a cool umbrella or some cherries…

      the sugar messes with my washboard abs but it makes me feel all manly to drink it.  

      <snicker>

    5. 5
      Jim

      John,

      You should pose in front of that Thomas Kinkade picture with one of your appletini’s and make it your gravatar.

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