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Interpretation Integrated in

'the Whole-ly Way'

The Integral Education and Learning of Knowing and Understanding God

 

   Bible Hermeneutics Study


 

T. Dave Matsuo

 

©2019 TDM All rights reserved

No part of this manuscript may be reprinted without permission from the author

Contact: tdavematsuo@4X12.org

 

 

Chapter 1     The Realm of Connection

 

Sections

 

The Realm of the Hermeneutic Challenge

Whose Epistemic, Hermeneutic and Relational

            Realm of Connection?

Ch 1

Ch 2

Ch 3

Ch 4

Ch 5

Printable pdf
of entire study

●  Table of Contents

●  Scripture Index

●  Bibliography

 

 

Why do you look for the living among the dead? …Remember how he told you.

Luke 24:5-6[1]

 

 

            Have you checked your emails for messages from God?

            Oh! That’s right, God doesn’t need technology to connect with us. Well, really and not virtually, nor does our God use technology to communicate with us, though other gods have emerged to assume this function. Yet, this modern realm of connection reflects what has prevailed in the human context to define the scope of our human condition and to determine the parameters for our everyday practice. Past as well as present, Christians have made assumptions about God analogous to the modern phenomenon of how to connect with others and what constitutes communication. In overt terms, you likely don’t wait and look for emails from God. In principle, however, the phenomenon of this ubiquitous realm of connection actually biases our brains[2] and shapes how we perceive God.[3]

            So, here we are in 2019 after over two thousand years when the Word came to us. Do you think we have progressed with the Word since, or have we regressed?

 

            Current practices on the internet serve to alert us to our surrounding contexts, and how they shape and thus bias our thinking, perceptions and interpretations about relational connections and communication in relationships. This realm of connection needs to be understood in our daily function and ongoingly taken into account in relation to God and the words from God that we learn and assume to understand. In the above biblical account, those pursuing the Word were asked the not-so-obvious question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Lk 24:5) They were directed to remember not as much what the Word told them but much more how.

            There is a vital difference between the what and the how that often escapes our learning, as those in this narrative needed to realize. The what is not unimportant but the how is critical to interpret and understand the what. We easily look for the what in the wrong way (implied in “among the dead”) without knowing the how—no matter the amount of the what we access, accumulate and supposedly learn (educators take note).

            The realm of connection was defined in the beginning by the Creator. Contrary to common perception, the what that was stipulated for creation did not define the Creator’s realm as much as the how. In the beginning, the how of creation determined the realm of connection unmistakably in God’s image and likeness; and the incomparable significance of this uncommon realm constituted human life in the primacy of relationship together (as emerged in Gen 2:18)—with all the whats emerging as secondary to this primacy of the how, and being understood fully only in this irreducible and nonnegotiable realm constituted by the whole of God. It is the whole of God integrated with the Word (Jn 1:1-3) who enacts and then embodies the defining how of the Trinity to determine the realm of connection to understand the what of all the words from God.

            Therefore, from the beginning the LORD clarified that the how of the words from God is communicated “face to face—clearly, not in riddles” (Num 11:8). Accordingly to the present, in order for this how of God’s words to unfold, we must define our locatedness (or horizon[4]) in the realm of connection; that is, we need to account for where each of us is specifically located in our surrounding context that defines the everyday terms of our identity and function. The horizon of our location must be compatible with the how (including the horizon) enacted by God for us to share in the same realm of connection with God, so that the full significance of the what from God is understood.

            At this stage, this raises basic issues for us in our relationship with God about the how and not the what:

 

1.     How, in actual reality and not virtual, does God connect with us?

2.     How in fact (neither alternative nor fake news) does God communicate with us?

 

The how may seem apparent to you but we should not be quick to make this assumption.

 

           Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) is the prevailing and pervasive medium that we use to gain knowledge, increasingly even in rural countries. Not surprisingly, this increasingly is becoming the primary medium for knowledge of God in theological education, perhaps even supplanting weekly Bible studies in Christian education and reflective study in spiritual formation. Yet, the reality is that this medium also predisposes our mindset (e.g. syniēmi in Mk 8:17, and synesis in Col 2:2-3) in reduced parameters (such as binary) of the fidelity of that knowledge, with the consequence that what we think we know may not represent the facts and truth (as in Jn 5:37-39). In such reductions our mindset becomes rendered to variations of “the medium is the message.” Also not surprising, this method of interpretation for reality in the Bible goes unchecked—though not without the tension from interpretive diversity—in which the fidelity of God’s words is muted, distorted or lost. Thus, as in most wireless connections, there is in reality no relational connection in this realm (cf. Ps 145:18). Therefore, Scripture, the words from God, not simply the words of God, is not compatible with Wi-fying and related methods; and it’s time for us to “Wake up! …for I have not found your practice complete [whole] in the perception of my God”—in spite of even our success and “reputation of being alive” (Rev 3:1-2, NIV).

 

           Nevertheless, while the Bible is assumed by many Christians to be the main source (if not inerrant) for knowledge of God, what many hold in theory is not upheld in actual practice. That is to say, the epistemic realm of our knowledge of God often has undergone subtle redefinition, thereby replacing God’s Word as the main source with other conflated sources or extra-biblical sources. For example, as a general source of knowledge today, Wikipedia (and other similar websites) has become a prominent source occupying the public mind. Likewise, a host of biblical commentators has formed (both unintended and intended) an analogous Wikipedia source (e.g. as theopedia) for conflated or extra-biblical knowledge, which serves as the main source of our knowledge of God (the what) that in practice supplants the how by the words from God. The critical issue is the spread of misinformation. Consequently, we have to openly ask further if the cyber world has co-opted the epistemic realm from which our learning is defined and our understanding is determined.

 

           In general, Nico Mele, the director of Harvard’s Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, expounds on the damaging effects of the use of this technology not only on compromising the integrity of information but its power to shape our thinking. For Nico, however, the problem is not technology but “there’s something in our culture that has become less substantive”; this is the problem of the human condition that he admits to not fully understanding.[5] The lack of understanding
the human condition with its underlying sin of reductionism is also indicative of many, if not most, Christians. This has certainly impacted the integrity of both churches and the academy, raising legitimate concern about the significance of the education and learning in those contexts.

 

           The reality we need to wake up to is discomforting: The oft-unrecognized limits of this epistemic realm provide the rationally constricted and emotionally constrained parameters for the extent of our knowledge, while also biasing our learning and understanding of God, such that what we think we know of God is really less because God has been reduced to less.

 

           This raises further key questions about our epistemic realm that we urgently need to address:

  • Who is the God we see and claim in the Bible?

  • What is that God we have in our theology?

  • How is that God in our everyday life?

The interpretation directly leading to our answers to these questions also further involves hermeneutic issues, the sum of which will either expose their reduced condition of less (as in fragmentary at best) or be integrated for their wholeness.

 

           These basic issues and questions are essential to resolve in our relationship with God, in order to truly know and understand the whole of God (the Trinity) revealing who, what and how God is to, for and with us. This resolution amplifies the need for redemptive change (the old dying & the new rising) in our learning processes and education systems, both in the church and the academy. This change is necessary for the uncommon outcome that integrates our boasting only in the primary (distinguished in Jer 9:23-24). This study addresses these issues in whole context, with the prayerful hope and expectation that the irreducible and nonnegotiable relational outcome (thus uncommon) will take us (individually and together) further and deeper than we’ve experienced of and with God, and therefore be unmistakably distinguished in the whole image and holy likeness of the Trinity.

 

           To experience the relational reality of this whole and holy (whole-ly) relational outcome, we have to engage ongoingly in a process (as in journey) that distinguishes our person as a subject in contrast to an object: the hermeneutic (interpretation) challenge.

 

 

 

The Realm of the Hermeneutic Challenge

 

 

           Integrated with the epistemic realm revealed by God (above and beyond common epistemic realms), the hermeneutic challenge is an indispensable realm for all those engaged with the Bible.[6] If we don’t want to be found also “looking for the Word (the Way, Truth or Life) among the reduced and fragmented,” thus in the wrong place or way, then it is crucial that we embrace the depth of “how the Word told us.” That depth emerges with the compatible hermeneutic that unfolds interpretation integrated in God’s whole-ly realm of connection.

            The basic requisite to embrace how the Word speaks to us is to listen to the Word, as clearly made definitive for us by the Word (Lk 8:18; Mk 4:24). This initiates the how by the Word that both antecedes the what of the Word and then integrates the what into the how in order to embrace the depth of meaning and understanding communicated by the words from God. As the requisite for Scripture, listening is neither about merely hearing nor about conforming to what is heard (read) in the text and obeying its terms (as obedience is commonly perceived). Rather in contrast to obligation, listening involves our relational response—perhaps even reaction at times to what is difficult to listen to—distinguished by the nature of the how’s relational process initiated by God, ongoingly enacted through Scripture, and embodied in God’s whole relational response of grace. Therefore, the hermeneutic challenge encompasses the following for our engagement with the Word:

 

The how and thus Way of the Word amplifies God’s relational context (or horizon) and intensifies God’s relational process, in order for our relational involvement to be constituted in God’s realm of connection, whereby we can learn, know and understand the whole-ly God, and thereby enable our relational response to unfold in likeness of the Trinity.

 

Anything less and any substitutes in our engagement with the Word render us “looking for more among the less.”

            It is axiomatic for all Christians engaged with the Bible to submit to the hermeneutic challenge, in which the hermeneutic challenge makes imperative, the relational imperative: Listen before we interpret what God is saying, and do not make your assumptions the basis for any subsequent interpretations or you will end up speaking for God; this is the hermeneutic clarification and correction that Job experienced in his theological task (Job 38:1-3; 42:3-4). That is to say, “Be still” (raphah, to desist, quit, relax, Ps 46:10) by ceasing our initial human efforts to interpret and understand and thereby give God the opportunity to speak, so that we can “know that I am God”—the identity of whom only God can disclose. And the relational outcome will be not what we have “discovered” by our efforts and thus boast about, but rather boasting (hālal, praising and celebrating) in what we have received from God’s communication and therefore gained in knowing and understanding God (Jer 9:23-24).[7] Of encouraging significance for us today, this was the relational outcome that convicted Job of God’s whole identity in his theological task, when he responded to the hermeneutic challenge (Job 42:4-5).

            Underlying this theological hermeneutic and its theological interpretation are three more basic questions, which have provided the basis for how Christians have defined themselves and determined their practice down through history:

 

  1. How do we know God, or even if God exists?

  2. How do we respond to this God to define our faith?

  3. How does this faith grow and develop?

            The issues central to these basic questions existed before the Reformation and go back to the early church and the time of Christ. They all converge in the pivotal history of Jesus (including the Word “In the beginning”), who embodied the Word communicated from God in order to disclose the identity of not just God but the whole and holy/uncommon God distinguished beyond the common of the human context. The identity of God disclosed by the Word cannot be diversified by common human terms (even by Christians) without fragmenting the identity of God and rendering God no longer whole and uncommon. The resulting diversity involves a reductionist process of commonizing God on the basis of our human contexts (personal and/or collective); commonization and contextualization are intertwined, and they remain entangled in human terms and practice—in spite of even good intentions by Christians. This underlying cultural practice is a critical influence still determining much of the practice of contextualization (e.g. of the gospel) engaged by Christians today to bias their interpretations (discussed further in chap. 4). The obvious consequence for Christians is claiming the identity of and practicing a faith in a different God than the whole and uncommon God vulnerably disclosed by the Word.

            Any identity of God that does not unfold from the hermeneutic challenge of Scripture should be suspect—and rightfully encountered with a hermeneutic of suspicion—and challenged for clarification, if not confronted for correction. While the text of Scripture requires interpretation, the authority of Scripture is not subject to interpretation—particularly under the cloak of the priesthood of all believers. Authority is God’s domain and Christian faith only affirms the truth of this reality, so our faith does not compose this authority. This subtle distinction is critical to maintain in our faith. Moreover, while the practice of this faith may be variable among Christians, the affirmation of this truth is not dependent on faith alone and thus not subject to the diversity of Christian beliefs. Even though the relational response of the priesthood of all believers may reciprocally represent God, those who so respond do not speak for God.      The simple truth is: God communicates, and only God speaks for himself, using human contexts, authors and language to express in relational terms the whole of who, what and how God is. All Christians are subject to the authority of God’s communication, which is not about conforming literally to the text of Scripture. The hermeneutic challenge is the relational process of involvement that responds directly—neither indirectly nor with the latitude of personal interests and biases—to God and submits to the authority of God’s communication. This directs us in our involvement to the following:

 

Beyond merely a step of faith, undertaking the hermeneutic challenge requires a valid basis and reliable process of interpreting Scripture that is crucial in order for all Christians to be able to trust what God says and reveals.

            Nathanael represents a disciple who initially entered the realm of the hermeneutic challenge (Jn 1:44-50). In spite of his bias (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”) Nathanael submitted to the hermeneutic challenge to look for the Word in the reality disclosed only by the Word, which required him to suspend his bias enough for him to be open to this deeper reality. The relational outcome distinctly from Nathanael’s reciprocal relational response was to learn and know the Word, though his understanding at this stage of the hermeneutic process was still limited and in need of deeper relational involvement. Nevertheless, given what the Word made paradigmatic in the hermeneutic process (Mk 4:24), Jesus affirmed the involvement of Nathanael’s person—“Here is truly a person in whom there is no deceit!” His vulnerable integrity not only impressed Jesus but witnessed to the how that the Word makes evident for connection face to face, person to person.

            Given what Jesus also made the relational imperative for the integrity of his disciples to “Follow me, my whole person before my teachings and example,” it is imperative for all his followers to be vulnerable with their person in order to know and understand the Word in the primacy of relationship together, and thus “where and how I am, my follower also will be” (Jn 12:26). This is the relational outcome unfolding only from honest engagement of the hermeneutic challenge. By vulnerable involvement in the how of the Word, our person enters the Word’s realm of connection to meet, receive, embrace, and relationally respond to the whole Word face to face, person to person, whereby our whole person is able to “Follow my whole person” in reciprocal relationship together.

            The relational imperative for our faith must be integrated ongoingly with the paradigm for our hermeneutic process in order for our practice of faith to have relational significance to God, as well as to be distinguished as true followers of the Word. The above subset of three basic questions are essential for the theology and practice of discipleship, which all disciples must answer with relational significance to truly be distinguished as followers of Jesus—that is, distinguished beyond what commonly exists among Christians. Most Christians presume in their practice to have the answers to basic questions 1 and 2, and on the basis of those assumptions (or presuppositions) they answer question 3. But the answer to question 3 can only be fully defined and determined by the depth of significance that question 2 is answered with. Further and integrally, question 2 unfolds (not evolves) defined and determined only by the depth of significance that fulfills question 1. Therefore, as we proceed in this study these three questions are basic to who and what are essential to our faith and vital for how we practice.

            Getting to the depth of significance of God’s communication in Scripture has been problematic for Christians down through history, to say the least, notably because only relational significance constitutes the depth of God’s communication. Relational significance is the difference that distinguishes God’s relational language from the general use of referential language (discussed further in Chap 2), which is commonly used even by Christians—especially in the academy to compose biblical and theological studies. That makes listening to God not only a priority but primary in the process of interpretation, making all other hermeneutic activity secondary (not unimportant)—perhaps at times even unnecessary, certainly if it distracts us from the primary or disconnects us from the primacy of relationship that the grace of God’s communication constitutes only in this realm of connection. Yet, that still leaves us with the text of Scripture, which is contained within human contexts and historical settings that render God’s communication more complex than literal expressions of simple truths.

            Since the communication of God’s Word is expressed by human authors, in historical contexts and through literary genres, these need to be accounted for in the interpretation process in order not to misunderstand God speaking. And where we need to start is from the beginning with “Did God say that?” (Gen 3:1)[8] As emerged from the beginning in the primordial garden, on the other hand, these characteristics of the biblical text are always secondary to what remains primary in God’s Word; thus they must neither distract nor take away from the primacy of the relational context, process and purpose of God speaking his relational terms to us. Indeed, “God does say that” and our challenge in the interpretive process is to receive God face to face (as in Num 12:6-8; Job 42:3-5; 2 Cor 4:6), and not take liberties to speak for the Other—as commonly takes place in human interaction to prevent the relational connection for significant communication. In Other words, interpretation of Scripture is making relational connection with the heart of God—the God who vulnerably makes himself accessible whole-ly (i.e. whole and holy/uncommon) in relational response to us, who responds to our human context for the primacy of relationship together but not according to human terms (including our terms as Christians).

            Given the existing plurality assuming Christian identity and the diversity composing Christian theology and practice, who is making relational connection with the heart of God? What are non-Christian observers to conclude about the lack of coherence in Christian theology and practice, much less assess the fragmentation of Christian identity? Such diversity witnesses to the lack of significance (even to the insignificance) of both Christians and God; and the absence of their wholeness renders the gospel a false hope for the human condition—contrary to and in conflict with Jesus’ formative prayer for Christian identity in likeness of the whole-ly God, the Trinity (Jn 17:20-23).

            Jesus made a distinct hermeneutic process the relational imperative for all his followers, or there would be consequences in their theology and practice (Lk 8:18; Mk 4:23-25). Based on his imperative, the unmistakable reason for the existing diversity in Christian theology and practice is failing to meet Jesus’ hermeneutic challenge, leaving the interpretation of the Other (the Word and his gospel) to others in all their diversity—even those with good intentions, These others would include the magisterial Reformers and all others (notably evangelicals) who subscribe to sola scriptura and sola fide.[9] As a

consequence predicted by Jesus’ paradigm—“the measure you give [or use] will be the measure you get” (Mk 4:24)—the common composition of orthodoxy has become a theological construction without the relational significance of God’s Word, therefore lacking the orthopraxy of the whole-ly Way, Truth and Life.

            In the hermeneutic challenge both of and by the Word, disciples must be able to distinguish in their theology and practice the relational response of following the person of Jesus in history from a belief (however convicted) in Jesus as a historical subject. The latter belief constrains the Word (even in sola scriptura) to a narrowed-down epistemic realm (a common source of knowledge) of mere referential information of Jesus’ words, teachings, miracles, example, and the like, But, in explicit contrast and implicit conflict, the former relational response embraces the whole person in relationship based on the relational language communicated by the Word—listening to all his words without selecting only what we want to hear. For these disciples, what Jesus communicated in the Gospels (whether in narrative or metaphor) in different human situations and historical contexts has ongoing relational significance for all Christians (from past to present to future), the authority of which defines and determines all discipleship according to his terms without having the latitude to shape relationship together by our terms (i.e. to diversify the way, Mt 7:13-14, cf. Jn 10:7). Again, the latter’s belief essentially speaks for the Other with words (even as correct doctrine) that lack relational significance (cf. “every careless word,” argos, unprofitable, in Mt 12:33-36).

            Certainly interpretation is always occurring about what the Word communicates. The hermeneutic challenge doesn’t preclude our interpretation but always puts it in its primary context, whereby the Word speaks first and thus for himself—always Jesus’ relational imperative for the hermeneutic process. However—and this must be recognized and acknowledged—as long as the hermeneutic door remains wide open to “Did God say that?” others will increasingly speak for God, speaking contrary not to orthodoxy and orthopraxy but to whole theology and practice.[10] This then further raises the question: If Christians meet Jesus’ hermeneutic challenge, will there no longer be all this diversity in theology and practice? As just footnoted, opinions differ about the nature of existing Christian diversity and what is needed today. Just taking up Jesus’ hermeneutic challenge would likely not eliminate existing diversity, but it would greatly reduce it to the extent of our relational response of ongoing relational involvement in the hermeneutic process—the significant involvement of which is neither defined nor determined by the mere adjective ‘relational’. Only the depth of our relational involvement will meet the hermeneutic challenge that counteracts our divisive condition and the biases inherent in it (as Nathanael witnessed).

            At the same time, to discount illusions and simulations of unity—existing within churches, between churches, and in the global church and academy—we need to ongoingly emphasize that the hermeneutic key to the reality of Christian unity is not conformity to and uniformity in theology and practice, but rather receiving the depth of the whole gospel and the wholeness of Jesus. The unavoidable challenge for all Christians is becoming disciples of whole theology and practice that unfolds from only the whole gospel and is distinguished by its whole Word. For this relational outcome to unfold, however, integrally includes in the unavoidable challenge the ongoing fight against reductionism and its counter-relational workings that subtly fragment the whole gospel and reinterpret the Word’s wholeness into parts not integrated together, or that are simply missing. This challenge has not been well incorporated into the prevailing hermeneutic process, mainly because reductionism is either ignored or not understood (even by church leaders and those in the academy).

            Reductionism emerged distinctly in the primordial garden yet evolved with ambiguity (Gen 3:1-5). The subtlety of reductionism’s workings created hermeneutic confusion and theological fog by first raising reasonable skepticism or the seeds of doubt with the seemingly harmless question “Did God say that?” Implied in this query of interpretation, which seems basic for all wanting to know what God said, is a hermeneutic shift of who has priority in the interpretive process: “If God did in fact say that, then what did God really mean by that?” This is when and how the hermeneutic door has opened wide for others to render their voice to speak for God’s intentions (e.g. “you will not die,” v.4). The consequence is a subtle fragmenting of God’s words apart from the wholeness of God’s communication and thus a shift into diverse theology (as in “your eyes will be opened and you will be like God,” v.5) and practice (on the assumption of “knowing good and evil”). Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? After all, the main alternative is to be a biblical literalist or to fall into skepticism, perhaps solipsism, or even despair. With the hope of knowing what God said since this beginning, however, the hermeneutic process has been developed with further sophistication and justification; yet it mainly still operates implicitly under the priority of the interpreter and thus covertly under the determining influence of reductionism.

            A reductionist mindset has prevailed in human history, shaping human perceptual-interpretive frameworks and lenses in underlying ways with a fragmentary focus. As we witness and are seduced today, the digital age of modern technological convenience has imposed its parameters on our thinking and shaped our practice with a dominating binary perceptual framework and interpretive lens. Subtly, our knowledge has been reduced mainly to either-or quantitative terms, which lack qualitative depth and relational significance—the consequences of convenience gained from the internet and experienced on social media. In no other context is this more true, though not prevailing overtly, than in the history of God’s people, with the modern Christian context the most evident. A cartoon demonstrates this condition. Moses is seen returning from Mt Sinai with the stone tablets of God’s commandments raised above his head, with this new declaration for God’s people: “Behold! Now both thinner and lighter.”[11] Ironically, and sadly, the historical reality for ancient Israel was their reduction of God’s relational terms for covenant relationship together down to “thinner and lighter” conforming to a code of behavior for religious-national identity, thereby losing the qualitative depth and relational significance of the covenant relationship of God’s love (as in Dt 7:7-9).

            Also, sadly, yet not surprisingly, to this day new “thinner and lighter” declarations are made to speak for “Did God say that?” and/or to give account for what God really meant by that. What does this say both about contextual influence in our interpretations and about the so-called authority of God’s communication in Scripture, which we supposedly affirm by our so-called faith? And directly related, what does this “thinner and lighter” say about the integrity of the gospel—is it really binary—and its so-called grace, which we presumably claim by our so-called faith?

 

 

 

Whose Epistemic, Hermeneutic and Relational Realm of Connection?

 

            In the realm of connection embodied by the Word, the person presented by Jesus always had to be clarified and corrected throughout the incarnation. That is, the Word’s clarification and correction were necessary in order for his whole person to be rightly and fully perceived, received, known, understood, and responded to in the primacy of reciprocal relationship compatible to the whole-ly God. And throughout Scripture the words from God also clarify and correct for this specific relational purpose and outcome. Yet, this integral process is epistemic, hermeneutic and relational, not to mention ontological, and it only unfolds in the breadth and depth of God’s realm of connection. To distinguish God’s uncommon theological trajectory along with the Word’s vulnerable relational path, each dimension of this process is necessary for the outcome to be whole—which means uncommon by nature to the surrounding common. The critical issue is and remains: Whose epistemic source, hermeneutic routine, and relational terms constitute the realm of connection for engaging the Bible?

            Jesus told Nathanael in their initial realm of connection that “you will see greater things than these” (Jn 1:50). The Word’s prophetic voice, however, would only be an experiential reality for Nathanael if he went deeper into this realm of connection. Just as for Nathanael, this requires from all of us the depth of relational involvement based only on the Word’s relational terms, which are integrally designed for experiencing the relational reality in God’s realm of connection. The early disciples (unfortunately, including Nathanael) struggled in their epistemic, hermeneutic and relational realm of connection with the Word; and it is arguable if this condition prevails among Christians today or has even become more relationally distant from the Word’s clarification and correction. How do you see our condition today, and more importantly, how do you experience the Word?

            In my perception and experience, our epistemic source has increasingly narrowed down to the quantitative and rationalistic (think rationalism), with our hermeneutic routine shaped by self-interest or merely an end in itself, and our relational terms having regressed to little if any significance. This condition, past and present, has generated epistemological illusions and ontological simulations, rendering our knowing and understanding the whole-ly God to a theological fog, thus “looking for the living Word among the reduced and fragmented.”

            Whether in the theology and practice of churches or the academy today, there is a pervasive reality existing overtly or covertly that is both in contrast to the traditional ideals assumed from the Bible and in conflict with the enacted and embodied Word. This underlying reality of what is commonly presented in Christian theology and practice exposes an inescapable condition needing the Word’s clarification and correction: Christian identity today is thinner and lighter than it ever has been, and current Christian function witnesses to this fact. Whether new followers in the global South will change the course of this condition or merely add to the diversity of theology and practice, remains an open question. Renewal today simply could be another version of reformation—including current movements among Pentecostals and charismatics[12]—which Protestant tradition simply reduced from transformation by the Word. However, if the hermeneutic door remains open, we can only expect an increasing diversity of discipleship, resulting in the truth of the whole gospel eluding those who presume to claim its good news. And this Christian condition will continue because it evidences the presence of the human condition that has yet to be redeemed as an experiential reality—even though the relational reality of redemption has been completed according to the gospel.

            The narrative of this human condition (our human condition) can be summarized with the following understanding, for which all Christians are accountable and need to be responsible:

 

From its beginning the human condition consists of reductionism; and this human condition persists with reductionism’s counter-relational workings against God’s wholeness; and these subtle practices resist (even unintentionally) the gospel of God’s relational response to make us whole; the relational consequence is for our human condition to subsist in diverse theology and practice (contrary to whole theology and practice), persisting in ever new thinner-and-lighter alternatives that consistently counter, fragment and reduce God’s whole theology and practice.

             Absent from this narrative is significant coherence in the interpretation of God’s Word, the coherence which distinguishes and thus understands the whole composing the Bible over merely parts (including their sum) of it. Christians need to be ongoingly aware that this whole of the Bible cannot be understood from just its parts; nor can it be distinguished by the quantity of parts, or the sum of those parts. God’s whole is disclosed in a process of synergism, in which God’s whole is always greater than the sum of multiple parts (including the diversity of interpretations). The primacy given to parts always emerges from reductionism and evolves with a fragmenting hermeneutic that is unable to integrate those parts into the whole—an inability evident of the human condition.

            In their manifesto for coherence in Christian interpretation, Craig Bartholomew and Heath Thomas identify the cause and results of interpreting only parts of the Bible: “a plurality in theological thought and work is a direct result of the human condition.” For them, it is critical to interpret the whole that is outlined in the Bible in order to understand how the voice of God expressed in Scripture is heard in relation to all of human life, starting with Christians.[13] For this outcome to unfold, our interpretation       cannot be based on partial or selective words from God—not to mention be predisposed by familiar words—but only by allowing the whole of God and the whole gospel to communicate to us without reducing or fragmenting their words. Yet, what must also be

understood in this hermeneutic challenge—particularly by those engaged in theological interpretation for biblical theology—is this:

 

The interconnections made from the Bible in only referential language do not result in the whole of God’s communication expressed only in relational language; it merely maintains a language barrier that prevents entering God’s realm of connection.

Biblical theology in referential language is still fragmentary and thus is always insufficient for whole theology and practice, at best only simulating the experiential truth and relational reality of God’s disclosures that compose the full relational significance of the Word.

            Whose epistemic source, hermeneutic routine and relational terms are nonnegotiable for God’s realm of connection. Jesus made imperative for his followers the hermeneutic challenge because he expects all of us (not just a resourceful few) to have integral understanding of God’s disclosures. This integral understanding (syniemi in NT) integrates the parts of God’s disclosures (not just adding them up) to distinguish the whole—similar to putting together the pieces of a puzzle to get the complete picture, which doesn’t result from merely studying the Scriptures (e.g. Jn 5:36-40, cf. Lk 10:21). Nor does this whole-ly understanding result from committed serving; the early disciples failed to engage the hermeneutic process of syniemi with Jesus’ disclosures (notably in Mk 8:14-21), and this thus clouded their hermeneutic lens to minimize their relational connection with Jesus (as in Lk 9:44-45). Although Christians today may not respond to the relational imperative of Jesus’ hermeneutic challenge, it is inescapable for the function of those who remain identified as his followers. Therefore, even the very gospel that followers claim today in the global church does not escape scrutiny for this pivotal reason crucial to our theology and practice.

 

            The unavoidable reality paradigmatic in the Word’s hermeneutic challenge (Mk 4:24) is indisputable:

  • ‘the measure of the epistemic, hermeneutic and relational engagement we use is the measure of the realm of connection we get’

  • ‘the measure of the realm of connection we use will be the measure of the Word we get’

Nothing more emerges and unfolds from this paradigm; it is axiomatic. On this unequivocal basis constituted by the Word, his paradigm is our relational imperative that is ongoingly clarified and corrected in, by and with the whole-ly Word.

            “Therefore, consider carefully how you listen,” as the Word speaks (Lk 8:18, NIV). Then, “Pay attention to what you hear [and read] communicated in the words from God…For to those who have received from the Word’s realm of connection, more will be given to them in this realm of connection; and for those who have not received from the Word’s realm of connection, what they think they have will be rendered insignificant and lost in a virtual realm of connection,” as clarified and corrected by the Word (Mk 4:25).

 


 

[1] Unless indicated differently, all Scripture quoted are from the NRSV; any italics in the Scripture quoted throughout this study signify emphasis or further rendering of terms.

[2] Sherry Turkle provides a helpful understanding of the influence of our involvement in the digital world, see Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011). See also David Brooks’ commentary in The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (New York: Random House, 2011).

[3] Quentin J. Schultze extends this discussion for Christians in Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002).

[4] For a perspective on horizons crucial for biblical interpretation, see Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992).

[5] Nico Mele expressed his views in an interview in the Los Angeles Times Business Beat (March 6, 2018) and in his book The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath (New York: Macmillan, 2013).

[6] Because of its importance, I reemphasize this discussion previously made in my study The Disciples of Whole Theology and Practice: Following the Diversity of Reformation or the Wholeness of Transformation (Discipleship Study, 2017). Online at http://www.4X12.org.

[7] Hebrew and Greek word studies used in this study are taken from the following sources: Horst Balz, Gerhard Schreider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975); R. Laid Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce Waitke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980); Ernst Jenni, Claus Westermann, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. Mark E. Biddle, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997); Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974); Harold K. Moulton, ed., The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978); W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1981); Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMG Publ., 1996).

[8] See my study on the hermeneutic challenge from the beginning and its ongoing implications for our theological task. “Did God Really Say That?” Theology in the Age of Reductionism (Theology Study, 2013). Online at http://4X12.org.

[9] Kevin J. Vanhoozer examines Christian diversity in both-and terms that affirms a hermeneutic based on the solas, and thereby highlights the underlying unity existing in plurality of interpretation. See Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016).

[10] Christian Smith describes this existing condition in Christianity with stronger either-or terms in The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2011). Peter J. Leithart calls for the death of Protestantism in order for the unity in the church to be restored, in The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016).

[11] From Parade Magazine, “Cartoon Parade,” 12/8/2015.

[12] Anthony C. Thiselton provides an overview of these developments in The Holy Spirit—in Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries and Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013).

[13] Craig G. Bartholomew and Heath A. Thomas, eds., A Manifesto for Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), 20.

 

 

©2019 T. Dave Matsuo

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