Bewildering hermeneutics, complexity and truth

I recently read a book whose opening chapters were bent on attacking a particular method of applying scripture to today’s world. The author proceeded to break down the process of that hermeneutical model into a series of bewildering charts filled with mind-numbing complexity.

Not only would any typical person want to run away from a process of such inane minutia, most Christians would probably despair of being capable of implementing it. His attack would seem to be successful. However, his assault unravels if we are willing to stop and think about it.

My purpose is neither to defend nor refute any particular hermeneutic. Rather, I hope to promote clear thinking regarding how we reason. Should we reject a way of applying the Bible to our world because the process is complicated?

If something is complex, does that make it nonfunctional or untrue? Ask biologists! Our world is filled with beautiful complexity from the process of photosynthesis to the synthesis of proteins. Furthermore let’s not forget ATP synthase catalyzing the synthesis of ATP from ADP and phosphate.

Our biological world is eloquently efficient and functional. Yet, life is not simple. Hence, we should not jettison an idea because it is difficult. Conversely, just because someone proposes a complicated process neither guarantees it is reliable nor valuable.

Let’s bring the discussion closer to how we interact with our world. Ever try to diagram common sense? What are its components?

I suspect most of us would agree that common sense involves some accumulation of our positive and negative experiences plus a collection of proverbs and teachings. Yet, it would appear to be much more than just this. After all, what constitutes common sense for a streetwise thug or terrorist will differ from what a mainstream citizen regards as the sensible thing to do. Thus it must also embrace at least some of our beliefs and values.

While some people might doubt whether teenagers possess common sense, all of us regularly use it. In fact, often we instantly know what is the reasonable course of action.

However, try imagine creating a diagram or a formula that would accurately explain how our minds assign various weights to our conflicting experiences, proverbs, beliefs, values, etc., in order to produce what we regard as reasonable. Do earlier experiences and learning take precedent over latter ones? To what degree do beliefs override negative experiences? How much does the source of the information count? The questions could continue.

Good judgment is anything but simple. Yet it is functional and efficient. Furthermore, we can instantly access it. This brings us back to hermeneutics.

Scholars wrestle with whether we are capable of understanding the message an author intended to communicate. And if we are capable, biblical scholars then grapple with how should or could that message apply to us today?  How does our cultural distance from the culture of the Bible impact the application? If so, to what extent? Charting a reliable path could appear anything but simple.

Just a brief final thought: If God intended for us to read his word and apply it to our lives, it would seem reasonable that although our understanding might not be perfect, it could at least be adequate. And if this is the case, it would also seem reasonable for us to spend frequent and extensive time listening to God’s message. It might also be good to echo Jesus’ attitude, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

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