The Hermeneutical Dilemma

[This post is part of a series that the Th.M. students at Western Seminary are doing this semester on understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology.]

I was happily finishing our week’s reading, relieved I was almost through, when I was taken aback by this quizzical statement:

A more recent philosophical development of theological interest, hermeneutics…

I stop the quote here not because there is not important information to follow but because this is where I dropped my book. Could it be!?! I asked myself, apparently aloud for my study partner raised his head. I gave him that snide look that says, That was not for you; get back into your reading, before continuing my reverie. Could it be!?! this time I asked in silence, has the purity of our biblical studies been tainted by this vile beast of philosophy at its very source. Subtle monster. Again, I must have spoken this last bit aloud for my study buddy shifted uncomfortably in his seat. His eyes did not rise from his book.

I took a breath and continued. “…hermeneutics, actually has its source in a theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834).” This statement on page 203 of Allen and Springsted’s Philosophy for Understanding Theology, Second Edition (creative citation) held my attention for some time as I sought several ways to dismiss it without serious thought. After feeling I had succeeded I continued on and finished the book certain I had escaped the shameful conclusion that our interpretations of Scripture are informed by, based on, or are in any way influenced by this insurrectional specter otherwise known as philosophy.

Alas, at night my thoughts held me captive and the name of a German theologian tormented my waking dreams: Schleiermacher.

Morning came. After discussing the origins of liberal theology with my wife over our morning tea, at her behest, (gosh, I need to learn to keep these inner thoughts to myself!) I waved goodbye, as she set off for work, and sat down to consider my day’s labor. How could I overcome my fears of this encroaching philosophy? Forgetfulness had failed; it must be faced head on. I decided to study the man himself.

Apart from his reputation bestowed by future generations as the Father of Modern Theology, Schleiermacher was a masterful translator, if not a mediocre philosopher. His translations of Plato’s works were highly influential for a century after his death and are still considered quite good.

Philosophically, Schleiermacher believed that there are deep linguistic and conceptual-intellectual differences between people. He also believed that thought was bounded by (even identical to?) word usage. Taken together these two concepts declare that every individual has a vocabulary that, while heavily informed by their culture and time, is in fact unique to themselves – as unique as their own minds. This makes absolute (and sometimes basic) understanding between any two people challenging, and this challenge is only exacerbated by distance in time and culture. Consequently, the task of the interpreter is to get into the culture and ultimately into the mind of the writer, to learn the language the way it was used at that time and particularly the way it was used by that writer. Understanding is not a given, it is a challenge, and hermeneutics was developed to deal with that challenge. (For more about Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics see the Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Schleiermacher:  . Similar concepts are discussed from different vantage points concerning different individuals in Philosophy for Understanding Theology, p203 ff.)

After reading the principles of interpretation as described by Schleiermacher I was stunned… they seemed so similar to my own. And yet, his work was considered ground breaking for its time (even if he was only one of many at that time breaking ground). Could it be that my beloved historical-critical method was not lifted directly from the pages of Scripture but was actually birthed and laid at theology’s doorstep by that whore, philosophy? If so, it is already too late. I cannot disown her now; I love her too dearly. If I were to leave her on this account, who would take her place?

Whoa is me! What is the pure theologian to do?

[Correction: When this was first posted, I accidentally omitted the word “philosophical” from the opening quote. That has been corrected.]


Posted on September 18, 2010, in Hermeneutics, Historical Theology, Philosophical Theology, Th.M. Program and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 61 Comments.

  1. Have you been reading Luther? lol Seriously however, we should also note that Barth’s doctrine of Election is not much different than Schleiermacher. And of course Barth lived in Schleiermacher’s mental world also. But can we ever really escape some aspect to Greek and Roman philosophy/philosophers? Luther was an Augustinian monk, and Augustine was affected by Plotinus. Not to mention even St. Paul’s Greco-Roman Jewish Hellenism.

  2. In a word (or two): Christian reification.

  3. “Whoa is me! What is the pure theologian to do?”

    From one “pure theologian” to another – just get over it. 🙂 There is nothing wrong with spoiling the Egyptians from time to time, as long as you are aware of what you’re doing. Use whatever tools available to understand the biblical text.

    Coincidently, I don’t know if a method for anything can / ought to be lifted out of the pages of Scripture. It strikes me that this is simply not what Scripture is there for.

    Quickly in response to the Irishanglican, from an American Presbyterian of Irish descent: this book makes it clear that there are both significant similarities and differences between Barth and Schleiermacher on the doctrine of election. Furthermore, for all the reconsideration of Barth’s relation to Schleiermacher, it will be admitted by all that there are incredible material distinctions between them, whatever the formal similarities might be.

    Anywho, just found this blog, and am enjoying looking through the archives. Cheers!

  4. WTM,

    Of course we can say Barth’s doctrine of “election”, went deeper in his own way than Schleiermacher, but the pattern is of the same line, I think it is fair to say also. If Barth had a mentor, cannot Schleiermacher come very close?

  5. Hey WTM, thanks for the comment. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.

    I’ve always found the relationship between Barth and Schleiermacher to be fascinating. I’d be inclined to say that you’re both right. We can’t (and shouldn’t) overlook the important differences between the two. But, I think a lot of people also overlook the extent to which Barth appreciated Schleiermacher and saw him as someone well worth engaging in depth. So, I’d say he was definitely a mentor for Barth, though a mentor with whom he fought regularly. (Those, by the way, are my favorite kind of mentors.)

    • Amen Marc! And like Luther we are pressed back toward that “hidden God”, and the theology of the Cross. On the one hand , natural revelation is denied; yet somehow we acknowledge the Creator, yet incarnate. Biblical tension and mystery, and both Schleiermacher and Barth give witness here.

    • Hi Marc,

      You’re right that the relation between B and S is complicated, but it is important to remember that B didn’t read S with any depth until his post at Gottingen, and by then some significant aspects of his theological trajectory were already set (in diametrical opposition to what he heard Schleiermacher saying when he did study him). That said, I think Barth most appreciated Schleiermacher as a theologian who took seriously what it meant to do theology in the modern period. Of course, when Barth set about doing that for himself, he diverged from Schleiermacher in important material ways, even when following Schleiermacher in a number of formal ways (sometimes, I think, without fully knowing it).

      • That is definitely a good point to keep in mind. But of course we also cannot discount the indirect influence that Schleiermacher would have had on the young Barth through people like Hermann. On a side note, I have often found the formal/material distinction to be an important one in understanding Barth. Too often people are tricked into thinking that Barth is following some trajectory of thought because of a similarity of form without recognizing the important material differences that were far more important to him.

      • Yes, impact through Hermann cannot be discounted. Likewise, there is a sense in which the Schleiermacher that Barth so soundly rejects is the Schleiermacher of Troelsch and Ritschl (insofar as they can be lumped together).

  6. I know I am affected by all of my teachers and mentors, T.F. Torrance etc., and even going back before as a Irish Roman Catholic to one of my favorites, John Henry Newman, and the same later (for me) as an Anglican. Every theolog-thinker is influenced by others, whether they concede it or not.

  7. BTW, not to get off topic, but Torrance also read Schleiermacher.

  8. I’ve read much of TFT myself (not as much as the venerable WTM, of course), but similiarly, I cannot recall any extended treatments of Schleiermacher in TF’s corpus.

  9. Yes, Torrance read Schleiermacher’s ‘Christian Faith’ first in the mid ’30s. It was a disappointment for him really, in the lack of what he saw as very little engagement in the scientific structure. It was a bit later that TF developed an interest in the early church, with the help of a class under J.H.S. Burleigh (I have myself Burleigh’s book: The City Of God, London 1949) and it is here that he first engaged Augustine. We need to note also during these years TF thought of himself as a strong Evangelical.

    Later it is clear that three men influenced him on the Trinity: Athanasius, Hugh Ross Mackintosh and of course Karl Barth. I would recommend Alister McGrath’s bio on Torrance – An Intellectual Biography (T&T Clark, 1999).

  10. Thanks for the good discussion on this. It’s been great to get some different perspectives on Schleiermacher and his influence on Barth and Torrance. I really need to develop my understanding of Torrance more, so I appreciate the insight.

    But, having said that, I’d like to nudge this discussion back toward the core of Adam’s post, which was really focused more on Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics and the role of philosophical hermeneutics in theology in general.

    Reflecting on Adam’s post, three things (at least) come to my mind that seem worth discussing. First, I wonder if anyone would like to say more about how Schleiermacher’s approach to hermeneutics impacted later theologians. Second, given our recent discussion of Kant’s epistemology and Schleriermacher’s extensive engagement with Kantian philosophy, I’m wondering if you see any connection between Kant’s ideas and Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics. And third, Adam has said that he sees a lot of his own hermeneutic in Schleiermacher’s approach. Is that true for others as well? If so, what do you think about that? Do you see this influence as a positive or negative development?

  11. Marc said:

    First, I wonder if anyone would like to say more about how Schleiermacher’s approach to hermeneutics impacted later theologians.

    What do you mean by “later theologians?” Are you thinking of folks like Troeltsch and others (“Liberals”), or Postliberals (like Barth, Hauerwas, Yoder, et al)? Or all of the above?

  12. To consider Schleiermacher the source of hermeneutics may be something of a misnomer. Christians have always been interested in how to interpret scripture. Methodology has changed over the centuries, yet the “art and sceince of interpreting scripture” predates Schleiermacher by well over a millenia. However, I must agree that he has greatly impacted modern hermeneutics, both positively and negatively. His emphasis on the historical method has led to the important distinction that the scriptures ARE historical, meaning that they relate true, non-fiction events that happened in the real world. Also his method rigtly identifies the importance of understanding, in at least a limited capacity, the historical cultural and linguistic context of the scriptures. Negatively, Schleiermacher (as wellas a whole host of others) and his focus on history has led to an artificial empasis on the event itself rather than the scriptural commentary on that event. This has contributed to reconstructionism, which attempts to reconstruct the “original” events, source documents, etc. and derive meaning from those rather than from scripture itself. (See Sailhamer “Text or Event” in Intro to OT Thology).

    While I do use a hermeneutical method which does attempt to understand scripture in light of the time and language in which it was written, in lght of Sailhamer, I reject the idea (which again is not necessarily Schleiermacher’s, but one for which he set the scene that revelation is found in history itself, but rather is found in what scripture says regarding those historical events.

    • On Schleiermacher: I appreciate the concept of studying scripture scientifically and seeing hermeneutics as the science of ‘avoiding misunderstanding.’ I also agree that knowing more about an author and their setting does aid in our attempt to understand (and avoid misunderstanding). Scheiermacher is also right in believing there is a value to trying to apply a ‘universal’ hermeneutical processes to the interpretation of scripture, much like we would to any written text.
      At the same time, it seems that the trajectory Schleiermacher points us in fails to treat Scripture in an entirely consistent manner. Material which relates supernatural or religious content is regulated the realm of ‘feelings/experience’ and is treated differently than other content. Thus we find two systems in play…one for historical material, and one for ‘religious’ material. This move to push religious communication out of the realm of reason and into the realm of personal myth is tragic. It removes the real possibility of reasoned religious discussion and creates ‘misunderstanding’ by assuming that authors are not being rational when they share certain kinds of content.
      This movement has moved us away from what the text ‘means’ into the dangerous territory of what the text-means-to-me; confusing meaning with significance.
      The tendency to focus on ‘events’ instead of the ‘text’ (i.e. Sailhamer’s text/event paradigm as mentioned by a3w275) is most likely a reaction to this kind of thinking – seeking to find ‘historical’ moorings to validate the text, but along the way leaving the text and entering into the world of our reconstructed events. We’re better off to embrace a system which allows for rational communication of religious content.

  13. Yes, the word source (as used in the book) did feel a bit extreme – hence the post – but I think you rightly identified the importance of Schleiermacher: method. Methods change, the fact that we interpret and give thought to how it is done does not. His method has had an enduring impact. From what I have read he was the one who popularized the idea that texts are not simply meaningful in themselves but are the written communications of authors… so it is the job of the interpreter to get to the authorial intent, into the mind of the author, in order to understand that communication. (For my part that is a critical aspect of how I read any text.) Our week’s reading expresses that the reason this started being done is because of philosophical reflection on language and the nature of communication and understanding – not to mention Romanticism and a host of other reasons. In this way philosophy has had a major impact on our method and hence our theology.

  14. Adam, I’m sorry to hear about your Hosea-like experience with Hermeneutics. I hope you heal quickly.

    That being said, the influence of Schleirmacher in this area for me is also larger than previously thought. Like you, I had no idea that the historical-critical method of interpretation had been influenced by the liberal protestant theology of the nineteenth century. It is probably a good thing I had not connected those dots. The historical-critical method seems to be an indispensable aspect of good hermeneutics. To ignore the historical context of the text and author seems to tantamount to the postmodern idea that meaning is found within the realm the reader and not the author. This kind of subjectivity is dangerous, if not completely wrong. To approach the Scripture with such an intent is to do violence to the text.

    However, as our book pointed out, the joining of the world of the text and that of the interpreter is important and (can be extremely) difficult at times. This problem continues to raise its head, and has done so most recently in the New Perspectives on Paul debate. N.T. Wright continues to call the church back to an understanding of the historical context of Second Temple Judaism and of Paul’s writing, in order to properly interpret such terms as “justification” and the “righteousness of God.” I have to admit that this sounds much like what Schleirmacher had in mind with his historical-critical method.

  15. I think it is a bit extreme to say this was the invention of hermeneutics as well. As it has been said above there was consciousness of interpretation. As many of us read in the Greek Fathers class we can see that Athanasius and Basil critiqued the interpretation of Scripture as held by the heretics. Their approach to Scripture (and therefore literature and language) was different that our own (so Adam may be right in emphasizing the supremacy of the historical-grammatical approach amongst modern interpreters) but this doesn’t mean there was no “hermeneutics” or mode of interpretation.

    Maybe the author meant “hermeneutics” as a category of study was not in existence. Maybe it was done but not examined as much as it is now. Do we know of any works on anything like biblical interpretation prior to Schleiermacher?

    • I agree with you Brian. When I first read this section of the book I found it a bit extreme to say this was the beginning of hermeneutics. And like you I was impacted by the early Church Fathers who had a system of interpreting Scripture. I was really taken aback by the Allen’s blatant statement about hermeneutics but I like that idea that he might be talking about hermeneutics as an area of study. Good point.

      • I forgot to comment on this earlier. I’m sure the text was referring to the fact that Schleiermacher is routinely referred to as the father of modern hermeneutics.

  16. I don’t think Tom Wright, via Sanders, Dunn etc. is calling the Church back to the “Catholic” and “Reformed” way myself. Yes, the Reformation itself does change, but only towards the reality of the true nature of ‘Word & Spirit’, which does always itself call the Church to the reforming nature of the Holy Scripture. We see this also in the Ecumenical Councils themselves, from 325 to 681 AD.

    Though the last council with the issue of Icons, does go beyond the aspect of art, into the area of images and the question of latent idolatry. There has always been that “puritan” outlook within Christianity itself, which sees the Icon in an Iconoclasm itself. This was also the position of the Reformation and the Reformed.

  17. Brian,

    For the R. Catholic and Eastern Orthodox – and Monastic Bible Study, it is literal or historical, doctrinal, and moral. This follows the Fathers, and the Medieval readers and thinkers. In the West for these, as for St. Benedict, St. Bernard of Clairvaux etc., the Bible or Holy Writ has several layers of meaning. And here, we find the whole history of the Church and the Mystical-Incarnational Body of Christ, in both Rome and the Orthodox. In this approach the Church is always part of the hermeneutical life and authority.

  18. Robert,

    The more and more we look at Scripture and literary theory the more I wonder if there is some value in the multiple meanings approach to Scripture. Our modern project tries to find the one, objective, author intended meaning of the text yet the history of commentaries shows us that if this exists it cannot be found or it has not been found.

    • Brian,

      Having lived both the R. Catholic life (somewhat), and too the Anglican High Church, I can say, yes to your point. I have also had my close ties with Orthodoxy (as an Anglican). But then, I ran into Luther, and then later Calvin. We must admit that the reading of Paul in the Middle Ages, and Luther’s time was shaped by the legacy of Augustine. If Luther and Calvin had a mentor, it would surely be Augustine. And simply for Luther there can be no experience of the love of God, without the place of faith, given by God, in the face of Jesus Christ! And here too for Calvin, with the power of an obedient and docile heart.

      This is the place that keeps me coming back to the Reformation and the Reformed doctrine and hermeneutic. That only Christ, in His life & death can touch & heal my own terrified conscience! So Dr. Luther and I are “brothers” here. And Calvin, the Reformational teacher. But, I still love the reality of the Roman and Orthodox Churches! If this makes sense? Yes, I know it is a struggle, but the Church for me, at least, is always both “Catholic” and “Reformed”. Thus I need all my “brethren”, and all in this Church-Catholic & Orthodox. To the true and real ecumenical Body…made so by the Triune God, and that Spirit of truth “Himself”!

  19. I find it interesting that it sounds like many of us are affirming Schleiermacher’s emphasis on the author in the hermeneutical endeavor. That’s actually been the area where his hermeneutic has received some of its strongest criticism. According to Schleiermacher, to understand any given text I need to understand both its grammatical and psychological aspects. This latter part means that I have to reconstruct the “mind” of the author so that I can understand the meaning of the author’s communication. But, as many have pointed out, this is an impossible task. You simply can’t get into the mind of any author, let alone one so far removed from us. If Schleiermacher’s correct, and true interpretation requires access to the author’s mind, then true interpretation is impossible and the “real meaning” of the text is simply unavailable. So, either the “meaning” of the text must lie somewhere else (e.g. in the historical event, the textual narrative, the reader, the community) or the meaning is ultimately inaccessible and constantly deferred.

    • My vote for “meaning” is grounded in Christ — as the reality to whom the grammar of the text points — of course as far as “order” goes, I had to presume that something prior brought me to my assumption about meaning. In other words, the text by the Holy Spirit (which I know from the text) points me beyond itself to the reality or source of its meaning, Jesus Christ. So the text has one meaning, and the meaning is Jesus Christ, according to the text 😉 (Jn 5.39).

    • Practically speaking, I think Childs did us all a favor by redirecting us to the text…for it is in the text that we can find meaning…even if it’s not 100% of the meaning that the author had in mind….

      we can’t reconstruct events… we can’t enter the mind of the ancient writer… we shouldn’t expect to receive inner subjective enlightenment BUT we can read the text…

      and in the text we encounter the words the author selected to communicate… surely the authors psychological distinctiveness impacts the words chosen, but unless we are willing to say that all communication is impossible (or at least improbable) we have to assume that these words communicate at least SOME of what the author is intending to say…

      …and if our sample size is large enough (i.e. looking at the entire Pauline corpus instead of just 1 verse) we can gain a sense of how authors use words to communicate…

      is this communication 100% efficient? I would assume not. But realistically is it sufficient for understanding? It must be… otherwise why to attempt to communicate at all.

      Even in this forum, we find individuals that don’t completely understand each others backgrounds, (let alone each others individual psychology) — yet, we find some degree of communication happening…. if we abandoned the words used in this blog, and instead tried to analyze the individual authors, or reconstruct their life histories we would be missing the mark….

      • Brian, I like where you are going as along as we are not limiting the meaning only to the text. In many ways it has to be both in authorial intent and in the text, because we cannot separate the author from the text. If meaning is only in the text, we open up the possibility of having several different meanings as the text moves through cultures and time. Some of those meanings the author would have never intended. The author along with his culture, language, and place in history give us boundaries from which we can narrow the scope of possible meanings. The author and the text are so closely related that usually the text reveals to us aspects about the author. We cannot ‘climb into the mind of the author’, but seeking authorial intent does not necessitate this. When we look for authorial intent the aim is not to experience everything that they experienced or feel everything that they felt. The aim is to understand what the author wanted to communicate to his readers through his text. We cannot blend what the author wanted to communicate with his experience and feelings, unless he is revealing that to us in his text.

  20. Yes, amen Bobby, can we say “only” Christ? I think in this sense we can and should!

    Jude 24-25

  21. Marc, it seems we might be functioning with different definitions of the historical-critical method of interpretation, and where Schleirmacher placed emphasis, i.e. linguistic or author (both? since they can’t necessarily be separated). I might not be understanding.
    I”m also wondering if this has any correlation to what Augustine wrote in his Confessions (Book XII). In writing about what Moses meant when he wrote Genesis 1:1, Augustine says, “Accordingly when anyone claims, ‘[Moses] meant what I say,’ and another retorts, ‘No, rather what I find there,’ I think that I will be answering in a more religious spirit if I say, ‘Why not both, if both are true? And if there is a third possibility, and a fourth, and if someone else sees an entirely different meaning in these words, why should we not think that [Moses] was aware of all of them, since it was through him that the one God carefully tempered his sacred writings to meet the minds of many people, who would see different things in them, and all true. Of this I am certain…that if I had to write something to which the highest authority would be attributed, I would rather write it in such a way that my words would reinforce for each reader whatever truth he was able to grasp about these matters, than express a single idea so unambiguously as to exclude others, provided these did not offend me by their falsehood.”
    He seems to argue that an author can be interpreted in several ways without knowing the actual mind of the author (as long as interpretations are orthodox). Although the historical-critical method would not be discounted, it would not be absolute?

    • Schleiermacher emphasized both the text (especially the idea of reading the specific passage in light of the whole text) and author in hermeneutics. (He’s better known for his emphasis on author, but the textual-grammatical aspect of his thought was equally important.) The problem is that this “psychologizing” of hermeneutics (i.e. looking for the “mind” of the author) is invalid. For example, I can read your comment above, but I have no access to your mind. For all I know, you’re just pretending to be asking a question when your real motive is to make me spend my time replying so you can laugh at me later. I have no idea because I’m not a mind-reader. All I know is how you have chosen to portray yourself in your communication. If I have to know your actual intention, I’m lost. The same problem can occur in any historical-critical method. If we’re not careful in how we unpack authorial “intention” as an important part of the interpretive process, we can get stuck in the same situation.

      And yes, Augustine explicitly argues in several places that there can be multiple legitimate interpretations of the same passage. He has some pretty important parameters that keep this from getting out of hand (orthodoxy, community, rightly formed interpreters, morally appropriateness, etc.), but within those parameters he thinks there can be diversity of interpretation and possibly even multiplicity of meaning.

      • Marc, thanks for this:

        “All I know is how you have chosen to portray yourself in your communication…If we’re not careful in how we unpack authorial “intention” as an important part of the interpretive process, we can get stuck in the same situation…”

        Perhaps we should say that we’re looking for the intent of (or in) the text, not the intent of the author?

        (not saying that inanimate objects have motives, but that authors may write texts with an intention that is different than their own – for example, writing to convince you to invest in XYZ stock when I never would….)

      • Is there a way to focus on the one or the other in Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics? It seems as you have stated above that Schleiermacher does place more emphasis on authorial intent. But it seems to me that his impact on the text is actually pretty helpful. Is there a way to use one and not the other or do both the text and the author for Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics need to be taken together?

        Does this come down to my method of integrating philosophy and theology? As I was reading through the book, Philosophy for Understanding Theology, I found myself taking pieces that I liked and throwing away the pieces that I didn’t like. (Probably not the best way to look at philosophy as a beginner). So when I came to Schleiermacher I could see myself liking his text emphasis on hermeneutics but found it difficult to “get into the mind of the author.”

      • No, I don’t think you can have Schleiermacher’s system without both. It is, of course, possible to learn from his system and decide that you want to make sure you include certain things in your own system, but I think Schleiermacher’s approach falls apart without both.

        You can certainly have an ad hoc approach to the philosophy/theology relationship. That’s one of the more prominent models out there. I would caution you on two things if you take this approach. First, you need to remember that the philosophical concepts you borrow already have a context and a meaning. So, if you’re not careful, the borrowed concept can bend and shape your theology in sometimes unexpected ways. You also need to be aware of what other people will hear/think when you use that concept. Second, make sure your philosophical borrowing is a principled one. Engage the other system well enough to know why you’re borrowing/rejecting.

  22. Marc,

    It is sad, how Augustine has gotten sort of forgotten today, at least some of the depth with his history. Do you have an older 1999 work? Augustine through the Ages, An Encyclopedia (Eerdman’s). It is edited by Allan Fitzgerald, O.S.A. (a Catholic Augustinian, from Rome). A fine book!

    • I’d agree. It’s not so much that he’s been forgotten, it’s just that he’s often not engaged very deeply. That might almost be worse. I don’t have my own copy of Augustine through the Ages, but we have one in the school’s library and I used it extensively when I taught a course on Augustine a couple years back. It was very helpful.

      • Yes Marc,

        Augustine, like Calvin, both are hardly really engaged. Just quoted somewhat. And Luther even less. Yes, the Church today is far from the Reformation, and the real Reformed doctrine and theology. And as you perhaps can see, I am not a NPP guy.

  23. On a side note. I noticed now in the two posts on philosophy on the blog that Karl Barth has come up quite a bit. Now remember this question is coming from a person with no philosophy or Barth background :). Is Barth looked to in Church History as the Christian Philosopher par excellance? I know it is only two blog posts but I found it quite interesting how much people use him to defend philosophy and theology.

  24. Barth comes up a lot to some extent because he’s just so influential/important. Although he wasn’t a philosopher, his arguments with respect to natural theology and the philosophy/theology relationship have had so much influence that there’s almost no way to avoid him in this context (not that we’d want to).

    Of course, having said that, I’m sure the fact that I like Barth and mention him somewhat frequently probably helps a bit too.

    • BTW, I just wondered here, who has read Hans Urs von Balthasar’s book: The Theology of Karl Barth? (Ignatius Press) I have, but I am an old R. Catholic, and also Anglican High Churchman (past).

      My point, is seeing Barth outside of the Barthian context. And of course Barth is a modern Church Father type. So this is not negative from my point.

      • I read it and used it extensively during my doctoral work. I thought he was off on some things, but I really appreciated his thoughtful engagement throughout. (I must say, though, that I liked his Cosmic Liturgy on Maximus better.) And I’d definitely agree that it’s important to read about these key theologians from a variety of perspectives.

      • I’ve read it, and found it helpful. Balthasar is somewhat like the Catholic version of, Barth, eh 🙂 .

  25. Hey guys,

    The discussion above is all over the place! After reading through all the posts, I will try my best, as I usually do, to disagree with Billy. Just kidding, Billy and I actually need each other, true Hegelian style. It’s a very dysfunctional, but necessary kind of relationship!

    I offer the following thoughts: Barth and Schleiermacher may disagree on a thing or two, but Billy (and the rest of you out there), isn’t the important thing, as far as biblical studies go, that our hearts are in the right place? Consider the following quote by Barth,

    “All the questionable things we learn from the Addresses on Religion and The Doctrine of Faith about Schleiermacher’s fundamental idea of this office: namely that the decisive factor is a ‘self-imparting’ of the preacher- cannot alter the fact that Schleiermacher performed this office with a noteworthy loyalty, where or not his idea of it was correct.”

    Whoa is me! What is the pure theologian to do? Well, whether our hermeneutic method is good or bad, and whether we arrive at the truth or not in the end, is less important than the intent behind our conclusions. Let’s keep this in mind as we meet in class in the morning! This way we will certainly maintain unity in the body of Christ!

    PS. It could be that I’m a little bit sarcastic above…

  26. I must admit I began writing this post without one single clear concept formed in my mind, my intellect being so agitated and challenged by our dear Diogenes Allen and his fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants comprehensive overwhelming survey of Western thought!

    If Adam is distressed, I am discombobulated.
    The assigned week reading was a bit too strong.

    All week I have had to ask myself what it is to know.

    Most believers, myself included, would attribute our existence to God and deny the pre-existence of the soul. Created out of nothing, we begin our existence bringing nothing to existence.

    We are brought to existence ready and capable to experience ourselves and everything else brought into that reality, of which we had no part in bringing about. Now experiencing, we seek understanding from the ground up, and/or from a space beyond the stars down, but having brought nothing of ourselves to contribute to reality, we are lost within it. Having brought nothing we have no prior notion of a thing, instead everything from another origin was pressed upon us.

    In other words, we are created with a perception of (or an ability to perceive) ourselves and the rest of creation and that perception cannot move outside of our physical location (that I’m aware of) and enter into the perception or experience of anything else existent.

    We were set up! We exist in relative ignorance. We were created. It is impossible for us because of the state of our beginning and the continuation thereof to know anything in existence outside of our own limited perception and experience of it. We can only know what we know and not that of another.

    We cannot understand another’s language or meaning.
    We can only understand our experience of their language and meaning.

    We cannot understand what another has experienced in the past now, for it has past and will not be again. (We can only understand our own experience of reading the history book in the present, not experience the actual events of the past.) We can only understand what we experience and experience what we experience.

    So what then of relationships?

    We interpret the experience of others based on our own experiences. Our understanding of another’s experience is based solely upon our own range of personal understanding and experience. We may not understand what it means to be raped, but we may have experienced some type of abuse. Even remarkably similar experiences are not experienced the same in any situation. We do not know others through their experiences, but through our own.

    So what then of texts?

    We assume the author of a text meant something (authorial intent) when he wrote because we assume we mean something when we write. However, we still interpret the message based on our own experiences.

    So what then of academic education?

    Education is new experience brought to bear on the individual. They encounter words on a page arranged in a fashion previously unknown. If the word is completely unknown, it takes other known words to understand it. Even then, the knowing of the new word is individualized by the definitions previous understood in their individualized experiences. However, our experience grows in relation to the new definitions we ascribe meaning to.

    So what then of universals?

    Universals could exist, but you would never know it.

    Back to the Post (sorta):

    I believe that Friedrich Schleiermacher is wrong.
    We cannot enter into the mind of the author.
    Rules of language do not govern human understanding.
    Experience governs human understanding and we can only know our own minds. We cannot understand language as a thing in of itself. We understand the text based solely on our own experience of words. We understand the author only by the comparison of human experience – ours with theirs. The comparison is only experienced by us.

    This being said, I believe Adam’s post related more to the interaction between philosophy and theology.

    In this case, I am happy to let philosophy have its way with my theology and my theology have its way with my philosophy.
    There is no secure ground of thought within myself.

    What I pursue to believe is grounded in the Divine, the only Being capable of unlimited knowledge. My pursuit of that knowledge unwraps itself in a variety of individual experiences.

    My greatest hope (or should I say faith) is that my personal experiences of God are real.

  27. Andreas,
    I guess we’re like Athanasius and Arius. I’m Athanasius of course.

  28. Stephen, just a couple of quick comments.

    First, I would suggest breaking your comments into a couple of different pieces when you have that much to reflect on. That will make it a little easier for people to engage and respond.

    Second, you said, “Experience governs human understanding and we can only know our own minds.” That’s an epistemologically weighty statement that I’d encourage you to keep reflecting on. Let’s come back to it after you’ve had some time to dive into the material on epistemology and see what you think. I could be wrong, but I think you’ll discover that there are some really challenging problems down that road.

  29. Andreas,

    “whether our hermeneutic method is good or bad, and whether we arrive at the truth or not in the end, is less important than the intent behind our conclusions.”

    Really? My “intention” is more important than “truth”? That may be where your sarcasm was kicking in, but methinks I detect some substance behind the sarcasm.

  1. Pingback: Week in Review: 09.24.10 | Near Emmaus

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