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The Literal Grammatical Historical Hermeneutic and Modernity’s Voice

A guest post by Jerome Wernow.

I wonder if the literal-grammatical-cultural-historical hermeneutic used in current Evangelical exegesis is but a modernist construct arising from the fundamentalist-theological liberalism debates of the late 19th century like that of Charles Hodge’s common sense realism and Baconian inductivism. It seems to have gained traction and solidified in the early 20 century by particularly as advocated by J. Gresham Machen in the Princeton Theological Seminary debates. Here the philosophy wherein the method is structured is predicated upon a logical positivism similar to the early Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ordinary language philosophy. It is taken up by Bernard Ramm and later by Carl Henry’s propositional revelation notions.

My notion has been better clarified by my good friend R.T. Michener where he suggests that “fundamentalism and theological modernism are simply different sides of the same radical modernist coin. Both embrace the paradigms of Enlightenment empiricism and rationalism too seriously. The way I see it ( Hauerwas affirms this and I agree) is that theological liberalism tries to keep the faith by cutting out all the things that don’t fit into the empirical and/or rational modes, whereas fundamentalism tries to defend them using the tools of empiricism and rationalism to the nth degree. Both end up embracing rationalism and empiricism as the first order bases or “metaphysic” as such, upon which to build a worldview. This is what led the fundamentalist strain in evangelicalism, according to Hauerwas, to make “Sola Scriptura” equal to “Sola Text.” After pondering his clarification, I find myself in accord with his musings.

Further, I suggest mining the philosophical constructs of those who wrote grammar and hermeneutical textbooks used in Evangelical seminaries using ‘the method,’ as well as, the content of the books themselves. My counter to those who appeal to antiquity to demonstrate a golden braid free from modernity’s web is this. Could it be that the principles of the ‘the method’ found in antiquity are mere voicings of a Greco-philosophical rationalists’ strand of modernity that is critiqued by Heidegger and more properly Westphal, voicings that ‘became’ the univocity of modernity?

Now, one should not take my concord with the voices of Heidegger, Westphal, and R.T. ( he does not demean) as ultimately demeaning the method. For me, it is “one way of saying being” amidst many ways (William Desmond-Philosophy and Its Others). The method is useful and ready-in-hand as a tool to unlock one of the bolts in order to enter the ‘Doors of the Sacred ’ (to mine Moriah in Tolkien speak). It is not the only voicing needed to open that door, however. Exegesis emerges from a dynamic plurivocity where the Triune God conducts the voices from the middle (the metaxu to use William Desmond speak). He as Conductor leads to conscious emergence of exegetical significance and meaning.

Picture the plurivocity of voices in the narrative of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, Acts 8:25-39). Whatever hermeneutic was involved in the Eunuch’s ordinary language understanding would be but univocal in had he sat in his chariot alone with his text-in-hand. Other voices that are ‘saying being’ co-participated in exegetical emergence when he sought dis-closure-of-truth-in-text. It included the current community narrative of Philip, the Eunuch’s emotional emergence of spiritual consciousness in community worship, the salvation history of church universal in process, spiritual illumination by the Holy Spirit’s voicing, the voice of the angel, and perhaps others as well i.e. Candace.

Well enough, I must return to my exegetical tasks of the day – constructing the sermon…take a look and uncover my hypocrisy