Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Doctrine — How do we do it?

posted by xscot mcknight

(Say the Jesus Creed morning and evening during Lent.)
Anthony Thiselton’s new book, Hermeneutics of Doctrine, written for experts, continues a list of seminal, profound, penetrating, if not esoteric at times, writings on hermeneutics. In this book, Thiselton applies his mastery of hermeneutics to doctrine.
You can link here to see Thiselton’s books.
He examines a variety of topics through the lens of hermeneutics in this book — including the hermeneutics of creation, image of God, sin, cross, work of Christ, atonement, Holy Spirit, Trinity, church and ministry, word and sacraments, and eschatology.
We won’t be blogging through this book, mostly because I’m not sure how to do it … and how many of us would want to engage this tome on hermeneutics is probably limited. So, here are some highlights for me:
1. A clarification of how seeing belief as “dispositional” instead of just “mental” opens up both passages in the Bible (say 1 John or Jonah) and how we have sought to explain what it means to “confess” Christian faith. Disposition deals with the expectations of confession and behaviors “if” one genuinely does believe.
2. An emphasis on doctrine finding shape only in community.
3. That doctrine is formational and not just informational. This is the big impact of this book … and again everything by Thiselton is thick and brilliant.
4. He complains way too often about American theology. There should be more appreciation of cultural difference and that his own context is shaping that complaint; in addition, his reduction of American theology to pragmatism or to simple alternatives is itself a reductionism, not the least because it’s also found over on his side of the water.

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posted February 27, 2008 at 1:13 am

That book is on the top of my ‘Summer Reading’ pile. I wish I had time during the semester to dive into books that aren’t assigned by professors. I really like points 2 and 3. I’m looking forward to seeing how he develops those points.
Two Horizons has long been my favorite book on hermeneutics….the close second is Vanhoozer’s “Is There A Meaning in This Text?”

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Jason Myers

posted February 27, 2008 at 8:58 am

I bought this book a few months ago, I haven’t gotten all the way through it yet. But the first chapters are worth the book. I likewise enjoyed the discussion on belief or the nailing one’s colors to the mast.
This book is great for anyone seeking to think about doctrine and wrestling through some key issues.

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Michael Cline

posted February 27, 2008 at 9:11 am

Had to read Thiselton’s “New Horizons” for Intermediate Hermeneutics this last Fall. The guy is an absolute beast with names and ideas. Never before have I read a more complete volume, or “tome” as you rightly call his writing. Readers be forewarned though, if you haven’t interacted with much philosophy (especially linguistics), you will be up the creek without a paddle. It’s expected that you will know quite a bit before you come to his text. Perhaps this highlights another difference in theological education across the pond?

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posted February 27, 2008 at 9:13 am

I appreciate the books reccomended. We did a little examination of thiselton in seminary. I am always challenged by such writings. the mental effort is always worth it…
I like Kevin Vanhoozer too. I feel priveleged to have been exposed to these authors.
Growing up in a very rigid interpretive world, I have come to find so much greater meaning in the Bible because of these authors.

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posted February 27, 2008 at 10:13 am

I’ve been thinking about interpretation for a long time. somthing I long for is that some of this material to be made available at the everyday reader level.
I minister in a context in which attenders are very blue collar, factory workers, mail deliverers, farmers, mechanics. I try to give the 2 horizons in sermons with the hope that they return home and read the text for themselves. But my ultimate longing is that they become the prieshood of believers able to discern meaning for themselves.
Then there is my own longing for security… in my contrext Biblical literalism reigns — not a literal interpretation but literalism. A reading of the text that is more often reader response and more reletivistic than a thoughtful study using good biblical interpretation method. The irony is that such “literalists” think they are reading the Bible as “the” word of God, when they are often reading themselves into it.
I hear time and again that using good interpretaion method distorts the plain meaning of scripture and that it is the educated ones who are most heritical. And I can’t bust through that cemented understanding.
Soooo…. my plea to theologians and academics is to consider some of your writing time to be writing that reaches different types of readers. (I know it is my job to translate but then I become their knower and they are not empower to know for themselves).

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Sean LeRoy

posted February 27, 2008 at 11:26 am

I’ve shied away from AT’s books because they seem to be more philosophical than praxis-oriented. I like the kind of hermeneutics that move into (engage) the text (Bible) and then move out to praxis…not those that always stay “above” the text.
Am I wrong in my assessment…?

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Doug Wilson

posted February 27, 2008 at 8:30 pm

Thanks for this overview, Scot. I once spent a memorable seminar with Colin Brown and other students reading and discussing our way through Thiselton’s The Two Horizons . . . well worth the (considerable) effort! Sean, you are concerned that Thiselton never “moves out to praxis”? Check out his article “Understanding God’s Word Today” in the John Stott edited Obeying Christ in a Changing World, Vol. 1, The Lord Christ (Fountain Books, 1977), or his more recent First Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary. Thiselton once told me, quite emphatically, that the whole reason we do all the hard intellectual work, ultimately, was pastoral: it should result, he stressed, in the building up of the church.

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posted February 27, 2008 at 10:49 pm

After moving over the course of six decades from fundamentalism to something quite different, discussions of Christian doctrine are of much less interest to me than they once were. My working hypothesis today is that most (all?) of what we consider as “doctrine” actually represents an attempt by a part of the church at a particular time to interpret its experience of god and/or Jesus. Examples of doctrines included in this “interpretational” list would be not only “small” ones like the virgin birth, but “big” ones like the incarnation and Jesus’ sinlessness.
Any interpretation of experience is contingent on time and the culture of the people making that interpretation; therefore a fairly general statement would be that doctrine and dogma are also contingent. Saying that a doctrine is essential is something like saying that a particular interpretation is essential. The latter is generally regarded as more problematic than the former, I think, but perhaps the notion that some doctrines are essential should be more problematic than it is.
I guess I’m asking if there are any doctrines that are absolutely essential or non-negotiable, and what they might be. From another angle, I’m not sure that “confession” of faith should properly involve doctrines at all.

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posted February 28, 2008 at 6:26 am

I may not understand what you mean – but if God acted in history, if there is any truth to the Christian story ? then there are some “doctrines” that are absolutely essential. Those doctrines related to the fact that there is a God and that he acted in a concrete fashion in human history are non-negotiable. So ? the incarnation is one of those doctrines. If the incarnation is not true ? there is no timeless Christian story. Without the crucifixion and resurrection as concrete atoning acts, the Christian story is hogwash.
Ah ? but how to understand these events, maybe this is what you mean by doctrine. The interpretation of these events ? these data – these acts of God ? has varied somewhat throughout history, influenced by culture and situation. We can and should step back and interpret the acts ? and much of the interpretation is negotiable. I am dead certain that no dogmatic statement of interpretation has ever gotten everything right.
How can one have any confession of faith without some level of doctrine?

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Sean LeRoy

posted February 28, 2008 at 11:28 am

Thx Doug…I’ll have to check those out.

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Doug Allen

posted February 28, 2008 at 8:58 pm

Speaking from a U-U perspective, there is only one thing that is absolutely essential and non-negotiable: the Jesus creed. Any doctrine or interpretation of doctrine that compromises or diminishes the centrality of the Jesus creed is suspect and unnecessary. It may well be that John, Paul, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, etc. would find fault with this perspective. However, IMHO, Jesus would bless it.

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posted March 1, 2008 at 8:11 am

RJS, I think your 2nd paragraph, rather than your first, is much closer to my point of view. To respond to, rather than “answer”, your 3d paragraph, I would ask if enthusiasm for following Jesus, accompanied by a skeptical wondering about who he was, a start on a ‘doctrine’ that would support a ‘confession of faith’?
Doug, I think we are unanimous.

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