"Implicit hermeneutics"

When studying theology academically, it is commonplace to be made aware of our presuppositions and methods used when reading the Bible. Hermeneutics classes can help us to see what it is we (and others) are doing and consider whether and how we might want to change our approach. However, the techniques, methods and ideas are often something we are either told to keep hidden from our congregations when preaching, or we do so anyhow fearing that non-academics would simply be bored or confused by such things. Whilst it may be right to ensure that sermons and teaching sessions prioritise the point(s) that are being communicated, why is it that outside of hermeneutics classes we so often forget that one of the key things we are communicating is how to read Scripture?

Sermons, teaching sessions, leading Bible studies, etc., all come about through our own hermeneutical processes, engaging with the text. Yet, sometimes our fellow-Christians can seem baffled at how we managed to get so much from reading a passage which seems to them to say so little. Would it not be good for them to learn reading methods (at least basic principles)? Sermons that are not directly expository, majoring perhaps on narrative and rhetorical flow, may indeed be based on something we found from the passage. But can anyone follow our reasoning back to the passage to see where that came from? If not, then there is certainly an argument for "showing the bones" of our methods in our talks as otherwise the role and authority of Scripture becomes all the more confusing for our listeners/readers.

I think we should consider talks/sermons that deliberately help people to read Scripture for themselves, with differing degrees of explicit/implicit methodology. After all, we cannot help but communicate something of our own hermeneutics implicitly. If, for example, a sermon seems to have little obvious direct connection with the text, it could reflect a hermeneutic that treats past and present as separated by a big gulf where some kind of hopeful leap has to take place for an old text to get anywhere near today's world. Maybe this is indicative of a deeper concern about the relevance of Scripture. So, maybe we should think more about what our sermons are communicating methodologically. Are they saying what we want them to say methodologically and is it helpful?

Another interesting point to consider is how consistent our hermeneutic is. Do we espouse one thing in academia and another in church settings? Are we ardent defenders of historical-critical methods and authorial intent on the one hand but preaching sermons that are basically reader-response or using imaginative reflection? Does it matter? I think we should acknowledge that teaching is not just about content, but also about method. Is our method useful to them and us in our Christian lives? If not, then why use it for preaching in the first place? (Think of Karl Barth when he arrived for his pastorate at Safenwil - no idea how to use his academic theology to speak to the lives of his congregation). If it is useful and practical then surely we would want them to be able to use those methods themselves as well - so let's help them.

Maybe people might want to read the Bible more for themselves if we could enthuse them with how it speaks to us.
¬©Joe Lenton, Oct 2011