Monday, March 24, 2008

Dialectical hermeneutics and evangelical theology

Dialectic - the art of investigating the truth of opinions, the testing of truth by discussion; logical disputation.

I have been thinking about what I find agreeable and what I find disagreeable about evangelical theology and the handling of Scripture within the world of 'evangelicalism'.

Very briefly I find agreeable an approach to understanding Scripture (i.e. hermeneutics) which involves a form of dialogue or discussion between 'text', 'theology', and relevant 'knowledge' including ancient and modern 'culture'. Thus, to take one example, the question of the ordination of women, there are those (it seems in my experience) who have simply presumed its fine but not worked on the hard questions raised by texts such as 1 Timothy 2:12 and those for whom 1T 2:12 is definitive in its 'no' to women being ordained to positions of authority (i.e. priest and bishop in Anglican polity). My own position I think can be described as 'dialectical' since it both proceeds from a testing of truth by discussion and continues to remain open to logical disputation - where partners in the discussion (if we may call 'texts' contributors to discussion) include both 1T 2:12 and Romans 16 and the like, along with actual experience of women in ministry (which gives lie to the implication of one reading of 1T 2:12-15 that women are necessarily and universally gullible and liable to deceive). Included in the discussion are, of course, actual human contributors who wish to chip their twopennies worth into the dialogue.

This openness to continuing engagement between Scripture and life enables evangelical theology to be responsive to life while being faithful to Scripture. To an extent every evangelical is a dialectician, but some evangelicals seem more closed rather than open to the possibility of change, exemplified in the fixedness of some around the ordination of women and the impossibility of evolution.

I will develop my ideas on dialectical hermeneutics and evangelical theology in further posts.

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