04 August 2011

Glossary Links- Hermeneutical Compression

Hermeneutical Compression-

This is but another way of describing one or some of the various nuances that result from theological systemic thought and commitments when applied to Revelation.

The System functions as a complicated mathematical equation. Everything must cross examine and is subject to proofs and verification. This allows the system to maintain integrity and gives a basis (at least to those who think this way about theology) to proceed into the realm of speculation. If the math works with the Scripture-verse starting points...or even other theological points that they've already verified, then the subsequent sum or answer can be reckoned to be indeed in accord with Scripture and thus a reflection of it. The speculative theological deductions can be reckoned as Biblical as if there were a 17th chapter to Romans.

Systemic thought is generally pretty hostile to unresolved tensions, dynamics, dialectics. It seeks to synthesize. Historically this has happened even outside the realm of theology in a host of philosophical arguments and disputes that span the centuries. There are many theologians who employ a hermeneutic reminiscent of Ockham's Razor. Ockham was a Nominalist, rejecting the Platonic concept of Universals, reducing them to mere verbal conceptions. There are many theologians who employ this type of reductionistic thinking to Biblical issues regarding Covenant Form and Means.  The analogy is not exact, but it's concept that we encounter or derive from the text and is basic enough that even pagans wrestle with ideas. With Systemics, which I argue often have theological Nominalist tendency, they universals or eternal categories are not granted a 'real' status but are instead a concept. Sometimes this can be inverted and only the universals are granted a 'real' status and the particulars are but concepts. Systematization tends to force all interpretations to one side or the other of the register.

To grant Forms and Means the status of reality would place them in tension with their temporal manifestations which might not exactly correspond with the eternal reality. The problem is the Scriptures speak this way....They're not all Israel who are of Israel...they're not all true/eternal Israel who are of form/temporal Israel. This presents a problem for many and the issue rears its head in many places and with regard to many issues.

The tendency is to COMPRESS....to force the text to commit to one side or the other rather than to take the text at face value. It's a hermeneutical issue and by way of historical note this is really the difference you find between the 1st generation of Reformed who were coming out of the Renaissance Humanist mindset...back to the text afresh, let it speak etc.... vs. the Scholastic and Systematic mindset of the subsequent generations. The System thinkers will often come up with very similar conclusions but the way, the road in getting there is different, and when it comes to certain issues there will be a serious divergence. This is why so many contemporary Calvinists who generally speaking are committed to Scholastic/Systemic thought stumble and struggle when they read Calvin's Commentaries as well as various passages in the Institutes. "How did he get that?" they gasp. He wasn't dealing with the text in the same fashion. He had plenty of other problems, but Compression, the reductionistic tendency wasn't one of them.

This also manifests itself in a misapplication of the well known concept known as The Analogy of Scripture...or Scripture interprets itself. For example if one wants to understand the Apocalyptic symbolism of Revelation, one would do well to spend some time in Daniel where the symbols and typology are very similar and in some cases interpreted. Then, one might go to the Gospels and take note of how Christ interprets the passages and of course how the Epistles deal with Apocalyptic imagery. Then applying what we learn from these clearer passages we can then approach something that on the surface is much more murky and nebulous like the book of Revelation.

The Analogy allows us to synthesize apparent discrepancies in the narrative passages, especially the Gospels where the parallel passages often exhibit slight variations in numbers and wording. Using Scripture we can interpret Scripture.

What about with Didactic and Doctrinal passages? This gets a little more complicated. We have passages that clearly teach Predestination and Election, but we also have passages that clearly teach or at least suggest/assume Free Will and some that even exhibit non-determinism. What do we do? The Systematician like it or not has presuppositions and depending on what those are, he answers some basic questions that build the foundation. We all know if these are answered incorrectly, the subsequent building will be incorrect.

The Arminian looks to rationality for a solution, rooted in personal perception and experience as well as Western concepts of equity and justice and determines the necessity of Free Will. And then employing Systematics and the Analogy of Scripture he develops a system that assumes Free Will from start to finish. This is the Anchor of his system.

The Calvinist looks to the text and says...this teaches Predestination. So, since Predestination is true, he constructs a system Anchored on that premise. And just like the Arminian the Anchor point, the foundation literally dominates the entire superstructure that he builds.

I'm arguing vehemently against employing the Analogy of Scripture when it comes to Doctrinal Formulation and passages that are explicitly didactic. To some degree it cannot be avoided...I admit this. But the Systematic mindset is not subjecting itself to Divine Revelation, instead it is subjugating the Revelation to the System Premise or Anchor. The Analogy helps interpret narrative and other types of Scripture where synthesis is desirable...but I'm arguing synthesis is not desirable when it comes to clear and plain, non-symbolic, non-narrative passages that we find in the Epistles. Employing synthesis with regard to these texts employs philosophical deduction which will always be rooted in our perceptions, presuppositions, and context. We all agree that the synthesis must stop at some point....the Incarnation cannot be synthesized in a way to philosophically 'explain' the Incarnation, or even more mind-bending...the Trinity. There are those who attempt to do so, but they either commit sacrilege or with prideful abandon probe into areas where they frankly have no basis or tools with which to function.

But the Bible teaches Predestination a Calvinist will protest. Yes it does, but the Bible does not teach it in the Systematic fashion or form that the Calvinistic and certainly the Hyper-Calvinistic camps present it. Making it the centerpiece of all theology is logical and systemically coherent, but it ends up negating many texts or at the very least strips them of their plain meaning. The problem isn't Predestination, which is completely Biblical, the problem is the method of theology.

When the Calvinist or the Arminian takes a text and effectively reduces its meaning so that it will 'work' with the rest of the system...they're engaging in Hermeneutical Compression. If God wanted us to have Systematic Theology, He would have given us a text broken down into logical order with outlines and footnotes. Instead we're provided with a Revelation of Christ Jesus, the Risen King the Lord of the Covenant. We're to digest His Word...not dissect it.

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