Friday, November 09, 2007

Brown's New Book on Hermeneutics

Roger Ebertz, a Christian Philosopher at the University of Dubuque recently published an inspiring and erudite article in the Christian Scholar's Review on the call for Christian scholarship to be Biblically grounded and engaged. Ebertz suggests that Christian scholars should extend the traditional worldview analysis methodology of research, an approach that has mostly become normative amongst Christian scholars, to include a central Biblical hermeneutical component. For Ebertz, Christian scholars carry a double duty in that they should not only be competent in the particular demands of their academic disciplines, but also in appropriate methods of Biblical hermeneutics that fit their field of enquiry. Ebertz's proposal is rooted in the conviction that Christian scholars operate within three defining contexts: (a) a specific social and cultural situation, (b) an academic field governed by specific research agendas and methodologies, and (c) a particular faith tradition. His proposal consists of an integrated research approach where these three contexts work together in the pursuit of truth: "The Christian scholar, then, seeks both to interpret her subject matter and to understand the Bible as it speaks to her and to her work as a scholar in the light of historical situation, her community of scholarship and her community faith. Thus the Christian scholar's hermeneutical task is complex. And yet she aims at the unity of understanding that affirms the sovereignty of one Lord."

Christian scholars looking at the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures often make interpreting mistakes because they do not consider the historical and cultural distance between themselves and the authors and audiences of those texts. Biblical hermeneutical methodology assists the serious interpreter of the Bible in reading these texts in an integrative, reflective, analytical, and yet still devotional manner. These models of interpretation are drawn from the conviction that what is needed is a multi-disciplinary approach to reading the Scriptures that keeps in mind at minimum the literary, social, cultural, historical and theological dimensions of the text and its people. Unfortunately, most Christian scholars have not been exposed to contemporary hermeneutical methodology and may not know where to start. This is where Jeanine Brown's new book on Biblical hermeneutics can be of great assistance.

Jeannine Brown's basic introduction to the discipline of hermeneutics offers a clear and practical interpretative model that highlights the communicative nature of the text of the Christian Scriptures. By rooting this communicative model in the theological concept of the incarnation, Brown bridges the world of systemic theology and Biblical studies and by doing so, makes a significant contribution to the various current theories and debates on the nature of the text and the discipline of interpretation. Brown's inspiring and clear approach makes complex theories of interpretation simple while at the same time communicating the wonder and power of the "Divine breath" of inspiration in the text of the Holy Scriptures.

Brown's book is divided into two parts: the first part lays a thorough theoretical foundation on the communicative nature of Scripture, whilst the second part offers practical guidelines for those desiring to read and understand Scripture as God's ever-present communicative act. Brown does not steer away from contentious or difficult issues in discussing the art of interpretation, but translates them for the reader into simple and palatable concepts, whilst pointing the way towards erudite and practical interpretative strategies. The book does suffer at times from an absence of in-depth discussions on the recent developments in socio-rhetorical and semiotic readings of Scripture, but makes up for this lack in its well structured treatment on the quest to derive meaning from a communicative reading of the text.

"Scripture as Communication" is a highly accessible book that lay readers, students, ministers and scholars alike will find to be rich in interpretive theory yet practical in its application. Brown's book makes an important and timely contribution in our common quest to understand and apply the message of Scripture to our own research.

It is my growing conviction that a clearer understanding of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures holds the promise of a resurgence of moral and values-based approaches to leadership today. Only when our understanding and practice of leadership is utterly informed and fueled by the Word of God will we have the kind of Christian leadership that will change the world. Jeanine Brown's inspiring book is a good place to start in our common quest for the recovery of authentic Christian scholarly leadership.