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November 14, 2007



Point very poignantly made! Since when does culture get to dictate what the Bible says, or what they surmise it should say? Can't wait to hear much more on this subject. I will be reading Hanegraaff's book. When can we have a class on hermeneutics at CBC?

Alex Marshall

Well, when I think of Left Behind I have to think embarrassing as well, but perhaps for different reasons. I too disagree with LaHaye's eschatology (and am very interested to read whatever post you may have on that!), but when I read Left Behind, I thought the Christian characters in the story were somewhat embarrassing. Essentially, the impression I got from them was that after the rapture, it was ok to go around lying and stealing and contemplating assassinating political figures all in name of God. Hm... I don't know if anyone else has qualms with that image of Christianity, but I certainly do.

As for a hermeneutic of embarrassment, I certainly agree with your assessment. What is "socially acceptable" is probably not the best way to interpret the Bible. Especially given that much of what Jesus taught was intended to be contrary to the social notions of his day. I'm going to go out on a limb and say our society today is not so much in line with Jesus' teachings that they would not still be contrary to many of our social notions.

However, there is a whole other issue that you have kinda brought up- cultural relevancy. Certainly there are some things in the Bible (great example would be women's head coverings) that were culturally relevant to the day and age in which they were written, but seem to no longer apply. What hermeneutic do we use to approach those issues, or especially to determine whether an issue is one of "cultural relevancy" in the first place?


OK....first, what does hermeneutics mean? I thought I knew and this post has pretty much killed that notion. And to the same subject, can I suggest a glossary for some words that will be commonly used here that readers will need to be familiar with? I feel very Peter-ish right now, trying to understand Paul's writings (if you get the analogy).
The problem I have with the Left Behind series is that it's a series. I have to admit, I am a big fan of the first book because it wasn't about "What's next?" It was about, "This just happened. There's more coming. Want to be ready for what's next?" And I didn't see that as being against the idea of living for today to the Glory of God. As the series went on, there was a definite change of focus (I remember seeing a disctinct change of direction toward the end of the second book) and it became, in my eyes, a work of fiction.
I can't imagine trying to define policy from a point of embarassment in general, but I see it almost weekly in media. Whether it's Dog the Bounty Hunter or Don Imus or the West Memphis Police Department, it's kind of stupid...and the nature of the world today. But to ask us to redefine Holiness just because it might embarass the church....that's not just stupid, it's dangerous.

Alex Marshall

I loved the analogy, Jeff!!

Usually what we mean by hermeneutics is methods/theories on how to interpret the Bible. More technically, its a field of study about how we find meaning in some media (in the study of the Bible, is the meaning based on our "reader-response" or is there some objective truth found by examining the text in a historical-grammatical context?). The principles apply to any type of media, as best I can tell, whether it be Bible or the Constitution or a movie or a work of literature.

When you look at any media (say a work of literature, for instance), there are a variety of things it could mean. It could be an allegory, which would mean its symbolic of something. It could be a historical account, the events actually happened. It could be thematic, the meaning is primarily in the theme and not the details. And we could find lots of other potential meanings. Hermeneutics is basically about figuring out which of those possible meanings are the best based on a particular method of examining the "text."

So a hermeneutic of embarrassment would mean that we are eliminating possible meanings because they are "embarrassing." When looking at the Bible, this is probably not the best method.


Hi Alex,
So, just so I understand, we're taking the hermeneutic of embarassment in the same vein as the hermeneutic of allegory, or hermeneutic of history, etc? (I think what threw me was the use of the word. I'm such a word-geek....so hermeneutic is a noun?)

Alex Marshall

Yes, its a noun, I think (correct me if I'm wrong, Jim).

And yes, we would be talking in the same vein as hermeneutic of allegory, etc.

So did my explanation make sense?

Jim Fleming

Nice explanation! Yes, "hermeneutics" is a noun. Check out the postscript.


What I took from Maier's comment, "the eschatology they are foisting on the world is simply embarrassing to the church.", was that their interpretation being foisted:

{foist (foist) tr.v. foist·ed, foist·ing, foists
1. To pass off as genuine, valuable, or worthy}

is embarrassing because it's so off the mark from the art and science of Biblical interpretation. We should be embarrassed anytime someone stands up and passes half-truth or untruth off as truth in the name of God. I'm embarrassed for the Church every time I channel surf onto the Trinity Broadcasting Network. The world sees that as an example of Christianity and it is far from the truth. This End Times view is being preached as gospel by several hosts on that network. When someone reads the Bible and the newspaper side by side to base their world view and life around "prophetic" events they have been told are happening today, that's dangerous. If something is untrue and being passed of as Biblical truth we should at the least be embarrassed but more appropriately be outraged. I'm not saying that their views are heretical but they are not 100% creditable once viewed through a more exhaustive study of the scripture. I highly recommend the Hanegraaff book on the subject. I look forward to a study at CBC on this subject. Thanks Jim for the blog and your input each day. It is a blessing.


I think R.C. Sproul said it nicely when he wrote: "Laymen often complain that theologians use too many big words. Technical jargon is often baffling and irritating. Technical terms can be used not so much to communicate more accurately but to guard our statements from being too easily misunderstood or to impress people with our vast knowledge. On the other hand, scholars tend to develop a technical language within their field for the sake of precision not confusion. Our everyday language is used in such a broad way that our words take on meanings too elastic to be useful in precise communication.”
-R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture

Alex Marshall

Scott, I have one word of caution for you. No one ever has a view on scripture that is "100% creditable once viewed through a more exhaustive study of the scripture." There's simply too much there, and every time you study a passage again, you discover new things that may change what you understood the passage to mean, which could have a ripple effect that changes your understanding of several things and maybe even your stance on a major doctrine. Its not always that extreme, but our understanding of scripture is constantly changing as we learn more, or at least it should be if we are really allowing scripture to speak for itself rather than trying to read it through a lens of our preconceived doctrinal ideas. While we should not give approval, I agree, to someone using sloppy hermeneutics to come up with a really questionable interpretation that gets taught as "truth," we need to be careful to not think that our interpretations are completely solid either. Hermeneutics is partly a science, but much more an art because we can always improve on our interpretations. Make sense?


I agree.
I did not mean to state that Hanks or anyones views were 100% creditable. I probably should have stated that that particular view was far from it in my opinion. This is what I love about Biblical interpretation, we the finite are debating something written by God who is infinite. Thanks to everyone for participating. I think that a study of this subject would be a lot of fun and sharpen us all.

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