I’ve been reading Beyond Foundationalism by Grenz and Franke (at the recommendation of Jim, I should credit him since I discussed this post with him before writing it). They offer a useful view of biblical hermeneutics that makes more sense the more I think about it. First, they emphasize the importance of approaching biblical text as text. That is, we need to interact with a text rather than with the experience of the writer or with the psyche of the writer (as historicists often suggest). Texts are slippery, shifty things. Texts change when you read them in different contexts of your personal life. Texts can be multi-layered and polysemic, and in some sense need to be approached on their own terms.
As such, Grenz and Franke emphasize the authority of the Bible as the Holy Spirit “appropriates” the text and speaks through it to a particular community. The spirit speaks through the biblical text specifically to communities in their own context. One interesting upshot of this idea is that this means the spirit can say different things to different communities through the same text. Of course, we have all experienced a text, biblical or otherwise, that had a new or different meaning in a particular circumstance. This idea makes sense with our experience. Pushed a little further, though, it means that what qualifies as “biblical truth” to one community of believers may not be the same truth as in another community. I think to some extent, this is true. After all, God’s people are called to different tasks in different times and places, and culture has changed so drastically over time, God’s commands have to change to even make sense in different contexts. For the most part I subscribe to this view.
In the next chapter Grenz and Franke write about tradition as another source through which the spirit speaks to the church (and as another source of biblical hermeneutics). I don’t feel that they entirely resolve this question though: if the spirit speaks differently to different local communities, how are we to understand our membership in the church universal? Can we learn from Christians in the past, and Christians in very different cultural situations, as we maintain that the spirit speaks to our local community through our reading of scripture, which may be different from the way the spirit speaks in other times and places?