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Friday, July 22, 2005

Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic

A few years ago I learned that I have a Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic. (Not to worry. They tell me that with surgery and proper medication it can be treated.) A hermeneutic is the “lens” we look through to read scripture. This lens involves our understanding of God and his purposes in giving Scripture. It involves our perceptions of the authors. It involves cultural assumptions we bring to the text from our own experience. We all engage in hermeneutics but we usually do it without reflection. It is taken for granted.

Years ago I began to realize that theologically conservative Christians and liberal Christians have something in common. Their hermeneutics assume Scripture is static. The conservative perspective views Scripture as a once and for all time “blueprint” for humanity. It is often referred to as a “manual for living” or “God’s plan” for our lives. In my estimation, there is often a lack of appreciation for cultural context within this perspective.

The liberal wing of the church tends to see Scripture as a collection of inspired (if that) human documents written by fallible authors. Scripture offers us very general principles about things like love and worship, but it is not much use for giving guidance in contemporary living. Human reason and knowledge have advanced so far beyond biblical understandings that all we can truly glean are the broadest of principles. We place ourselves above Scripture to interpret it. In my estimation, this perspective lacks appreciation of the divinely inspired nature and preservation of Scripture. It undercuts the authority it has over our lives.

My concern with both of these perspectives is that they are static and not dynamic. William J. Webb is the one I stole the “Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic” label from. He uses an “XYZ” formula.

X stands for the particular culture context a Scripture passage was written in.
Y stands for the concrete words of Scripture and the ethic they teach in contrast to culture.
Z stands for the ultimate ethic the God intends for eternity.

Redemptive-Movement begins with the creation and fall. It understands God to be redeeming humanity and creation over time, until one day all realms will be united under his authority. There is a progression, not a flip of a switch, from fall to full redemption. God is shaping things toward a predetermined end.

Therefore, when I read a passage of Scripture, I have three questions to keep in front of me.

Question X - What was the nature and practice of the surrounding culture?
Question Y – What exactly is the biblical passage saying and how does that contrast with the surrounding culture?
Question Z – What is the ultimate ethic to which the biblical passage is pointing?

Just a quick example.

(X) The “seven-fold vengeance” said that what ever wrong you do to me I will repay seven times worse. This excessive vengeance was prevalent in the ancient Middle-East.

(Y) God gave Moses the commandment to limit vengeance to “an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

(Z) Jesus told us to love our enemies.

The “eye for an eye” standard was to limit violence. It was not the ultimate standard but it pointed us in the direction of the ultimate standard. To act on an “eye for an eye” mentality now would be a regression from the standard.

The ultimate ethic as clearly articulated in Scripture for this issue. This is not the case on many other issues. For instance, no where in Scripture does it explicitly say to end slavery and there were slaves in New Testament churches. To return to New Testament ethics would be a reversion from an ultimate ethic.

My aim in following posts is to think about globalization using this hermeneutic.

(William Webb’s “Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis” is where a first read the term redemptive-movement hermeneutic. He also wrote a summary article of this concept in “Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy,” Chapter 23.)

1 Comments:

At July 23, 2005 12:03 AM, Anonymous will spotts said...

Interesting approach. I'm curious how you'll apply this.

I'm not persuaded that we know a whole lot more today than the original audience did. I've heard people argue, for instance, that New Testament era people could believe in a Virgin birth because they didn't understand reproduction as well as we do. Excuse me, but this is a horrible mis-estimation of the capacities, intelligence, and general knowledge of prior cultures. As long as people have raised animals, they understood that sex was necessary for reproduction. Similarly, for the most part they understood, even if the language was male-centered, that both parents contributed to characteristics of offspring.

I think I do tend toward more of a static viewpoint. (Just observing my own processes.)

My take on this is would be that God revealed himself in scripture progressively. But I'd still maintain that God did not change (essentially); neither did right and wrong. An example of this I would mention is that most of the teachings we associate with Jesus (in the Sermon on the Mount, for instance) have precursors in the Hebrew Bible. Many in Torah, some in Wisdom literature and the prophets. Most of the beatitudes are quotes -- Jesus is unique in proclaiming these blessings, but the reasons he gives are from the Old Testament. It was not really that unusual that Hillel asserted a form of the Golden Rule before Jesus -- as it was his summation of what Judaism taught.

Nonetheless, our understandings change -- we grow in this as individuals, and this does change our culture. Slavery is a good example. Western culture (though not large segments of the world) rejects slavery now -- when it was not greatly addressed in the Bible. (Though Paul did touch on this -- he was more concerned with how Christian slave acted, and how Christians who owned others treated them and regarded them.)

The example you give -- Lamech(?), to the Torah, to Jesus is interesting -- but I'm not sure Jesus was disputing the justice of the Torah's formulation. Its rightness or wrongness didn't change -- as much as Jesus was giving us a way past it, by denying the justice that was due us, we had a choice. It is kind of like Tevye's comment in Fiddler on the Roof -- when someone said, "An eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth" -- "Very good, soon you will have a blind and toothless world." Justice, by itself, as outlined in Torah -- is expressed negatively.

 

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