Response to “Can This Be Adventism?”

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the recent article entitled, “Can This Be Adventism?”. Overall, I do not believe that the article represents a fair picture, because I actually resonate with the author’s basic concern regarding hermeneutics—our biblical hermeneutics must be Christological, open for discussion and transparent. So, I am puzzled by the portrait of me as being against serious discussion of hermeneutics. I think that the way forward with regard to hermeneutics is to sit down, listen carefully to each other, and then talk and write.

The truth is that I do not recognize myself in the picture the author is painting. My decision is taken out of context and put into an overall negative construct suggesting that the Seminary, and I in particular, are against a public discussion on biblical hermeneutics. This assumption is far from true. The Seminary convenes various programs, colloquia, conferences, etc., and conferences are lined up for many years ahead. This year we will hold a conference on Jesus and Politics, and we are finalizing plans for upcoming conferences on Discipleship; Social Justice; Adventist Identity and Biblical Hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is actually one of the issues at the top of my list to address in a Seminary conference, but different Seminary departments have their priorities too, and we decide together the topics to be presented.

There are many different ways to initiate and be part of the conversation on hermeneutical issues, so if one of the venues is not available right away (for various reasons), why not use another? For example, even though I was also not invited to write a chapter for the Biblical Research Institute (BRI) book on hermeneutics, I understand that editors have to make choices, sometimes even tough decisions and can’t involve all possible authors. I am sure that BRI will welcome book reviews, reflections and reactions after the volume is published.

My concerns about hermeneutics go beyond rote assumptions. I have just finished lecturing on Biblical Hermeneutics for sixteen bright Andrews University doctoral students. During this two-week intensive course, we struggled with biblical as well as contemporary issues on the basis of relational and principled-based hermeneutics. We were focused on building Christ-centered, as well as Trinity-centered hermeneutics, and made clear differences between literal, literalistic and figurative meanings of the biblical text. The theological metanarrative rooted in history and the context of the studied text with its literary structure formed our framework. I often used phrases like “be consistent,” or “be brutally honest,” with your conclusions, processes, and constructs. Rather than questioning the truth of the biblical text, I argued that one should “criticize and heavily question” one’s own presuppositions, pre-understandings, assumptions, and worldview. The biblical text, i.e. God’s revelation, must inform our processes and ultimately be the basis for deciding whether our conclusions are sound.

I am not naïve. Even the best organized conferences do not solve the problem we face in the Church regarding the interpretation of the Bible. However, I do believe that each step toward this goal is helpful and worth our effort. Our understanding of biblical hermeneutics (whether well informed and educated, or implicit and unexamined) permeates all we do. Our actions reveal what kind of hermeneutical system we advocate, and it will be well for us all to continue the dialogue in a spirit of collegiality.

This article was written by Jiří Moskala, Dean, SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University. Image from unsplash.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9747
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Jiri, thanks for the above quote and article. The variance between “Liberal/progressive” and “conservative” biblical hermeneutics over the last 150 yrs. and the drift away from a “conservative” is over this and the attitude in which one approaches scripture.
A professor of mine Bruce Walke, then at RTS, used to visit ATS to help evaluate your doctorate students and program. This was his expressed method also. Keep up the faith. I somehow hope that someday the exegesis there will not be guided/informed by EGW eisegesis and thus the Bible +.
Regards
Pat

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Jiří,

Your reply is encouraging. If you and perhaps and others at the Seminary are now open to an explicitly Christocentric account of hermeneutics, and certainly open to public discussion of the issue, then the Seminary can be the catalyst–for the Adventist public–that I have so far failed to be. I can certainly name people–people not myself–who should be invited into such public conversation.

As for the importance of such conversation, it remains a fact, as I indicated, that after the 2015 General Conference promise to give fresh consideration to hermeneutics between then and 2020, the Adventist Society of Religious Studies (ASRS) voted down a proposal to recommend to church officials an explicitly Christological revision of our current Fundamental Belief. Many Adventist theologians, it appears, need to be confronted with truly candid conversation about these matters, and many thoughtful laypersons would be eager, I am sure, to hear, and perhaps even participate in, such conversation. It may be, of course, that the Christocentric view to which I also am committed would, in the course of such conversation, be shown to be misleading, but that risk is certainly worth taking.

You will perhaps forgive me if I don’t feel terrific about being charged with having mischaracterized the Seminary. (I did not in fact even characterize the Seminary as a whole, but you took that to be the effect of what I said.) I repeatedly reached out to you. Repeatedly I did not hear back, except when, finally, your assistant passed along, by email, your view that this was not the right time for the public discussion of these matters. The one time I chatted with you personally–it was in an informal setting, and perhaps you were rushed–you showed no interest. Considering that the Biblical Research Institute (BRI)–an institutional arm of what everyone knows is a highly fundamentalist General Conference administration–is moving ahead with a book that will be rather like an “official” account, I just did not grasp why you thought this time was the wrong time. I apparently inferred from what you passed on more than is fully justifiable.

But I am happy that you and the Seminary are more open than the impression I left may indicate, and wonder what you think the next step should be.

Chuck

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Hmmm, this is interesting… I am having difficulty, of course, reconciling your facts with Jiří’s facts. I hope he engages in the conversation with you here since he appears very open to a public dialogue. Thus, I am sure, everything will be properly clarified. :+1:

(It’s interesting that he and I are both Czechs, and our first names (in Czech) are exactly the same.)

Thank you Spectrum for a fuller (second) picture of “Can This Be Adventism”
and the discussion about hermeneutics.
Enhancing clarity is always a positive.

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Chuck, my experience with “progressives” is they are very loose with details. They often do not give an accurate portrayal of an opposing view rather mischaracterizing it on some point of intent or context.
They then construct their argument against sort of a perjorative strawman representation favoring the acceptance of their desired outcome.
But, that’s just my observation.
Kiri has suggested listening and then writing. I concur and make sure the opposite view is correctly characterized and documented. Then and only then proceed with the presentation of opposing views where they exist.

Kiri, please note my comment to Scriven’s comment to you.
Listening and accurately representing the other view without pejorative language BEFORE proceeding with opposing views.

From the Protestant Reformation to the 19th century there were three kinds of hermeneutics-- hermeneutica sacra (Scripture), hermeneutica profana (the Classics), and hermeneutica juridica (law). Hermeneutica sacra was considered an auxiliary of theology. Because most of Scripture was regarded as clear as per Claritas Scriptura, you only needed hermeneutics for the rare texts in Scripture that were deemed obscure. Hermeneutica sacra was little more than a collection of fragmentary rules of interpretation for those obscure texts.

Schleiermacher turned all of this upside down. He correctly bemoaned that Scripture, the Classics, and law each have different kinds of hermeneutics. And he correctly bemoaned that each of these “special hermeneutics” was little more than a collection of fragmentary rules of interpretation. He envisioned a “general hermeneutics” that is a universal theory of understanding. Most important, he recognized that nothing is clear, nothing is plain, and consequently, hermeneutics should be indispensable to our interpretation and understanding.

Because of Schleiermacher’s influence, hermeneutics has since become a multi-disciplinary undertaking. Whereas the natural sciences are governed by the scientific method, the human sciences are governed by hermeneutics. Hermeneutics does not merely address methodological considerations in the interpretation of a text but also focuses on how we understand, and more fundamentally, how we function as humans. We see that hermeneutics takes a turn away from methodology toward philosophy with Gadamer in the early 20th century.

The Seminary does not teach the universal hermeneutics that hermeneutics has come to be since Schleiermacher. Instead, what is taught is hermeneutica sacra. As you read the Seminary bulletin, you will see classes on doctrines, foreign language classes, some archaeology classes, some classes about the historical context of the biblical writings, and a small class on hermeneutics/inspiration, all of which underscores the traditional pre-Schleiermacher perspective that hermeneutics is an auxiliary to theology. And in that small class on hermeneutics/inspiration, the standard literature on hermeneutics will not be read or discussed. In reality, theology and all of the other human sciences are subsidiary disciplines of what hermeneutics has come to be. Exegesis is merely theology’s contribution to hermeneutics but is not the entirety of the hermeneutical endeavor. You can be a brilliant exegete and not understand the meaning of the biblical text.

To illustrate, if you do not understand linguistics, you will superimpose upon the biblical text a theory of language that is incorrect, will struggle with thought/word inspiration issues, and will overvalue grammatical analysis. If you do not understand history, you will superimpose upon the biblical text a historiographical approach to the past that the biblical authors do not adopt, and as a result, will misinterpret their representation of the past. If you do not understand law, you will superimpose upon the biblical text a theory of law that is formalistic rather than realistic, that is Platonist rather than historically conditioned, and you will as a result have a warped understanding of God’s law, as it were. I could continue to move from one human science to the next.

In fairness, what I have written about the Seminary’s approach to hermeneutics is an overstatement. Because theology has been bombarded by a universal hermeneutics during the last 50 years, a lot of what hermeneutics has come to be seeps into the classroom. Resources are scarce; there is so much for the Seminary to teach and so little time to do it. And hermeneutica sacra, limited as it is, should be taught. Our Seminary professors, many of whom I know personally, are very smart. We should not underestimate what they know. I think hermeneutics is best learned after one receives a terminal degree in the human sciences. In sum, I do not fault the Seminary in the slightest. I have already written a comment that describes how difficult the teaching of a universal hermeneutics would be in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I can offer one small suggestion, not to the Seminary but to students who desire to study at the Seminary. Those students should immerse themselves as much as possible in all of the human sciences on the undergrad level. For example, instead of taking yet another religion class on church doctrines, the student should take a class on literary criticism. That class on literary criticism will be much more valuable than the religion class on church doctrines to one who desires to become a skillful interpreter of the biblical text.

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I would suggest that Schleirmacher was part of the problem. Not the solution. :slight_smile:

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1QOL
Patrick Travis
Chuck, my experience with “progressives” is they are very loose with details. They often do not give an accurate portrayal of an opposing view rather mischaracterizing it on some point of intent or context.
They then construct their argument against sort of a pejorative strawman representation favoring the acceptance of their desired outcome.
But, that’s just my observation.

Patrick, I think your valid observation applies to “progressives” and conservatives.
We are all ‘tarred with the same brush’ and being human we share similarly flawed
dispositions.
Except for the grace of God, there go I. [Guilty in many instances!]
What’s your ‘take’?
P.S. MJ’s article seems a very measured and considerate response to
the original one - “Can this be Adventism?”.

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I concur, too. However, implying that Chuck Scriven’s writings fall short discloses unfamiliarity with both the man and his work.

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The problem is quite simply. In today’s climate is is a fools error to openly speak truth to power. True scholars are a serious risk to speak candidly when judged against a century old master of cut and paste theology by one who has but a doctorate in nursing and a inherited purge mentality. Certainly not when testosterone is the test of competence.

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Reading and speaking from a lay person’s perspective; and being several notches below the pay scale of those making hermeneutical decisions, this comment makes the most salient point; however, I am biased. Just one class taught by Dr. Ottilie Stafford, titled “Bible as Literature” has had the most impact on many a journey through Adventism. Before we get embroiled in the various types of hermeneutics, we have to learn to read. Personal missionary tales don’t quite do the job.

When I first started teaching in an Adventist academy, I was bemused as I strolled through the library. This was in the day of card catalogues and microfische; and books made of paper, with bindings that broke from popularity of the books. What bemused me was the mentality that placed Sam Campbell type books in the BIOLOGY section; and Arthur Maxwell stories under NOVELS. Much has changed - but much has remained the same. The church school my grandson attends has replaced the library with several rows of computers, with a couple of bookshelves dedicated to the backbone of Adventist faith. Therein lies the problem with the advice that Seminary students broaden their education to include various other disciplines. If you’re studying in the Michigan Conference (and probably others) your library may not have changed much since the days of books made with paper.

The bigger point is, that we can only know, what we know - just like the computers we rely on. We must consider the source. Kids in church schools are now learning science from science books specifically produced by Adventists for Adventists, called “Science By Design”; and mission stories are still considered “literature” at some levels.

So before we start doing hermeneutics of whatever type, we need to clarify - what our aim is (bolstering Adventist doctrines, or looking for clarity); what are our sources and methods; and, what, and where from, are the credentials of those making these decisions. Based on past history… .

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Jiri,

Thank you for enlightening Spectrum readers about the efforts you are taking at the Seminary. I would love to be in your classes. The issues which you are addressing-- identity, politics, discipleship, and hermeneutics–I believe, are key to maintaining a platform in the 21st century where the Seventh-day Adventist church can grow as a relevant part of society. I am inspired that you and your colleagues recognize this and are taking steps to nurture new leaders to understand these issues.

My recent work in cultural anthropology involved asking Adventist Genocide survivors what was said in churches 25-30 years ago as the culture in Rwanda moved toward violence. Repeatedly, people cited certain Bible verses that were used by perpetrators as a justification. This, I know you would agree, must be considered hermeneutical malpractice. Yet, the solution must involve more than just training leaders in a sort of top down education effort. The idea of grappling with Bible study must be one that is accessible and attainable and made interesting to all people who join our church. This sort of effort goes to the heart of what we want to be, a fearlessly committed group of people committed to Christ and His message that will be uniquely relevant in the 21st century. With all the media platforms available, it seems that we can converse as a community about how we read the Bible. I know I learn from my Sabbath School class in Alabama, where many people do not have advanced degrees. Yet, I learn from their perspective of how a verse speaks to them.
So, perhaps Bible study serves the purpose of launching disciples instead of buttressing proofs for our precepts.

Thank you for your contributions.
Carmen Lau

I am copying a comment I made on Chuck’s article:

"Chuck,

You have brought to our attention a latent, but vital, effort. That is the project of crafting a document to which Seventh-day Adventists can refer to assist in interpreting scripture. With less than a year until the next GC, we have no idea what sort of Bible study guideline will be thrust on us. Will it be enforced in a top down coercive manner? This idea is not trivial and concern about it does not meet my definition of “catastrophizing.” Especially, for those of us who have chosen to use the Adventist education system, we wonder what sort of Biblical teaching will the children get? If we want this vision of Adventism to go forward to a new generation the way we use the Bible turns into an existential question. For a variety of reasons, the Christian cultural question of our time is, “Where now is the authority?” So, for Christians, parsing how the Bible is interpreted touches a deep need.

Some of the comments point to hermeneutics in a broader context than just the Biblical realm. This is absolutely true in our cultural moment. How does one know truth? What do words or laws or even visual images mean? It is all up for interpretation, it seems. Like someone said, “It depends on the meaning of the word, is.”

Chuck, I treasure your tenacity. Your vision is simply to have a group, or movement, that fearlessly uses a Christ centered approach to its use of the Bible. In addition, as I understand it, you are advocating that rank and file people have access to hearing/speaking/impacting such a project before it springs down on us in 11 months. I know you have cared about this and tried to facilitate this sort of simple endeavor for years. Thank you for that. You are inspiring."

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jiri, Years ago I read one of your published work. I was enlightened, and comforted that the Seminary was in good hands.

For my own, English is my only tongue. So I have Strongs, and five English versions of the Bible. of course I have Stott and others.The bottom line to me is that the Gospel is invitational and reassuring I read —come as you are and be refreshed for life’s journey at its best. The problem is the Seminary is smack dab in the middle of GC administrative witch-hunting. I was part of a panel when Don McAdams was there. It is a new world now.
I find that the abible tells me four things—Guilt, Grace, Gratitude, And Generosity.

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Schleiermacher is correctly lauded as the modern father of hermeneutics. This does not mean that I recommend his theology. And certainly there have been advances and developments in hermeneutics since Schleiermacher. There is an interesting literature in opposition to hermeneutics that you should read, but that literature fails to persuade. Some Seventh-day Adventists make arguments in opposition to hermeneutics, as the prospect that their beliefs might be shown to be hermeneutically unsound can be frightening.

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What is the specific proposal? There are a lot of times people write things that have serious problems with the statement yet give it a grand name. Congress does that a lot with their bills and then when there was something in the Bill that was bad someone votes it down and the other side says you voted against the prosperity for everyone bill, or whatever the moniker is yet that was not actually the reason something was voted down.

If this is to a: “current Fundamental Belief”, it should be pretty short, what was it?

Phil,
I suggest that in the end Scleiermacher is “the father of modern liberal hermeneutics.” God becomes unknowable to human intellect. The Bible teaches no cognitive truths. In the end, We look for God within.
No one is all wrong in some of their original intent. He was trying to make sense between the enlightenment and religion. He at first thought he was pushing back against Kant’s reducing religion to be nothing more than an ethical exercise. He ends up as Kant not accepting any objective biblical truths, no objective truths, and accepts total imminence and “feelings within” of closeness. He rejected miracles, the idea of Christ as the divine son of God. The necessity of atonement for sins. God is unknowable and can only be felt in absolute dependence.
The tension between God’s transcendence and His imminence is always a tension. The truth is best made known to us in Christ through “all scripture” that lets us know/reveals who He was and what His complete work for us is.
We learn from all well known previous theologians. We also learn what is not the “best truth.” I place Schleiermacher there and his methods that got him there as not the “best methods.”
Regards
Dt. 30: 11-20.

I think you live in bit of a bubble. I went do Adventist schools from 3rd to 16th grade, was required (forced) to take bible classes all those years, and I learned more about biblical hermeneutics from reading this Wikipedia post than I did in all those years.

Basically it was never mentioned, though a simplistic, literal, and proof-text quoting method was presented as the only way to use the bible and was used consistently all the way through my college experience at PUC - basically to steadfastly support various doctrines held dear by the church (or the professors.)

Most Adventists believe that it is perfectly reasonable to pull single sentences from any part of the bible and use them to support whatever it is they are promoting at the time. Which of course is preposterous.

While things may be different at the seminary, I have never met an Adventist preacher, starting with my own grandfather, that operated in any other way. So, whatever is happening there has been producing church workers that all appear to approach the bible in much the same way. One that I see as inferior and unenlightened when compared to other methods mentioned in the post above. And also disingenuous at its core - because while the church claims to read the bible literally, it does so only when it’s convenient.

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That’s a terrible thing. One more reason not to send your kids to Adventist schools.

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