Hermeneutics and Blue Parakeets: Further Reading; How to Teach Hermeneutics

bible.jpgIt’s time to move on — because I’ve run out of book. But there is, of course, much more that could be said on hermeneutics.

I’m going to repeat some things I’ve said in the comments to make sure no one misses these points. 

If you’re serious about learning hermeneutics, I can’t recommended highly enough John Mark Hicks’ recent posts on narrative hermeneutics. They are very good.

Theological Hermeneutics (1234566b78910)

Applied Theological Hermeneutics [“It Ain’t That Complicated”] (123456)

And I need to mention my own series from a while back on hermeneutics. My series is broader than what we’ve discussed in the Blue Parakeet series, but the two fit together well.

Next, I want to add a thought or two on teaching hermeneutics. The fact of the matter is I don’t think I’ve ever taught a class on hermeneutics … well, not for nearly 30 years. I think one of the first classes I ever taught was on hermeneutics, but I got away from it. However, I’m confident my students have a solid hermeneutic.

You see, I teach hermeneutics as I go through whatever scripture I’m teaching. I explain why my reading differs from traditional reading. I don’t usually even use the word “hermeneutics.” Rather, I just say you have to understand the story of the Bible to get this verse right, tell the story, and explain how it all fits. After a few classes, the students can do it for themselves without having any kind of a system or a theory. They learn by example.

Now, I’m not at all opposed to teaching hermeneutics in a classroom setting. It’s just that you have to unlearn so much bad doctrine to be open to good hermeneutics that ,by the time I get the bad doctrine expunged, we’ve pretty well made the key hermeneutical points along the way. 

In theory, you can’t interpret the scriptures without a sound hermeneutic. But in practice, you can’t develop a sound hermeneutic without knowing the Bible. 

Therefore, I don’t think it’s possible to entirely separate doctrine and hermeneutics. Rather, they are hand in glove. And, therefore, the only way to teach hermeneutics and the only way to teach doctrine is to teach them together. It’s what we math people call “successive approximation.” Each corrects the other and each builds on the other, and with repeated readings of the Bible, you get better at both — so long as you have a good start, which comes from having good mentors and teachers.

In other words, if you teach a class on grace, you’ll be teaching hermeneutics as you go whether you mean to or not. And if you teach a proper class on hermeneutics, you’ll be teaching grace as you go, whether you mean to our not. Ultimately, the distinction between hermeneutics and doctrine is somewhat artificial. We aren’t smarter than God, and we need to let God himself tell us how to read his word. You see, the instructions are included.

Which brings us to how to teach grace (with hermeneutics included).

In a moderate or conservative congregation, I’d probably start with class like this one: http://oneinjesus.info/2007/02/10/an-idea-for-teaching-a-class-on-grace/. The idea is to give the class an anonymous survey on various controversial doctrinal questions. In most churches, the class will be surprisingly divided.

You see, in my experience, most legalists think that everyone thinks just like them. When you use the survey described in the link to show how much disagreement there really is, you open the discussion for how do we know which issues are salvation issues and which are not? Obviously, perfect agreement is impossible — so we either damn all our fellow class members or admit that God grants some grace on some doctrinal issues.

And you go from there. My class notes on grace are filed under Amazing Grace. 

I wouldn’t get into baptism for a while if I could help it, because it so identifies our sense of identity, making it very emotional. People have to grow into that one, I think. I did. The material in that series is likely too extensive for a first class on grace. The first several lessons will likely be enough.

Now, once you lay a foundation of grace, I’d work on the Regulative Principle (if the class is old enough to think in those terms. Younger classes typically find the whole argument absurd.) The Regulative Principle is the false hermeneutic that all that’s unauthorized is prohibited. Those notes are at http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/the-regulative-principle/.

Now, it would take a year to cover all this material. And, yes, I’ve taught it here in Tuscaloosa, more than once. But with experience I’ve learned to customize the material to the class. Some classes need to hear it two or three times to grasp it — the news is too good to believe! Other classes find it so obvious that they think I’m wasting their time! (younger classes, as a rule).

And I’d certainly mix into the classes the material on missional Christianity. You have to rather frequently draw practical conclusions — not just doctrinal conclusions. And the material on God’s mission gets you there quickly. http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/missional-christianity/

Grace makes better sense and become more important as we learn to think graciously about the world that surrounds us.

It would take quite a while just to read the material at the links I’ve referenced. And I wouldn’t teach all that material at once. But I would build much of into a curriculum over time — perhaps a few years, depending on the church.

The best way to do that, I think, is explained at —

Three Ways to Organize an Adult Bible Department

Preliminary Thoughts on a New Approach to Adult Education

These posts describe how we’re doing adult education at my church. Three quarters out of four, all the adult teachers teach the same material. We meet on Wednesday nights and I teach the teachers. We discuss the material, and then each teacher teaches according to his own talent and style. 

In the summers, we reorganized topically to pick up subjects not suitable for all classes, such as marriage or parenting.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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