Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Literal Grammatical Historical Hermeneutic: reflections on the ‘Face’ of my responders

At first glance my ‘wonderment’ faces “the literal-grammatical-cultural-historical hermeneutic used in current Evangelical exegesis as but a modernist construct arising from the fundamentalist-theological liberalism debates of the late 19th century like that of Charles Hodge’s common sense realism.” I suggested that it issued from a modified Baconian inductivism.

Defining contours of that face include an epistemic assumption that the human intellect correctly ‘perceives’ the outside world as an object of *sense* experience. That objective experience of the world experience the world outside is how the world actually is. There is no tainting from the subject’s interior preconceptions. The world as perceived as object is *real,* and accessible through *common* sensate experience to all. It is an approach that lauds basic propositional thought to tease out the knowing of reality.

I used Machen, Robertonson, Hodge, Henry and will add Robert Traina, Scofield, Terry, and Zuck to the prominent list of Evangelicals who taught this approach in 20th century seminaries.

This is the first point that I am arguing.

Marc - Objection#1:

The “grammatical-historical approach has been around for quite sometime…long before modernity” ergo “a clear defeater of your argument.’

Dico (I say):

It seems you have equivocated by: (1) dropping the term ‘literal” justifying the move by determining the term “literal” as vague so as to drop the notion (making it easier to comport) (2) comporting the sense of “historical-grammatical method” of those in antiquity like Augustine with modernity’s version of the “literal grammatical historical” method. In doing so, you have shifted the meaning of the sense of the phrase of used by E-LHG to advantage your argument in antiquity.

First, assertion of the vagueness “literal” as was common parlance in the mid to latter part of the 20th century understood by those teaching exegesis is truly questionable. A common Evangelical textbook for interpretation of the time, Mickelson-“Interpreting the Bible, defines “literal” as the “customary meaning of a word in its context” and then uses “literal” in his methodology for exegesis (p. 33, 211). The common parlance of “literal” in *L*HG context is not vague, rather it is quite clear.

Second, Augustine did not eschew allegorical or mystical methods in interpretation but combines methods to understand what is in the text-grammar-history (mostly Latin texts). The face of Evangelical hermeneutics is different. The E-LHG does not employ allegorical or mystical methods. My most important rejoinder if however, that my musing posits the characteristics and univocity of common sense realism as the construct wherein the LHG Evangelical hermeneutics finds its source and method. This posit was not addressed prima facie. My ‘argument’ seems to have been diverted toward appeals to antiquity instead.

Marc – Objection#2:

My query as to strands of the Evangelical LGH method’s of realism voiced in modernity have echoes from voices of antiquity and was (1) ambiguous, and (2) supports the fact that the source of the LHG method was voiced earlier thus my argument of of univocal Baconian/positivistic fails.


The response of ambiguity has some merit since I gave little support for my assertion. My point is that “there is nothing new under the sun.” The Pharisees and Sadducees did and taught a ‘univocal’ style of LGH methodology. It was precisely what Jesus faced and transcended. Jesus taught of the importance jots and tittles of the Law but not the univocal reduction of it to propositional rationalization. Respect was given for the jots and tittles but only as symbols pointing to another world (a spiritual world-Beryaev/Rahner) that transcended the common sense understanding that stopped at the voice of rationation alone. I assume history repeats itself and the pendulum of extreme allegorical methods to extreme wooden literalism in response and vice versa will continue as well. Certainly, elements of LGH method have been voiced in antiquity. But the kernel of the critique of my argument is attached to “univocity.” I have situated the voicing of the 20th century Evangelical LHG (E-LGH) method within the contours of common sense realism. I don’t deny that Marc’s argument regarding the univocity or plurivocity as having *similar* characteristics along with other voices in antiquity, that they have existed or that there is a connection. I would even assert that there is. It is called dynamic tradition

The points missed in the critique of my assertion and in most of the discussion are (1) the characteristics of the brand of E-LHG method *are* that of common sense realism, (2) the method in the milieu of modernity has an erroneous penchant toward univocity as solely *being* the means of divining truth and meaning in text through common sense alone, and (3) the method is important and valuable *when voiced in harmony* with other methods in the search for understanding. If you look at the narrative section of my first post, I am not asserting all voices but rather voices affirmed as we reflect the image of God emotionally, spiritually, communally, traditionally, mystically, as well as corporeally/rationally (common sense-wise). Herein, lays an equivocal correction to the drift toward univocity inherent in modernity’s construction of reality and that the LHG method should it forget from whence it came. For Western Seminary’s mid 70’s-80’s brand See


Is LHG method a consequence of modern philosophical developments or that it’s a consequence of certain philosophical influences that have been around since the early Church and have affinities with modern philosophy?


This is a good question pleading for clarification. My answer attempts to avoid false alternatives as one should gather from my previous answers. So my answer is: yes to both. *As has been discussed, the ‘face’ of the 20th century E-LHG hermeneutic is prima facie a consequence of modern developments and that other similar voicings throughout ancient history have struggled to find correctives.* Although antiquity is interesting my primary arguments are not situated there. I suggest addressing the characteristics of common sense realism, the historical milieu of 19th-20th century dialogs and sources of the method (i.e. training of the pundits of the LHG method), and my assertions of univocity needing a plurivocal correction. Therein lies my argument.


The way I’m reading you is that you see a both/and relative to antiquity voicings and the univocity in the modern. Even so, what’s your point? Is it in fact that you hold that there are many ways to get at the meaning of the text (from a philosophical interpretive and methodological vantage point)? If so, I’m left scratching my head — viz. because of the various and disparate philosophies that shape the multitudinous panacea of available hermeneutical options that furnish the exegetical landscape.


E-LHG method is “one way of saying being” amidst many ways (William Desmond-Philosophy and Its Others). The method is useful and ready-in-hand as a tool to unlock one of the bolts in order to enter the ‘Doors of the Sacred ’ (to mine Moria in Tolkien speak). It is not the only voicing needed to open that door, however. Exegesis emerges from a dynamic plurivocity where the Triune God conducts the voices from the middle (the metaxu to use William Desmond speak). He as Conductor leads to conscious emergence of exegetical significance and meaning.” The various and disparate philosophies that voice a panacea of options are removed from the choir as God- the conductor in the middle brings the spirit of truth to bear upon the voicings of tradition, salvation history, peace within the emotional-rational discourse, and agapaic character to corporeal practice.

Bobby-Objection#2: The matrix of E-LHG method by nature is exclusive


I don’t think the Evangelical LGH by necessity must be exclusive. I do think that given its modernist common sense realism orientation and the matrix through which it was shaped there is suspicion when called to co-operate with other models of interpretation. This is one consequence of the univocal and exclusivist *character* of modernity’s scientific meta-narrative wherein the E-LHG method was formed (see: Lyotard’s intro The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge). I am suggesting that there was character leakage of the scientific meta-narrative contaminated the E-LGH method with a similar closed-ness when faced with critique (hence the pejorative stereotype “fighting fundy”).

The E-LGH, if can be heard as the rational voice that is part of human psychofacticity in Viktor Frankl’s sense, then it can be harmonized with other voicings and their co-participation in hermeneutical activity. I suggested that the E-LGH method is primary to approaching the door of the sacred in the western world. It may even be universal since sense experience filtered through the bottleneck of our subjectivity is part of our essentia (Neo-Thomistically speaking). The correction within my construct when voicing the E-LGH is (1) recognition of the common sense realism character, (2) restraint from univocity, and (3) harmonization with other voices under the ‘conducting’ of God.

Finally, my correction issues from questions that disturb my waters. For instance, I wonder if the leakage of scientific exclusivism toward other ways of saying being has led to a narrowing to less transcendent ways of asking and thus answering certain questions. By this I wonder if a univocal E-LHG method asks and answers in ways that aren’t necessarily appropriate or driven by the “text-grammar-historical” locus?

Let me trot out a sacred cow for an example: the creation, intelligent design, theistic evolution or whatever you want to call it discussion. What if the *proper* inclusion of voices of ‘living symbol-mystery’ have been neglected? What if the consequence of such neglect results in the wrong question being raised and therefore the wrong answers being *bound-to-be-given* (hyphenated in the givenness of Heidegger)? What if the locus of the discussion is not found in common sense reality at all? What if the locus of the question really resides in the “who” not “how” and thus the answer resides in the mystery of worship?

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