Hermeneutics of Love

Hermeneutics of Love April 13, 2005

Alan Jacobs, in his brilliantly written and wide-ranging book, A Theology of Reading, makes a simple point that has sent my mind reeling and my heart into confession and prayer. Here it is: genuine interpretation of another’s writing is an act of love or it is an act of abuse. Either we treat the author as a person who has given voice to his or her inner heart and that we can trust, listen to, and respond to. Or, we treat that person as a duplicitous voice that we can’t trust and that we can strip in order to use for our own power.

So, we either listen to the words of Jesus or to the words of a blogger (to use two extremes) and give them our trust and respond to them, or we make of the words of Jesus or a blogger what we’d like and the latter is a form of interpersonal abuse.

To love a person is to listen to them, and to let their voice speak. To listen to a person is to let that person’s world enter into our world. When the latter happens we choose either to enhance our own life with the other person or, as Cain did to Abel, we destroy that other person to make them what we want ourselves. To treat them with love and trust is to let them be the Eikons God made them to be; to refuse to trust them and love them is to make them a golden calf which we can hammer down into our own image.

We have no other real options.

"I go to a large church and I've noticed much of the service is basically ..."

Willow Creek, What’s a Pastor?
"Hi David - I agree when you write...“I am very committed to the qualifications...”And the ..."

Willow Creek, What’s a Pastor?
"Yes, the idea that science disproves Christianity is mistaken in so many ways.What is true, ..."

Hasn’t Science Disproved Christianity? (RJS)
"Someone who will wear Saul's armor."

Willow Creek, What’s a Pastor?

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • This is very nice.I have been in dialogue with a very intelligent guy I”ve become friends with at Starbucks. He comments on my blog as “Lyricano.” One of the things that he does not buy is the way evangelicals interpret the Bible. He does not believe that we can ever arrive at the author’s orignal intention (or, probably more accurate to his thinking, we SHOULD NOT TRY to). He is more of the leaning that what’s more important is the reader’s interpretation (and, his knowing that I have postmodern philosphical leanings, he tries to get me to go along with this).Your post here on “love” as a motivator will take this dialogue to another level. Thanks.BTW, I have a question for you here.

  • I’ve been think more about this since your similar comment on my blog yesterday. I wonder if it is context related? For instance, part of the beauty of art, or of a good story, is the way it can be interpreted differently by different individuals according to what they bring to the table–er, the book, so to speak.But then, maybe that goes back to your point that this is how the author (or artist) intends for their voice to be heard… Hmmm…This reminds me a bit of John Sailhammer talking about how we approach what we are reading: is it a window, a frame, or a mirror?

  • My blogsite wasn’t working until now, so excuse the delay Rob:You are right; some works of art are intentionally poly-semic or multivalent (however the experts say these things). And, to listen to that work of art aright is to let it be different things to different people.In general, however, texts have to be taken at their word with much less intentional ambiguity and therefore literally. So, when I say “he’s alive” I don’t get to say “for me” and maybe not for others, but that “he’s really alive.”

  • This is a very good point. Years ago when I was not so smart a man I was posting a lot a Cygnus-study (“Debunking the Bible”) trying to convert to entire world to Christianity. One of the girls on the board (a pseudo Buddhist-Agnostic) told me that I would never understand here because I wasn’t listening. It really struck me hard. It was only when I stopped trying to “invent” who I thought they were that I could have a real dialogue with these people.

  • What you’ve learned, and will continue to learn, I also am learning. Listening engages the whole person, and sometimes I’m reticent to give the whole person. Thanks for your reminder.

  • Scot, recently I was reading Tom Schreiner’s “The Race Set Before Us.” Throughout he referred to your work on the warnings in Hebrews. I’m teaching through Hebrews for a high-school Sunday School class and I was wondering about where I could find your article.

  • It is in Trinity Journal, way back when. If you e-mail me through my northpark.edu site, I’ll send you a copy but be sure to give me your address.

  • Sean

    Fascinating comment Scot. I was wondering if it was a direct quote or your summary? I’ve read this book, and for the life of me can’t find the quote. Which either suggests I wasn’t paying attention, or this is your summary of his position? Do you have a page reference? Sorry to bother…