Seminaries are Textual Communities, Vanhoozer Says in Annual Norton Lectures
A seminary should foster a culture of theological reading that will help form Bible-literate disciples, theologian Kevin Vanhoozer told the Southern Seminary community at the annual Norton Lecture Series, held September 12–14 in Heritage Hall.
Vanhoozer is Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is the author or editor of more than 20 books, including Is There a Meaning in this Text?; The Drama of Doctrine; Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine; and Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity.
He delivered three lectures on “Mere Hermeneutics: A Proposal for Transfiguring Biblical Interpretation.”
Battles over what it means to be biblical have raged throughout church history. But Vanhoozer’s proposal of “Mere Hermeneutics” attempts to unite Christians over a shared understanding of biblical interpretation. The interpretive key, according to Vanhoozer, views the redemptive storyline of Scripture as the primary frame of reference for interpreting the Bible.
“We as Bible readers not only need to test the spirits but we must test the hermeneutics,” said Vanhoozer. “The Bible is a human instrument in what is ultimately divine discourse, and we should approach it that way. The Bible is God’s personal address to his chosen people and contains everything we need to know as God’s people to become a holy nation.”
Mere Christian Hermeneutics, therefore, focuses on the response of the reader as well as the meaning of the text. Readers should become like Christ and expect to encounter him through a right interpretation of Scripture, he said.
“Seminaries should cultivate biblical literacy—teaching what every Christian needs to know to read the bible rightly,” said Vanhoozer. “A seminary is a reading culture to create disciples who are literate citizens of the gospel. Disciples who know how to follow Jesus and represent him on earth as he is in heaven.”
To read the Bible rightly requires a theological reading of Scripture that presupposes a Christ-centered frame of reference. As divine speech, believers should read the Bible as authoritative, as communicating the light and knowledge of God.
Said Vanhoozer, “Biblical interpretation is an uphill climb. The mountaintop is the place where one is most likely to hear the voice of God. We read Scripture to hear, know, and meet God. We must get the text right and then read God’s word in a way that we can stand in the light and become children of light.”
Vanhoozer pointed out two dangers common with theological readings of Scripture.: limiting the divine or theological layer to the text or drifting into allegory by straying from the literal meaning of the words.
“Biblical scholars who deny theological interpretation or ignore biblical authority are each dangerous because they reflect the cultural currents of the day,” said Vanhoozer. “Mere hermeneutics calls for a reform of reading culture. We need better habits of reading that are theological and faithful to the text of Scripture.”
As a textual community, seminary students need to know how to read the Bible literally and theologically by applying systematic and biblical studies. A theological reading of Scripture in the community of faith is the only means to understand the Bible in its most glorious sense—accounting for the human and divine authorship.
“The literal sense of Scripture is not merely earthbound, but theological and Christ bound. Good figural reading extends the literal sense and bad figurative reading subverts the literal sense. We come to understand what Scripture is truly about only in the community of faith.”