her⋅me⋅neu⋅tics [hur-muh-noo-tiks, -nyoo-]
–noun (used with a singular verb)
1. the science of interpretation, esp. of the Scriptures.
2. the branch of theology that deals with the principles of Biblical exegesis.
Previously I wrote about this subject and the focus was on ‘Homerneutics‘, the practice of reading your own meaning into a text of Scripture.
This time we’re looking at a related methodology which I think can be illustrated by a character from the movie, The Castle. The character Dennis Denuto is a very average suburban lawyer who determines that the best course of appealing against a land acquisition is by referencing the Australian Constitution. When the presiding magistrate asks him which part of the Constitution he is referring to Denuto replies: “In summing up, it’s the Constitution, it’s Mabo, it’s justice, it’s law, it’s the vibe and — No, that’s it.
It’s the vibe!”
There are those who purport to teach the Bible, but who are simply appealing to the ‘vibe’ of the book. Such messages will usually be based on a subject or theme, but when you’re finished you’ll struggle to recall an actual Bible passage that you understand better than you did at the beginning.
Messages (it’s hard to call them ‘sermons’) of this type differ from topical sermons.
A topical or thematic sermon will identify a particular subject and examine biblical teaching on that subject from a variety of texts. In doing so the preacher will attempt to demonstrate how that subject has developed during the time-line represented by Scriptural revelation. Or they may gather and summarise relevant information on a particular topic. Both types of topical sermons are valid.
The reason why they do not feature so much in evangelical/reformed pulpits is due to the fact that topical preaching, by its nature, is reliant on the preacher’s (or the congregation’s) preferences for that which they want to hear (or not). Consecutive expositional preaching takes God’s Word and the text imposes the agenda, rather than the agenda having to seek a text.
Anyway, a speaker utiliysing ‘Deneutics’, doesn’t really teach from the Scripture, he makes his points, sometimes while holding a closed Bible in his hand, and simply appeals to the nature of the Kingdom of God or God’s Fatherhood as being sufficient to ground what has been claimed. It’s the vibe of the thing that counts.
Sometimes real biblical principles will be used as starting points, but then extrapolations will be made without any biblical evidence at all.
For example, there is a biblical imperitive for Christians, those called into God’s family to care for one another’s needs. The reality of faith has to be demonstrated in the individual’s behaviour. The New Testament affirms this time and again. Jesus said ‘By this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another.’ The apostolic church shared as people had need. James tells us that: ‘Faith without works is dead’. Paul commended the churches for contributing toward their poorer brethren.
This is no surprise. Throughout the Old Testament God admonished His people again and again for failing to link their actions and their professions.
Some might contend that separating worshipping behaviour and ethical practice is a cultural phenomenon. That there is a difference between Hebrew and Greek understandings of the unity between belief and action. Somehow these folk seen to overlook the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Scriptures directly address Hebrew people failed to grasp their own cultural understanding. When Jesus said that the greatest commandment was the Shema and that people were to love the Lord their God with all their heart, souls, minds and strength He was quoting Hebrew Scriptures to Hebrews. They struggled to get it. The Bible testifies that this ignorance is a human phenomenon. Biblical preaching will challenge it again and again, lest it take root in the behaviour of redeemed people. (As it might, hence the prevalent teaching against it in the New Testament)
It should not be a surprise that faith communities of Christians living in personal integrity will be effective witnesses. It’s really quite obvious. Inconsistent Christians will have a weakened witness. They will also lack warmth and love in their local church.
But ‘Deneutics’ will want to introduce a further idea and do so by tagging it onto the legitimate contention.
For example it may be stated that living in the consistent Christiam manner described above creates a spiritual deposit over cities. Over the unconverted communities in which we live. What is a spiritual deposit anyway? What difference does it make? Will more people be saved because of it? Does it make the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ and converting power of the Holy Spirit more effectual? (Is it affected by a Global Financial Crisis)
Where does such a teaching come from? Is there a Bible passage that supports it? Well, no, apparently, “it’s the vibe and — No, that’s it. It’s the vibe!”
The problem with ‘Deneutics’ is that it seems to seamlessly place what the Bible does say and what the speaker wants the Bible to say on the same level. Instead of stopping where the Bible stops the speaker has added something that they either have to admit does not have Scriptural authority or attempt to give it quasi-biblical authority.
The Scriptures are sufficient. The saving power of God is sufficient. Why not leave it at that?
I’d say more, but I think you’ve got the vibe of ‘Deneutics’ by now.
2 thoughts on “The Hermeneutics of ‘The Castle’”
This is all well and good, but just perhaps you have not considered the positive role of “deneutics”. Have you considered that the WCF #1 may be referring to the “vibe” of scripture when it refers to such intangibles as “the heavenliness of the matter” the “consent of all the parts” and “the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God,) …
These are useful.
In this sense, then, knowledge of the “vibe” of Scripture may well serve as a helpful restraint, whereby error is not followed, and not accepted no matter how plausibly the errant uses a particular scripture passage as “proof”. The believer, being immersed in the “vibe” of scripture by virtue of slow steady reading of Scripture may just know that what is being presented is wrong, without being able to rationally identify why it is so. In this sense, “Deneutics” is a good thing. 🙂
I guess what I’m looking for in preaching, in contrast to group or personal Bible study or catechism, is that the listeners would be able to go away thinking that they understood a particular passage of the Bible more clearly for having heard the sermon.
Practically I’m coming to appreciate the idea of preaching expositionally in the morning and topically from catechism or confession in the evening as a balance of appreciating specific texts and the broader testimony (the vibe?) of Scripture.
Thanks for your thoughts.