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Porter, Stanley E. and Beth M. Stovell. Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views'. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2012.*
Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views 'is a new book edited by Stanley Porter and Beth Stovell with contributions from Craig Blomberg, Richard Gaffin, Scott Spencer, Robert Wall, and Merold Westphal. The purpose of this book is for each of the scholars to make a case for their particular hermeneutical viewpoint and then use Matthew's use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2 as a test case. The second half of the book contains responses and critiques of the other four views.
The introduction, written by Porter and Stovell, provides a helpful, though brief, introduction to the history of hermeneutics with emphasis shifting from "behind the text" to "within the text" and to "in front of the text." They then provide a list of helpful hermeneutic questions (e.g. authorial intent, meaning, NT use of OT, etc.) that one should keep in mind when reading these viewpoints. The editors then introduce each of the contributors and the viewpoint that they will espouse.
Chapter 1: The Historical-Critical/Grammatical View (Blomberg)
'Blomberg argues for what he calls the "historical-critical/grammatical view." While he believes that theological and literary views are necessary (so as to avoid engaging in what he sees as a false "either-or" [or as he calls it "either-or-or-or-or"] dilemma), he believes that the historical view is logically prior and is the foundation for any other readings. Blomberg next gives an overview of what his view entails. (It may help the reader to picture building blocks or concentric circles.) You have lower criticism (i.e. textual criticism) and then higher criticism (the history behind the text). Higher criticism is a diachronic method of determining how the final text came to be the final text by using tools such as source, form, redaction, and tradition criticism. Blomberg then goes on to discuss the grammatical aspect of his view emphasizing the use of grammatical tools to understand what the words meant in that time. Blomberg summarizes his view and then uses these various tools to bring out the meaning of Matthew 2.
Chapter 2: The Literary/Postmodern View (Scott Spencer)
'In this chapter, Spencer advocates the literary/postmodern view (although Blomberg will note in his response that Spencer is on the "conservative" side of this spectrum). His view is a focus on the text itself. And he lists five important components of his view.
Final text - Spencer emphasizes the final form of the text as the text with which we work. Source criticism is, at the end of the day, theoretical and conjectural, and turns the Scriptures more into a patchwork of bits and pieces instead of focusing on the text as a complete literary unit.
Cotext - The cotext is the surrounding text within a particular pericope is found. A text always needs to be read within its cotext.
Intertext - The intertext is the other texts with which to compare a particular text (e.g. synoptic Gospels).
Context - The historical background and temporal, spatial, and cultural coordinates within which the text was written.
Open text - The text is an open text that results in a wide array and variety of perspectives (whether cultural or ideological [feminist]). However, Spencer does assert that an open text does not mean any perspective is valid, because there are constraints and limitations that the text provides because of authorial intent.
Spencer then goes on to apply these points to Matthew 2 and brings out a lot of helpful emphasis by his literary emphasis.
Chapter 3: The Philosophical/Theological View (Merold Westphal)
'This contribution by Westphal is different than the others, because Westphal makes a helpful distinction between exegesis (a first-order discipline) and hermeneutics (a second-order discipline). Westphal emphasizes the latter and not the former. Thus the chapter does not focus on how we ought to interpret the Bible but what is happening when we interpret the Bible. Thus he emphasizes many great points such as the hermeneutical circle, the authority of the author, objectivity vs. subjectivity, and the "double hermeneutic" (what it meant then and what is its implication for us today). Because he emphasizes the second-order discipline, Westphal declines on providing his interpretation of Matthew 2, but does give some helpful pointers, especially when preaching the Scriptures.
Chapter 4: The Redemptive/Historical View (Richard Gaffin)
'In this chapter Gaffin espouses the Redemptive/Historical View. Gaffin lists a couple of points describing what his view entails including the following: redemptive history is historical, it emphasizes the redemptive deeds and words of the Lord in saving his people, and that Christ is the culmination of this redemptive plan of God. Gaffin goes on to give a lengthy interpretation of Matthew 2, emphasizing the NT use of the OT, tracing redemptive themes throughout the OT, and then understanding what is happening within the text of Matthew 2.
Chapter 5: The Canonical View (Robert Wall)
'The final viewpoint is the canonical view. Building upon the work of Brevard Childs, Wall emphasizes various aspects of his view. The Bible is a: human text, sacred text, single text, shaped text, and the church's text. His view focuses more on a theological reading than a hermeneutical reading. One of the points that Wall brings out well is the emphasis on the reading of Scripture within the context of the church community, cultivating spiritual virtues which results in us better interpreting and reading the Scriptures. Just as the marks [sic. historically it is called the "attributes," not the marks, as the marks are three and from the time of the Reformation] of the church are "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic," so the canonical view emphasizes these four marks in our interpretation.
'After each of the contributors lay out their views, the book then has a second cycle of chapters where each contributor responds to the four other views. There are many things that a contributor finds agreeable with the other four and each of the responses are irenic through and through. Obviously, there still comes some disagreement in those areas which distinguishes one view from another.
'Porter and Stovell bring the book to a close by offering a summary of the views and how they can each provide a helpful perspective with interpretation by using the well known triad: author-text-reader. Here they show how each perspective emphasizes or helps us better understand a particular component of the triad. Thus, they do not argue for an "either-or" approach but call for appropriating the different perspectives.
Overall, this is a very helpful book and introduction to differing perspectives on hermeneutics, and I would recommend it.
*Review copy provided by Intervarsity Press
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As I was reading, and as the contributors themselves remarked, the views in this book aren't all that mutually exclusive. The idea that these views are complimentary to some extent is established early on, in Craig Blomberg's opening essay. He suggests that the historical-critical/grammatical approach should be foundational, but once that foundation is laid, the others are welcome to build on it (28). This is bookended by very similar sentiments in the closing editorial essay, "Interpreting Together: Synthesizing The Five Views." It would seem that this book is a little different than some of the other multiview books. In principle, the views are harmonizable to a degree, but that doesn't eliminate disagreements among the contributors.
Rather than two long introductory chapters setting the stage for the views, there is only a brief (15pg) introduction by the editors, Stanley Porter and Beth Stovell, explaining various trajectories in biblical hermeneutics. Then follow each of the views back to back:
Craig Blomberg explains the historical-critical/grammatical view
Scott Spencer explains the literary/postmodern view
Merold Westphal explains philosophical/theological hermeneutics
Richard Gaffin explains the redemptive historical view
Robert Wall explains the canonical view
In each essay, the author sketches the general contours of his approach and then applies it to Matthew 2:7-15 (not just Matthew 2:13-15, like the back cover says). The exception to this is Merold Westphal. Because his view is "not a method of strategy for interpreting" (71) he does not offer extended exegetical reflections. Instead, he is more interested in offering a "metaperspective" on the interpretive task from a philosophical vantage point. Given that, one can take his insights and then build a foundation with Blomberg's method before incorporating elements of Gaffin, Wall, and Spencer's readings. As in any harmonization task, there will be some level of modification, but in principle, it is clearly possible.
After these opening essays, which make up Part 1 of the book, Part 2 allows each contributor to collect his responses to the others into another essay. I think I liked this more than the approach in Justification: Five Views, which had successive responses collected after each view was presented. Allowing the contributors to offer their collective responses in a single essay also allowed them flexbility in their responses. So, for instance, Richard Gaffin first interacts with each contributor's take on Matthew 2:7-15, and then offers broader thematic reflections on the differing views. His specific focus in on how they handle the question of divine authorship, but he explores other topics as well in a way that wouldn't be possible in the other format (or at least easy to follow). Other authors offered more traditional view by view responses, but because they were collected into a single essay, repetitions were reduced.
Very clearly for the topic of this book, the format is a big strength. Since the views overlap and are in principle able to be synthesized, I thought it was helpful to read an author offer his view, use it, and then collectively interact with the other views. Likewise, it was a great idea to have a single passage that everyone used for interpretive purposes, and picking Matthew 2:7-15 with its use of Hosea was another smooth move. It would have been nice for the the editors of Justification: Five Views to have each of those contributors exegete a key passage in Paul so you could see the different interpretations side by side. In this case though, the side by side interpretations give off the vibe of being more like "layers" than mutually exclusive views.
I also liked how the essays were a bit shorter and more accessible. I approached reading the book by reading the first two chapters, and then reading each section of those author's responses to each other. Then I would read the next view, and read that author's response to the two views I had already read before reading the critiques of his view. So it looked kind of like this:
Opening essay by the editors
Spencer's response to Blomberg
Blomberg's response to Spencer
Westphal's response to Blomberg and Spencer
Blomberg's and Spencer's response to Westphal
Gaffin's response to Blomberg, Spencer, and Westphal (which was tricky because of his layout)
Blomberg, Spencer, and Westphal's response to Gaffin
Wall's whole response chapter
Blomberg, Spencer, Westphal, and Gaffin's responses to Wall
The concluding essay by the editors
Sure, I made that probably more complicated than necessary, but I found it a helpful way to read the book. It helped me see the views in dialogue with each other. Most of the contributors were quick to remark that they shared much in common, but their differences served to sharpen the fact they still do represent different views, or perhaps "schools" or interpretive philosophy. Gaffin was probably the most critical of all the contributors, which was both predictable and disappointing. Predictable because I expected the professor from Westminster to be the most critical and disappointing because his responses proved me correct. I hope it doesn't further promote the idea of combative Calvinists, but I'm afraid it might do so.
That aside, this was a particularly all around great book. It is a little advanced in the discussion so it's probably not a general reader kind of book. It would definitely make a great supplement in a hermeneutics class in a Bible college or seminary. I was helped in my own understanding by reading each of the views and responses and will most likely come back to this in the coming months as I work out a good hermeneutical approach for high schoolers to use.
If I were to take a stand on the spectrum after reading this book, I would probably include elements of each contributor. I was trained in Blomberg's method, but like him, see the need for theological insights in the interpretive process. I would probably most strongly combine Blomberg and Gaffin then, with a sprinkling of Westphal. I'm not crazy about Spencer's postmodern literary approach, but I like some of his insights. I think some literary sensibilities would compliment a Blomberg/Gaffin approach. Doing that leaves you with a hermeneutical triad of sorts, which is just what Andreas Kostenberger and Richard Patterson argue for in Invitation to Biblical Interpretation.
[A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher]
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Joel L. Watts
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Over the course of the past few years, IVP-Academic has taken to producing a series of books under the banner of Spectrum Multiview, seeking to engage a wide range of viewpoints on important topics of the day - well, important to Christians at least. In this latest offering, the difficult question of how to interpret the bible comes into view, heralded by some of the largest names in their respective fields today. Edited by Stanley Porter and Beth Stovell, five different viewpoints are explored.
In chapter one, Craig Blomberg introduces us to the historical-critical method. Now, this method, from the name of it and the hype generally given in opposition to the historical-critical method may scare off a few of the readers, but the editors have wisely chosen to place this chapter first, and not in the least, I suspect, because Blomberg diplomatically allows for the placement of all five views in the reader's hands. His emphasis on the historical context, sans theological development, is important, and often lacking in the other viewpoints, but he does maintain a deeply Evangelical connection to Scripture, something that should allow the skeptical reader some access into considering the historical-critical viewpoint as a valid reading tool of Scripture.
Following this is Scott Spencer's Literary/Post-modern viewpoint. I am quite happy to see this as well as Merold Westphal's philosophical/theological (chapter three) essays included in this book. While the literary/post-modern viewpoint is not so easily accepted (as Blomberg points out in his response, several literary critics tend to dwell more in the post-modern viewpoint than the literary side), reading Scripture in the light of a scientific literary theory along with a nice dose of the philosophical will help in developing a certain appreciation for the application of Scripture to our daily lives (practical theology). While I tend to lean, almost to the point of falling over, towards these two viewpoints, I found that they were lacking in application themselves, something pointed out by the responders in Part Two of this book. I would encourage any reader to take these two chapters as a starting point and not all encompassing into these two highly important reading strategies.
The final two hermeneutics, Richard Gaffin's Redemptive/Historical view and Robert Walls' Canonical view are perhaps the furtherest from me, or perhaps I am the furtherest from them. Both take an extremely (what we consider today) conservative viewpoint. Gaffin follows Princeton's Vos while Wall follows Yales' Childs, both devout Christian theological scholars who paved the way for what many consider a "biblical" theology. They are nearly the same in my view, with neither really moving past a plain sense reading nor a scripture interprets scripture mindset. Both of these are deeply concerned with preserving Evangelical theology and seem to really shy away from the historical-critical approach beyond that of the lower criticism. They are well-written, but the basis of their arguments are nevertheless faulty.
Except for Spencer's essay, each author explains his viewpoint and then tackles a text from Matthew 2 in relation to how their reading strategy would explain it. They tend to all say the same thing, actually, with little or no different between them except for how they approach it. Following Part One, each essayist takes a short space to respond to each viewpoint, doing so graciously. One of the only lacking areas in this book is the focus on a single passage. What would have been more helpful is to allow each other to take a different passage so that the responses could provide some insight into how a different hermeneutical strategy would develop it. For instance, Spencer and Westphal's take on nearly any passage from Revelation would provide Gaffin and Wall a very interesting response, I suspect.
This book, and others in this series, are not just important to the current Christian, but essential in developing the critical mind of the theologian. And, if Barth is right, we are all theologians. Each of the essayists are accomplished in their respective fields, each provide insight not into just their own viewpoint, but also the viewpoints of others; but most importantly, how each viewpoint can dovetail into another's. This book is highly recommended.