Monday, August 06, 2018

0. Spirit Hermeneutics Intro (Keener)

1. This fall, I am reading Craig Keener's recent book, Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost. I'm expecting to find much that I agree with. The Wesleyan tribe of which I am a part in America seems to be a mixture of at least four branches:

a. The revivalist, holiness branch that was nineteenth/early twentieth century evangelicalism, from which the pentecostal movement also in large part emerged

b. The mainstream, liberal branch, which developed in the late 1800s and has of late produced a post-liberal, orthodox tributary

c. The fundamentalist/baptistified branch that grew out of the holiness movement and came to dominate a great deal of Wesleyanism in the late twentieth century

d. A neo-evangelical branch that dominated many Wesleyan educational institutions in the late twentieth century.

Only the second and fourth branches have tended to produce any scholarship on hermeneutics. In my opinion, both have been dominated by non-Wesleyan influences. Steven Koskie's, Reading the Way to Heaven is post-liberal. Other works are simply repackaged neo-evangelical hermeneutics.

So I welcome Keener's attempt to sketch out a "pentecostal" hermeneutic (small p). I perceive that it will turn out to present a hermeneutic in the first, revivalist trajectory. Keener has paid enough dues in neo-evangelical scholarship to be allowed to publish such a book. I wonder if I am about to read a hermeneutic that is more intrinsically Wesleyan than neo-evangelicalism or post-liberalism. I've written similar things, but no one reads me.

2. Craig Keener is a Pentecostal, but he has paid his dues in the academic (liberal) and neo-evangelical circles. These dues have given him the political clout to write a piece that might not normally be accepted by an Eerdmans. Commissioned to write a smaller volume on Pentecostal hermeneutics, the very force of who he is convinced them to publish a work twice as long.

The work is not Pentecostal with a capital P but pentecostal with a small p. As such his project includes revivalist Wesleyans, who have long looked to Pentecost as a paradigm for who we are. The key difference between a pentecostal and a non-pentecostal for Keener has to do with the gifts of the Spirit. A pentecostal is a non-cessationist--someone who does not believe that gifts of the Spirit like tongues and prophecy ended with the early church. A pentecostal believes that all the gifts of the Spirit are still in play today.

In this sense, Wesleyans are in theory pentecostals, although often effectively not in practice. Indeed, the Pentecostal tradition grew out of the same currents of which the holiness movement at the turn of the twentieth century was a part. A quote in the introduction captures a small piece of the equation: "The entire church must be experiential if it wishes to be biblical" (11).

I have heard of "Wesleyans" who are cessationists, but this is just another example of a theologically anemic church reaching into other traditions to find an ideology. It is an exegetically untenable position, as Keener says. Of course the Wesleyan Church has always been squeamish about tongues. Our current stance seems to be one that does not oppose tongues in private or in other churches in worship. For practical reasons, we do not speak in tongues in our worship services. I believe I can defend this position hermeneutically without invoking cessationism.

3. I enjoyed a brief anecdote Craig tells from his time at Duke. A student at Duke kept hammering at Keener that his argument was out of sync with Luther's approach to Scripture. I suspect the other student was invoking the solas. But Martin Luther was not the father of Pentecostalism any more than he was the father of Wesleyanism. Another student intervened for the two debaters who were talking past each other: "Craig does not feel a commitment to that tradition" (18).

And so as a Wesleyan I have enjoyed the nuance of the "new" perspective on Paul, as well as other scholarly developments in recent years. Here biblical scholarship has exposed the anachronisms of Luther. Paul's faith/works debate was primarily about concrete matters that distinguished Jew from Gentile, not an abstract faith versus works debate. Grace in Paul's day was unmerited but not necessarily unsolicited and expected reciprocity on a disproportionate level. Scripture becomes a coherent whole when organizing principles are brought to it from outside the text. Yes, through Christ alone but is this really only a matter of the cognitive, as Protestant traditions have tended to treat it?

4. Keener is thus not writing narrowly for Pentecostals. He is not trying to reject exegesis (nor have I, as anyone who has watched will know). He may not bifurcate historical and spiritual readings quite as much as I do, but he recognizes that to read the Bible as Christian Scripture is something distinct from simply reading the text exegetically.

An interesting point, however, is that Pentecostals may be able to offer an "inside" perspective on charismatic aspects of the early church, in the same way that groups with particular perspectives (e.g., women, people of color) can offer insights on particular aspects of Scripture. He also recognizes that there is no one "Pentecostal view." "There is no Pentecostal magisterium to decide which views are 'the Pentecostal view'" (9). This is the case with the "Wesleyan view" as well.

5. Finally, Keener spends a few pages arguing that the quest for the Spirit's illumination when reading the Bible is a common theme among faith-filled interpreters. I personally think the differences among the wide variety of individuals he mentions may make his point less than helpful. I myself draw a sharper distinction than he does between illumination of what the text meant (to help with the exegetical, historical task) and inspiration from the Spirit to help with the appropriation of the text.

We will see how this plays out in the rest of the text.

No comments: