Saturday, January 30, 2010

Visited the faculty colloquium

Yesterday I attended the Faculty Colloquium for the first time. Seeing more than a dozen of theologians and biblical scholars discussing over an impasse issue is intriguing and provocative as well as exciting.

Telford Work presented his thesis on 'theological interpretation' that acknowledges narrative theology while limiting its scope on one hand while suggesting that the broadening of our perception of traditional hermeneutics (eg. Reformed's Covenant Theology, Lutheran's Theology of the Cross, etc) is a way forward.

Tan Kim Huat shared a very provoking thought that Revelation 1.8 seems to suggest that God wants to be defined or identified as a narrative by revealing the God-self as one "who is, and who was, and who is to come". (I grasp my breath at that point!) If God wants to be recognized propositionally, it is preferable to be known as the one "who is, and who was, and who will". By revealing the God-self as "who is to come", God invoke for the God-self a participatory mode.

This is similar with Moltmann's panentheism. Coincidentally, during the session, Simon Chan critiqued Moltmann's panentheistic view. Given that his remark was brief, I get the sense that it has not deal with the fact that narrative theology is fundamentally narrative epistemology. (As N.T. Wright has laid out in his version of critical realism)

Roland Chia on the other hand made a good point that the content of a belief affects also the hermeneutic. He also mentioned that the creeds and canonical belief of the early church serve more as a boundary marker rather than an exhaustive theology.

Maggie Low was wondering if an overarching theme can still be recovered in the study of the Old Testament theology. Yoo Kiang gave a sharp critique on Work's emphasis to broaden our perception of the great traditions by invoking Wittgenstein's limit of human thought through the limitation of language. I like Yoo Kiang's critique but I think he didn't lay it out as forceful as it can actually be.

Work proposed that we go back to the pre-modern Fathers or even the authors of the New Testament to learn hermeneutic from them. But how is this possible to reach back into the great tradition as a way forward in 'theological hermeneutics' given that the multiple different horizons (go further than Thiselton's TWO horizons) between the horizon of the ancient text, the horizon of the ancients' interpretors of the horizon of the ancient text, AND the horizon of our interpretation of the horizon of the ancients' interpretors on the horizon of the ancient text standing in the way?

Simply put, we have:
(1) Ancient text from its own world.

(2) Ancient interpretors of the ancient text who are from a different world than the world of the text.

(3) Modern interpretors like you and me who are in a world different from the ancient interpretors as well as from the ancient text.
There is a gap between us and the ancient interpretors' world (Gap 1). There is a gap between the ancient interpretors' world with the world of the ancient text (Gap 2). And there is also a gap between us and the world of the ancient text (Gap 3). Work is asking us to assume the world of the ancient interpretors to interpret the Bible without addressing how can these 3 gaps be epistemologically bridged in the first place. This is a huge problem to Work's proposal.

On the other hand, narrative epistemology does not need to face this multiple-horizons and gaps. But the danger, as the presenter and some participants of the colloquium have pointed out, emerges when narrative epistemology gain a life of its own: Hermeneutic assumed ontology.

My question on this point would be why is this a danger? If our immediate experiencing and knowing of reality is through narrative, could it be that reality itself is really a narrative where existence itself is a story? What if we turn the rule around: It is because reality is story, therefore it makes so much sense that our immediate experience and knowledge of it is best represented through narrative: Ontology ensures hermeneutic.

After the colloquium ended, I overheard Mark Chan engaging Work with Gadamer's hermeneutic, but my mind had had enough for the day and couldn't stay on anymore.


reasonable said...

The ancient guys' way of interpreting those text more ancient than themselves (e.g. NT writers interpreting OT, or some Church Fathers' interpretation of their "scripture") may be a wrong interpretation while contemporary scholars' interpretation of the same set of ancient text may be more correct. Hope Work is not assuming that the ancient guys' interpretation of text more ancient then them is more superior to our contemporary interpreters such that we need to follow their way.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable,

It seems that Work is pointing to that way.