Posted by: rogermitchell | December 6, 2010

Living by faith (iii) – hermeneutics

Hermeneutics, in case you are not sure, is about interpreting stuff, it’s how we make sense of things. It particularly applies to what we read. Its use to make sense of our wider experiences springs from that. It is very relevant in the contemporary postmodern west because so many people are suspicious of any claims to objective certainty about anything. The research I have been doing suggests that the reason for this mainly relates to two factors. Firstly, the  partnership of church and empire in the mediaeval phase of Christendom produced a closed system of truth vouchsafed by an imperial understanding of transcendence that penalised human imagination and freedom. Secondly, the reaction to this was a humanistic, immanent phase of Christendom in which transcendence was equated with domination and increasingly rejected or at least subordinated to rationalistic theories about life and the universe. But these modern theories still tended towards domination and the rejection or subordination of alternative views.

The postmodern skeptical response that has resulted is in many ways positive because it avoids the oppressive use of truth claims. But for those who are convinced or open to the possibility that the story of Jesus reveals a totally different kind of transcendence to imperial power standing behind the world as we experience it, this will remain hidden unless we can find a hermeneutic that relates to the postmodern world without the oppressive use of truth. I am suggesting here that what I am calling living by faith can provide this interpretative approach. To explain how this works I refer us back to my first post on this, Living by faith:(i). There I suggest that living by faith can access the life of Jesus as a completely different kind of time to the imperial time we are used to living by. I am aware that I have not clarified sufficiently the ways in which we can access what I call incarnational time, or to put it colloquially, Jesus time. I will attempt to do this in the next post or two. But basically, once we get the hang of it,  it means we can interpret what we encounter in life, not by received doctrinal positions or rational theories, but by a relational encounter with a loving transcendent personality behind everything.

It goes something like this. Am I, are you, is anyone willing to risk pouring out their life as a loving gift toward other people? If so then we are willing to begin to make the experiment of living by faith. So let’s read the narrative accounts of Jesus and begin by setting aside all the doctrinal and theoretical baggage and look for the personal, relational and emotional details of the story with our relational discernment tuned in. If and when we start encountering an apparently living person there we neither need to panic nor even decide its enough. Church of England bishop-theologian Tom Wright points out that there is good [he calls it critically realistic] reason why we can take the stories seriously as something that happened, without having to take it on board as dogmatic belief we should believe whether we want to or not or else be condemned as a heretic or unbeliever. Theologian Graham Ward points out that once we have exercised faith like this, which he refers to as an economy of response, we can then take note of the most recent theoretical anthropological and historical research that confirms the gospel Jesus in contrast to a dominating religion and empire, but again without being required to swallow some skeptic’s rejection of transcendence. As a result we can begin to grow in a certainty based on relational cooperation not doctrine or theory, and start looking for the same signs of the divine presence in every situation and experience of life. In this way living by faith becomes our hermeneutic.



  1. Though I do find it difficult to follow at times I believe what you are outlining is the essence of the way we long to live.A life that is based on the living relationship with the living Christ a life that is not hemmed in by doctrine but released by love.
    We are not restricted by time nor economics in this Christ given life,time has been developed to constrain us and economics to enslave us these are both tools of the empire and of the modern and post modern world.
    This life is most appealing but in some ways elusive .The working it out in every day Britain is our challenge, a challenge that is being met by the faithful in small but beautiful ways every day.But people need help in working this out ,they need direction that is gentle and humble because they will recoil from authority.From what I have read and been able to understand you are one of the people who might be able to give that sort of guidance to those hungry for the way of Christ.

    Thank you for all of the effort and hard work you are putting in on this project

  2. Thank you Billy. Clearly and encouragingly put!

  3. we could all be so free if we chose to eh? isn’t that what Jesus offers? I know for me, the only thing that holds me back some days is fear/unbelief. In the time and economics of the empire there is a promise that I will have enough and get what I need. I know that is a lie. It doesn’t take much to see that it is a lie. But it is so easy to believe that instead of trust in the relationship Jesus offers. After all, he died, the disciples had interesting but sometimes too interesting lives. Sometimes even the lies of the empire look more comfortable than all that.

    So as I move into full-time academia next year (I think, I hope?) it will be a challenge to see how I can live out the relational stuff within an institution dedicated to producing young professionals and scholars as fodder for the empire.

  4. Dogmatic belief asks us to compare everything to the original story.This then kills the possibility of change.It also stops our stories from having there rightful place.I do not think that in his encounters with people Christ was laying out doctrine or dogmatic stories.He was encountering every day life with every day people he was not thinking this will give people a clear message on how to deal with forgiveness(woman being stoned for adultery).
    He was dealing with it as it happened and what he done in every case was reveal the Kingdom not the dogma.

  5. I like the idea that living by faith is a bit of an experiment and that by living this way we will discover things. One of the things that I am observing is that when you take steps of faith stuff begins to happen and change and are amazing. When you pursue a Godly vision and have that life laying down heart, He beings to realise his Kingdom. On the other hand when you start to covet the wealth and security of the capitalist system the resources that he was providing dry up. When the Spirit help you back to living the severant heart way again then the resources start again!!!! So, if you deside to employ somebody when you don’t really have the work but it is good for them to come and work with you for awhile then more work comes in!!!! Is God really that good??? Is He really able to be aligning things so that when we take the steps of faith it always works. That would change the world!! If every person began to purse the vision He has for there lives in a servant hearted way the other system would just fall apart, as his power would lead and guide us throught the mindfield that would result the the shift from fear to love. That sounds far to simple, so maybe I’m going a bit crazy??

    • I don’t think you are crazy – only from the money-god perspective. If we live this way then within Jesus time we will find the resources we need. This is not to say that there won’t be dying to do along the way, but resurrection will come.

  6. I’ve read this three times now Roger and am beginning to understand the language you’re using. I came on here again now to comment but I don’t think I need to. It’s all been said.
    What I need to do is get out there and do it and then perhaps I’ll have something to say…

  7. Well at least my choice of language gets us all thinking, and then because it challenges mindsets eventually effects what we actually DO which I what I hope and intend!

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