The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic by James K.A. Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A Pentecostal who is Reformed and writes about what evangelical hermeneutics can learn from Derrida and Heidegger. Yes, I think I want to read that, out of curiosity if nothing else.
Then, early in the book, statements like this really excited me:
The hermeneutical structure of creation is good; it produces goods: a plurality of interpretations and a diversity of readings. The sin of Babel was its quest for unity -- one interpretation, one reading, one people -- which was an abandonment of creational diversity and plurality in favor of exclusion and violence; and the "ravages of hatred have an ominous sameness." Plurality in interpretation is not the original sin; it is, on the contrary, the original goodness of creation: a creation where many flowers bloom and many voices are heard, where God is praised by a multitude from "every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev. 5:9), singing songs in a diversity of tongues, even worshiping through a diversity of theologies.
The first section deconstructs those views that believe hermeneutics is the result of some sort of fall. That if humanity was not fallen (not always understood religiously) then we would have immediacy of experience and interpretation would not be necessary. Not only do many evangelicals hold this view, Smith argues that Gadamer and Habermas are guilty of it as well. Against them, he argues that hermeneutics is an inescapable feature of humanity.
In part two he deconstructs Heidegger and Derrida. They agree that hermeneutics is inescapable but contend that interpretation is violent. He argues pretty persuasively that a holdover of religious notions of fall is involved in their views. But more importantly he contends that hermeneutics need not be violent and that if Christians believe in the goodness of creation, then the plurality of interpretation should be a good thing.
In part three he draws together his own view, drawing on Augustine, and presents what boundaries and ethics should guide our interpretation. The final sentence of the first edition of the book is, "The heart of a creational-pneumatic hermeneutic is a space, a field of multiplicitous meeting in the wild spaces of love, where there is room for a plurality of God's creatures to speak, sing, and dance in a multivalent chorus of tongues."
A final, seventh, chapter has been added for the second edition. In it he responds to the criticism that for Derrida there is no communication of meaning. Smith writes that this is a misinterpretation of Derrida and that authorial intent does survive in Derrida, just it does not dominate. He then proceeds to claim that we need a community of interpretation, particularly to read the bible, which requires a special hermeneutic. The final sentence of this chapter is, "In other words, our hermeneutics of Scripture will require, first and foremost, an ecclesiology."
Smith provides interesting (and difficult) discussions of the major thinkers I've listed above (and a few others). These are valuable. And I was very excited by his statements on a plurality of voices (those quotes I've included above), but was very disappointed that these ideas were not developed more fully. I guess I would suggest reading some queer thinkers like Dale Martin for more robust development of these ideas. I was just curious how a Reformed Pentecostal would approach them.
Finally, I was disappointed with the final, new chapter, which I didn't think added to the book. The final sentence of it exposed this book as truly prolegomena. If one wants a postmodern hermeneutics within the context of an ecclesiology, then I'd suggest reading Stanley Hauerwas and James McClendon (not referenced in this book) and as philosophical groundwork for that reading, Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue.
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