Masters’ thesis Abstract


My thesis identifies a problem and proposes a solution.  The problem is that certain tensions necessary to Christian life and praxis (i.e., between confidence and humility, knowledge and experience, truth and love) have become rigidified into hierarchies, a problem attributable to and / or exemplified in recent perspectives in evangelical, biblical hermeneutics.

These perspectives rightly emphasize (i) the Holy Spirit’s assistance in interpretation and (ii) the benefit of proper, exegetical method in knowing God.  Yet in claiming that Spirit-endowed Christians are better readers of the world and the Bible than non-Christians, have these perspectives weighted confidence in the Spirit’s aid over the humility requisite to being finite and sinful?  Likewise, in claiming that Christians who start with the Bible and read it properly will understand God better than Christians who do not, have these perspectives prioritized knowing about God to experiencing God—textual examination to embodied understanding?

Ironically, setting confidence over humility can lead to knowing less (or wrongly): illegitimately viewing oneself and one’s community as self-sufficient.  The risk is solipsism.  Equally, setting textual explanation over lived understanding can result in overlooking truth: judging messages according to their methods risks neglecting other, truthful views of world and text.  The risk is sectarianism.  In both cases, are evangelicals guilty of valuing (biblical) truth over love (of neighbour)?

Paradoxically, where these hermeneutical perspectives are normative (as standards of faithfulness) within Christian communities, these communities need outsiders to awaken them to the imbalances in these tensions.

I contend, at base, that love and truth are co-central to humanity and God, whence “loving my neighbour as myself” means attending to his / her views (and truth) as closely as I consider my own and those of my community.  By corollary, I hypothesize that Christians may know themselves, the Bible, and the world more truly by listening to—and where appropriate, learning from—truth-seeking outsiders.

I investigate this hypothesis by supplementing a theological approach with a philosophically hermeneutical perspective.  Thus I use two themes in Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutics—listening and suspecting, belonging and distance—to engage with ideological outsiders (Freud and Nietzsche) and methodological outsiders (liberation theologians).