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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in hermeneutics (3)

Friday
Nov292013

Hermeneutics and homiletics - On Malcolm Gladwell's story of David and Goliath  

A good friend of mine @JohannGrobler alerted me to a fascinating TED talk given by one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell on the Biblical narrative of David and Goliath.  You can watch it on Youtube below.

It is fascinating to watch Malcolm share his perspective on this well known Biblical narrative.  He is not only a very creative and astute thinker - able to find a novel angle to well known data, and then develop a point that opens up new possibilities for thought - he is also a very engaging and effective orator.  I enjoyed watching the talk a great deal!

What Johann wanted to know was whether what was said about David (that he was probably more agile and skilled than Goliath as a warrior) and Goliath (that he was so large because of a cancer that causes unnatural growth (acromegaly). One of the side effects of this disease is short sightedness and double vision) were true.  Well, my answer to Johann's question is quite simply, I am not sure!  Unless we have medical evidence on Goliath's condition and corroborating testimony to substantiate the suggestions made about David by Malcolm Gladwell, Gladwell's theory is as plausible (or unplausable) as any other theory.  We cannot have absolute certainty on the theory without substantive evidence to support it. 

I can say, however, that I found what Gladwell said sensible and very interesting. What he suggests is certainly not outside of the realm of possibility. He does offer some second tier evidence to support his hypothesis.  To support his claims about David's skill he cites historical documents and data about the effectiveness and accuracy of sling shot users in the ancient world.  To support his claims about Goliath he cites some studies from contemporary (modern) medicine - although I am sure in both cases there is probably equally significant evidence and cause for reaching different conclusions.  That is the nature of academic debate.  Simply because and article is published, or a point is substantiated, that does mean that it is more true than another point.  There are some very bright and intelligent people who believed all sorts of crazy things (with medical evidence to support their claims).

What struck me as most significant about this talk was the manner in which Gladwell has adapted the disciplines of hermeneutics and homiletics so effectively in making his point.  What he is doing is very similar to what millions of priests, pastors, rabbi's and imman's do every week.  He has taken a narrative (in this case the Biblical narrative of David and Goliath) and interpreted it creatively in order to argue a particular point - the point here is found in his conclusion, i.e., that we must not be too simplistic about our accepted view of dominant narratives, and that giants may not always be what they seem (which implies that underdogs may also not always be what they seem).

Homileticians use this approach frequently, they communicate and idea by using 'foundational knowledge' as a connecting point with the audience.  Then they draw on other authoritative sources (in this case history and medicine) to introduce new knowledge that will support the reasonable acceptance of desired truth.  In Biblical studies we teach our students to understand that the text always has a historical context, that the 'players' in the narrative have depth to them (they are seldom what the narrator or author of the text has presented).  The intention is to use whatever data is available to unpack the deeper and more subtle truths about the elements of the story (the characters in the story, the plot lines, the intention of the author or narrator (what did he or she include or leave out, what was emphasised, what was underplayed - Gladwell does this a number of times in his talk), what was the situation of the recipients of the narrative (what did the author assume about them, their needs, their religious and social framework etc.).  The process us called hermeneutics - the science of interpretation.

I am grateful to Johann for pointing me to this great talk, and for raising the question that allowed me to view Malcolm Gladwell's talk with a more enquiring mind than just accepting admiration.

Wednesday
Oct132010

A map of the world IN Africa - the real size of Africa

Boing boing posted this wonderful visual representation of the true size of Africa in relation to other geographical regions on earth. It is fascinating to see how North America compares to West Africa, or how England relates to Madagascar.

Once again this confirms that our perceptions of the size of countries is so often shaped by social, cultural and historical bias, rather than by geographic land mass!


I previously posted about this in a post entitled "What the world really looks like".

Bias can be a powerful thing! Also see my post on bias and ethics which shows why it is easier to steal time or pencils from your employer than money.

The following quote rings true for me:

@DanDeWitt: Those who refuse to acknowledge their bias are destined to be blinded by it.

How can we counteract our own biases on reality? Is it necessary to do so?

You can read the original boing boing article here.

Wednesday
Feb102010

Ancient laws, contemporary controversies

My friend Prof Cheryl Anderson, who I first met at Garrett Evangelical Seminary in beautiful Evanston Illinois - right on the Northwestern University Campus, in 2005, has just published a fantastic book entitled 'Ancient laws, contemporary controversies:  The need for inclusive Biblical interpretation.' (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Cheryl is a Professor of Old Testament who has done some wonderful work on contextual hermeneutics.  Her approach to reading the Bible responsibly is well worth studying!

Cheryl, thanks for sending me a copy of the book!  It looks fantastic!  I can't wait to read it!  It will help me to gain a better understanding on how we treat the text with integrity when there are so many elements of it that we no longer accept as morally or theologically binding (e.g., slavery, incest, polygamy etc., are no longer deemed acceptable because of shifts in culture.  We can't simply dismiss them without having some clear reasoning for passing over these elements while holding on to others)!  Anyone who is serious about the Bible, as I am, should read this book!

Here's the link to the book if anyone reading this blog would like to buy a copy.

Here's a description of Cheryl's project:

The Ten Commandments condone slavery, and Deuteronomy 22 deems the rape of an unmarried woman to injure her father rather than the woman herself. While many Christians ignore most Old Testament laws as obsolete or irrelevant-with others picking and choosing among them in support of specific political and social agendas-it remains a basic tenet of Christian doctrine that the faith is contained in both the Old and the New Testament. If the law is ignored, an important aspect of the faith tradition is denied.

In Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies, Cheryl B. Anderson tackles this problem head on, attempting to answer the question whether the laws of the Old Testament are authoritative for Christians today. The issue is crucial: some Christians actually believe that the New Testament abolishes the law, or that the Protestant reformers Luther, Calvin, and Wesley rejected the law. Acknowledging the deeply problematic nature of some Old Testament law (especially as it applies to women, the poor, and homosexuals), Anderson finds that contemporary controversies are the result of such groups now expressing their own realities and faith perspectives.

Anderson suggests that we approach biblical law in much the same way that we approach the U.S. Constitution. While the nation's founding fathers-all privileged white men-did not have the poor, women, or people of color in mind when they referred in its preamble to "We the people." Subsequently, the Constitution has evolved through amendment and interpretation to include those who were initially excluded. Although it is impossible to amend the biblical texts themselves, the way in which they are interpreted can-and should-change. With previous scholarship grounded in the Old Testament as well as critical, legal, and feminist theory, Anderson is uniquely qualified to apply insights from contemporary law to the interpretive history of biblical law, and to draw out their implications for issues of gender, class, and race/ethnicity. In so doing, she lays the groundwork for an inclusive mode of biblical interpretation.