I’m finally reading Graeme Goldsworthy’s book Gospel-Centred Hermeneutics. I’m only halfway through, but I must say I’m not very impressed with his understanding of the history of the discipline. His survey, which is mostly based on secondary sources, views history as constantly eclipsing the gospel, and subjecting the idea of divinely given mediated discourse to ‘constant attack’ (136). Rather than focusing on what figures such as Schleiermacher, Gadamer and Ricoeur positively contribute to our appreciation of the conditions of human understanding, he evaluates each figure against certain standards of ‘evangelical hermeneutics’ and finds them wanting. In doing so, he sometimes seems to represent these figures unfairly.
Is it really true, for example, that ‘Gadamer regards the distance between the reader and the text as something that inhibits understanding’ (135)? In fact, Gadamer says this (Truth and Method, 264-5):
Time is no longer primarily a gulf to be bridged, because it separates, but it is actually the supportive ground of process in which the present is rooted. Hence temporal distance is not something that must be overcome… In fact the important thing is to recognise the distance in time as a positive and productive possibility of understanding. It is not a yawning abyss, but is filled with the continuity of customs and traditions, in the light of which all that is handed down presents itself to us.
Is it really Ricoeur’s special burden ‘to understand the meaning and the reference of the text itself without being bound by authorial intent or the original context of the text’? Has he really therefore ‘failed to escape a crippling subjectivity’ (135)? Surely Ricoeur is rather recognising that in reading word-signs, the reader is neither an exalted and objective master of the text, nor purely a humiliated slave to their own conditioning, but a self-reflecting subject, who is able to perceive their own locatedness in encountering the other. In his own account of his approach to preached Scripture, Ricoeur does not rejoice in being free of the author; rather he emphasises his consciousness of his own orientation as a hearer (Naming God, 215):
it is in terms of a certain presupposition that I stand in the position of a listener to Christian preaching. I assume that this speaking is meaningful, that it is worthy of consideration, and that examining it may accompany and guide the transfer from the text to life where it will verify itself fully.
Of course, these figures are not right about everything, but I find myself unsatisfied with this approach of presenting interlocutors as ‘eclipsers of the gospel’ rather than straining to hear their fruitful contributions in all their nuance.