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The Christian as interpreter

11 October 2013

Peter Forster looks at essays in honour of a hermeneutics man

Horizons in Hermeneutics: A festschrift in honor of Anthony C. Thiselton
Stanley C. Porter and Matthew R. Malcolm, editors
Eerdmans £26.99
Church Times Bookshop £24.30 (Use code CT513 )

PROFESSOR Anthony C. Thiselton is one of the Church of England's leading theologians. Recovered, mercifully, from a recent stroke, he continues to produce a stream of influential books. This collection provides a dialogue with the themes of his first substantial publication, The Two Horizons, which explored the task of biblical interpretation.

Professor Thiselton's life has been characterised by an equal immersion in the Church and Academe, and this is reflected in his account of the dynamics of Christian understanding. There is a circle of interpretation which includes worship and more general Christian experience in a constant dialogue with rational investigation and reflection. For him there is no necessary conflict between faithfulness to scripture as witness to God's unique self-revelation, and an acceptance of modern historical criticism of the texts.

Several of the writers emphasise Thiselton's early recognition of the importance of Wittgenstein's later philosophy: the central part played by the "logical grammar" of a text, as prior to its vocabulary and syntax. The New Testament has its unique "language game", which arises from its witness to the entry into history of the crucified Son of God and Messiah of Israel. This witness cannot be separated from the language and experience of worship.

Richard Bell brings together the concerns of several contributors in his interesting exploration of what St Paul might have meant by "We have the mind of Christ." He is driven to conclude that the saying must be taken in its realistic and natural sense: the Christian is given an anticipatory participation in the mind of God, and in the divine nature itself.

Stephen Fowl provides one of the best recent essays on ecumenism, by trenchantly asking the question: what does the New Testament say about Christian unity? The conclusion is that unity must be visible and down-to-earth, just as the Bible speaks of the complete unity of Jew and Gentile in Jesus Christ.

This stimulating collection left me with a question. Can the problems of biblical interpretation, which have so preoccupied biblical scholars for 150 years, be solved without a yet more profound interaction between biblical and systematic theology? The original two horizons, those of the biblical text and the contemporary interpreter, need a more open relationship with a third horizon: that of the Church's credal traditions.

This book, and Professor Thiselton's life work, point in just such a direction.

Dr Peter Forster is the Bishop of Chester.

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