Rohr’s Honest, Authoritative, but Questionable Hermeneutic.

0016447_abWhen people say weird stuff about God or how He interacts with His people, and claim to be using The Bible to support those claims, you have to wonder what interpretive methods they’re using to arrive at their conclusions. Richard Rohr is refreshingly honest in explaining his approach when he says;

“You deserve to know my science for interpreting sacred texts. It is called a “hermeneutic.” Without an honest and declared hermeneutic, we have no consistency or authority in our interpretation of the Bible.” My methodology is very simple; I will try to interpret Scripture the way that Jesus did.” Huffington Post Interview[1]

Additionally, he makes the following proposition regarding “taking the bible literally:”

“To take the scriptures seriously is not to take them literally. Literalism is invariably the lowest and least level of meaning. Most Biblical authors understood this, which is why they felt totally free to take so many obvious liberties with what we would call “facts.” In many ways, we have moved backwards in our ability to read spiritual and transformative texts, especially after the enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when religious people got on the defensive and lost their own unique vantage point.”Huffington Post Interview[2]

I get what he means by “taking the bible literally,” and I understand the history of evangelical abuses he’s trying to avoid, but that’s not the consensus understanding of scripture by most biblical expositors. “Taking the bible literally,” is interpreting the scriptures according to their literal genre, original audience, cultural application, original language, etc. For example, we interpret analogies in an analogical way, metaphors metaphorically, etc. Taking into account the authors, their time frames, the conditions under which the scripture were written, etc., are critical for an honest and ethical interpretation of any text. Choosing the existential path of biblical interpretation in opposition to the clear and reasonable meaning is often an excuse to do whatever you like and substantiate it with the bible. Rohr goes on to say…

“Serious reading of scripture will allow you to find an ever new spiritual meaning for the liberation of history, the liberation of the soul, and the liberation of God in every generation. Then the text is true on many levels, instead of trying to prove it is true on just the one simple, factual level. Sacred texts always maximize your possibilities for life and love, which is why we call them sacred. I am afraid we have for too long used the Bible merely to prove various church positions, which largely narrows their range and depth. Instead of transforming people, the Biblical texts became utilitarian and handy ammunition.” Huffington Post Interview[3]

This quote is good “on many levels.” Two things concern me however.

1. Finding “ever new” spiritual meanings in scripture.

and

2. The text being “true on many levels.”

I am not surprised by Rohr’s statements, because his hermeneutic, the way he interprets scripture, allows human experience as a valid interpreter of biblical text. This shouldn’t surprise you either since Rohr is a Franciscan friar. (Roman Catholic) He holds to what he himself calls the “third principle of God.” In a nutshell, for Rohr, Scripture is validated by experience, and experience is validated by Tradition. [The Rohr Institute]

Don’t get me wrong, I love much of what Rohr say and writes. He brings a unique perspective to many issues which are important to me. But, I don’t trust him. I remain skeptical because of his underlying assumptions when it comes to interpreting scripture.

A few questions:

1. Is it true that we can continually discover new spiritual meanings from scripture?
2. Is experience ever a good interpreter of biblical text?
3. Are we to interpret biblical texts “the way Jesus did?”

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    1. When Jesus was tempted by the devil, He used Scripture as a sword against him, and His interpretations of it were according to the circumstances and experiences at hand. The ones He was currently going through (on a personal level). And {GASP} it worked!

      Jesus being our example, I think this narrative quite clearly answers all three questions at once. The Scriptures are to be interpreted as written, by whom written, and when written, but the PURPOSE of interpreting them in the first place is to know how to apply them to our lives, and the lives of those we are mentoring, on a day-to-day basis, in this place and time.

      I’m not sure about Rohr, (doesn’t sound like I’ll be studying him any time soon), but if the Bible is relegated to an historical text, which only meant something to the people that wrote it, in their time frame, then it’s really not even worth studying today at all. Not any more than Shakespeare, Homer’s fables, or anything else, that is.


    2. We (including Rohr) get into difficulty when our trust is vested in a system or hermeneutic, rather than in God alone. The Holy Spirit of God is the only One truly authorized to interpretation.

      Just as when a man writes a note to one he loves, he’s not about to be assigning the interpretation of what he’s written to someone or something else. If his lover then has some doubt or point of question, she would ask her man (rather than go off to school in how to be reading him). how does she take the writing on first read? note: she will be affected in her understanding by other things her man has already shared with her, and also somewhat or at times by her experiences gained with him.

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