Fall 2020 · Vol. 49 No. 2 · pp. 112–114 

From the Editor: Biblical Hermeneutics

Andrew Dyck

Direction has published issues on interpreting Scripture—biblical hermeneutics—in every decade since the journal began. In 1977, Direction published papers from a gathering of Mennonite Brethren (MB) Bible teachers who were seeking unity through their diverse approaches to interpreting Scripture. Issues in 1981, 1983, and 1988 focused on interpreting the Gospels, interpreting the Pauline epistles, and interpreting the Bible for topics not specifically named therein. A 1995 issue offered presentations from a consultation of MB high school and post-secondary school teachers who were seeking how to “[apply] and receive contemporary significance” from biblical texts. Issues in 2004 and 2006 presented the work of biblical scholars generally, and Old Testament scholars in particular. In 2014 and 2015, Direction focused on interpreting Genesis 1-3, and the letters of Paul.

The persistence of this theme across five decades leads me to at least three inferences. First, MBs—or at least their leaders—keep looking to the Bible for guidance in following Jesus. Second, they understand that the church must do the work of interpreting the Bible, in between reading it and living faithfully to its witness. Third, they disagree—sometimes vigorously—on how to interpret the Bible.

At the start of this decade, Direction is once again turning its attention to biblical hermeneutics—this time with two consecutive issues that emerge from the 2019 Equip Study Conference titled “Interpreting Scripture Today.” This issue provides most of the keynote presentations from that conference. The next issue (Spring 2021) will provide perspectives that respond to and parallel that conference’s presentations.

As I consider the regularity with which Direction addresses biblical hermeneutics and recall the Board of Faith and Life’s reasons for choosing this topic for its study conference, I think the third inference—MBs’ diverse interpretations of the Bible—is the primary driver behind once again addressing biblical hermeneutics. Alongside that driver, there is also the concern—and, at times, the fear—that MBs are becoming so diverse that they may disintegrate as a denominational family. Various MB leaders therefore hold out the hope that if MBs can agree on their interpretative premises and methods, they will come to sufficient agreement about the Bible and discipleship that they can continue following Jesus in unity.

While it remains to be seen whether this endeavor can be achieved and whether it will in fact provide unity, I think two prerequisites are needed for this hermeneutical work to be effective.* The first is our relational {113} commitment that we pledge to stay in fellowship with one another even when we disagree. This commitment is grounded not in our governance bylaws but in our baptismal vows—for our unity comes from the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:3) and was accomplished by the work of God in Christ (Eph 2:13-14). When we acknowledge that unity, we are free to work vigorously and persistently at our biblical hermeneutics.

The second prerequisite is having sufficiently diverse people engaged in the hermeneutical task. If we only interpret the Bible with people like us—those who share our ethnicity, culture, language, education, socioeconomic status, privilege, upbringing, type of family, gender, geography, and so forth—we may quickly agree about the Bible’s message but we will lack the prophetic perspectives (often from minorities and the margins) that challenge our blind spots and idolatries. When we interpret Scripture with people who differ in many ways, we are more likely to receive a divine message that transcends our own biases and preconceptions.

As you read the papers in this issue of Direction, I invite you to test what you read in the light of our Christian unity and in the light of the “multi-colored” wisdom God has given to his diverse people (cf. Eph 3:10).

The first two papers provide a Mennonite Brethren perspective on biblical hermeneutics. Mark Wessner and Doug Heidebrecht begin by offering a hermeneutical model and method (including a diagram) that serve as a touchstone for the other papers in this issue. The National Faith and Life Team hopes that this model and method will guide biblical interpretation across the range of MB churches. Heidebrecht then fleshes out that model and method by reviewing how MBs have practiced hermeneutics as a community of believers—sometimes poorly and sometimes well.

Two writers then provide contextual perspectives that highlight the importance of this hermeneutical task. Gil Dueck clearly names key features of Canada’s cultural landscape that make it hard for us to read the Bible well and offers helpful ways forward. Tim Geddert explains how we can say that the Bible has authority, when it is Jesus who is God’s clearest and most authoritative communication to the world.

The next two papers explore challenging dimensions of doing hermeneutical work with the Bible. Kristal Toews explores what it means to interpret all of Scripture in light of Jesus Christ the risen Lord. She critiques several approaches to biblical interpretation and offers an alternative that seeks to more faithfully keep Christ at the center of the hermeneutical process. Pierre Gilbert looks at the way theological thinking is necessary when moving from the study of Scripture to {114} speaking the Bible’s message in sermons. This emphasis on theology is notable because MBs have too often (and mistakenly) pitted biblical theology against systematic theology.

In this issue’s final paper, Ingrid Reichard links biblical hermeneutics to the MB Confession of Faith, MB identity, and discipleship. As Director of the National Faith and Life Team of the Canadian Conference of MB Churches, she concludes by offering a vision of how the hermeneutical method and model can serve MB churches in the future.

* I received the seeds of these insights from Doug Heidebrecht during a personal conversation on August 3, 2020. My elaboration of these ideas, however, is my own.

Andrew Dyck
Assistant Professor of Christian Spirituality and Pastoral Ministry MB Seminary and Canadian Mennonite University