Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 44:1 (Spring 1982)
Article: Book Reviews
Author: Anonymous

Book Reviews

Charles M. Wood: The Formation of Christian Understanding: An Essay in Theological Hermeneutics. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981. 128. $7.95, paper.

Charles M. Wood has written a clear, sensitive book setting forth a Barthian hermeneutical theory. He wrestles with the question of how the Bible can provide us with knowledge of God. Using insights from the later Wittgenstein, Wood rightly questions whether a dispute over a technical definition of meaning can get to the heart of the complexities. He himself prefers to speak primarily of “understanding” rather than “meaning.” One’s ability to paraphrase or restate “meaning” in some narrow sense is not all that is involved. Surely if we are talking in terms of the goal of knowing God, this is right.

Using the insights of the hermeneutical tradition (Gadamer), Wood recognizes the inevitable role of the interpreter’s own background, culture, and basic commitments in the process of understanding. But at the same time, Wood argues that any such background of the interpreter must itself be open to criticism on the basis of Scripture.

Therefore, I think that evangelicals have much to learn from this book about how not to oversimplify the interpretive process or to sweep under the rug its aspects of circularity. At the same time, the burning question for evangelicals will remain, “What are the Bible’s own claims to authority, and how do we accomplish full submission to those claims?” With regard to such a question, Wood is in a general way in the Barthian camp. The whole Bible is both divine and fully human; but its divinity is in no way immediately accessible. Wood does argue vigorously for the propriety of reading the Bible as canon. For him, that means reading it as the word of God. It means allowing the utterances of the individual parts to interact with one another. But like Brevard Childs, Wood wants this “canonical reading” to be supplementary to, rather than in competition with, a historical-critical reading of the texts. Historical-critical research has shown us that, at times, the different texts “defy harmonization.” It is “logically impossible” to “affirm them all simultaneously” (p. 105).

Such an approach, in my opinion, remains burdened with some huge difficulties. How do we exercise hermeneutical control or define what is proper to reading the Bible as canon? To some extent this is a difficulty with any possible approach. But what governs the interpreter when, according to Wood, any particular text of the Bible “can be heard [in this canonical reading] without any prior obligation on the hearer’s part to give assent” (p. 111)? Where is a stable source of ...

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