His Community, His Interpretation: A Review Of Merold Westphal’s “Whose Community? Which Interpretation?” -- By: Nathan D. Shannon

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 72:2 (Fall 2010)
Article: His Community, His Interpretation: A Review Of Merold Westphal’s “Whose Community? Which Interpretation?”
Author: Nathan D. Shannon


His Community, His Interpretation: A Review Of Merold Westphal’s “Whose Community? Which Interpretation?”

Review Article

Nathan D. Shannon

Nathan D. Shannon is a Ph.D. student at the Free University of Amsterdam.

Merold Westphal’s Whose Community? Which Interpretation?: Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church is the fourth book to appear in Baker Academic’s The Church and Postmodern Culture series.1 The defense of postmodernism found in it echoes much of the first volume in the series, James K. A. Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, reviewed in the pages of this journal by John C. Poirier.2 Poirier produces valuable critiques of a few points which are not exclusive to Smith’s work but are rather somewhat standard for ecumenically minded advocates of various forms of postmodernism, a fact confirmed by Westphal’s reproduction of some of the same material.

Whose Community? Which Interpretation? contains three sections. The middle section, including chapters 6-9, contains a brief analysis of Gadamer’s Truth and Method. The preceding five chapters provide background and context to Gadamer, while in the final three chapters Westphal discusses how Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory, together with the insights provided by an analogy drawn between political liberalism and ecclesiology, applies to biblical interpretation in the church.

The first chapter, entitled “Hermeneutics 101,” is indeed an introduction to basic hermeneutic issues and somewhat of an apologetic for exploring an “interpretation of interpretation.” Westphal meets the specter of naive realism and a “no interpretation needed” (p. 18) hermeneutic with the insights of Kantian

subjectivism and three illustrations emphasizing not only the validity but inevitability of multiple perspectives, this interpretive variety being refracted more likely through cultural matrices than through individual interpreters. Evident already in this brief opening chapter are two aspects of Westphal’s basic argument. First, he will affirm that an emphasis on the validity of multiple perspectives does not entail unmitigated relativism, which, as Westphal remarks already several times by the conclusion of chapter 1, no one really maintains anyway3 Secondly he warns the reader against those devious and disingenuous Bible interpreters out there who think themselves absolute interpreters (or their interpretation absolute), wh...

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