The Age-Old Issue OF A Humble Hermeneutic

of a humble hermeneutic

I was privileged to be raised in a Christian home. In fact, in the small town in Central Alberta where I grew up my parents spent almost their entire adult lives in the little church we attended. Both of my grandmothers attended that same church. My only living grandfather did not though – he was Catholic. And sometimes, when we would gather with extended family at my grandparent’s home, after the meal the card games would begin. Face cards on the kitchen table where grandpa played solitaire – all alone, while the rest of us gathered around tables in the living and sitting rooms playing Rook. No one said Grandpa was sinning with those “questionable” face cards, but we kind of treated him like he was. (Honestly, to this day I deeply regret my part in that wrongdoing.)  Rook cards were more safe, more acceptable for a Christian. My world, even and especially my Christian theological world, was pretty small.

When I left with my wife to go to Bible School, we began to rub shoulders with people from different contexts, different Christian backgrounds, different countries. I began to realize that people who can be solid orthodox believers of God and followers of Jesus and still believe many things differently than I did. They were as committed to the bible, to obedience, and to Jesus, as I was — often more so.

Meanwhile, back home, my parents continued to attend that same small church until it “aged out” and closed its doors. They then had to find a new place to worship, to learn, to commune. Surprisingly to me, they ended up attending an “evangelical leaning” parish of a mainline denomination. There they found a home, a place they could meet God. Their theological world was getting bigger too.

Then, a few years later, when my father was around 90 years old (in May of 2023 we celebrated his 94th birthday) he said something to me I doubt I will ever forget. We were talking about some issue, probably a social issue of the day, and he commented that on many such things he was far less dogmatic than he used to be, much less certain, and he was less convinced of the absolute nature of his position. Now, let me be clear. My father had not, and has not, slid into any heresy, nor weakened any of his perspective on the Triune God and the plan of salvation. But on numerous other issues his grip has lessened with age. I actually don’t think there are many things he believes differently, except the manner in which they should be held – loosely and humbly, rather than harshly and dogmatically.

Now, my dad is not one who will read books on theology and study the latest authors, but he exemplifies a humble hermeneutical attitude that I want to emulate – an attitude that says I may not understand everything, and I may not be right.

But the journey to get to that place requires intentionality of me.

I have come to understand that listening, learning, being curious, broadening my circle (especially outside of North American Christianity), reading people I don’t agree with, getting outside of my echo chamber, and engaging in conversations with people who have hard questions are all necessary for me to have a humble hermeneutic.  I also recognize that it is still important to be anchored in the essentials. Actually, a strength of belief in the essentials shouldn’t lead me to shutting my ears, but rather to a confidence to open them more fully, with grace.

I am learning that unless I can describe someone’s position on an issue as good as, or better, than they can, my default position toward them and their position should be curiosity and listening, grace, and humility – not a response of argument, being close minded, and belligerent.

It is never too late to embrace a humble hermeneutic. Over the next weeks I expect we will write more about making sure our hermeneutic is accurate, but I want to start from a place of humility. That, in and of itself, is the first “age-old issue” I need to address.

Terry Kaufman
EFCC Leadership Catalyst