Sunday, March 30, 2008

On Reading as a Believer

George Eliot's description (in the last post) of what it means to read as a believer rings true--believers have often expanded the text for whatever they can put in it. But hers is an outsider's perspective. Faithful reading need not entail eisegesis.

Here's a more challenging insider perspective:
What does it mean to "believe" a doctrine as true? Belief, as Thiselton has learned from H. H. Price, is an utterance that is "inextricably embodied in patterns of habit, commitment, and action, which constitute endorsement, 'backing,' or 'surroundings' for the utterance." To "believe" is to take a stand in the face of opposition. He quotes Price: "If circumstances were to arise in which it made a practical difference whether p was true or false, he [the believer] would act as if it were true." To believe is "performatory" in character. Thiselton puts it like this: "Belief, then, is action-orientated, situation-related, and embodied in the particularities and contingencies of everyday living." He adds one more component, which, if he's right, shapes everything he says and everything we believe: belief in a doctrine involves "communal commitment and communal formation." (Scot McKnight review of Anthony Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine in Christianity Today)
In short, believers don't just read; they act.

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