Hermeneutics: An Introduction to Interpretive Theory, by Stanley Porter & Jason C. Robinson (Eerdmans, 2011).
Trinity (IL) professor Grant Osborne says: “We have needed a book like this for some time. It not only traces the philosophical issues and major figures but does so concisely and readably. This is a must-read for college and seminary classes as well as for anyone who wants to be grounded in the theoretical issues behind the process of interpreting texts.” Denver Seminary’s Craig Blomberg notes that the book also “will help readers with significant grounding in the discipline to connect many dots that they otherwise might never have realized form coherent patterns.” Porter’s output is notable; in the Acknowledgements he mentions Osborne, Thiselton and many others for their influence. Robinson is a protégé of Porter, R. Longenecker, and others.
The Preface notes that the book is unusual in covering both hermeneutical giants and some contemporary writers whose work in the field is still coming out. We are glad to see, for example, not only figures such as Gadamer and Ricoeur, but also Kevin Vanhoozer who has given special lectures on our campus. The Preface also notes that the worlds of Continental and English-speaking hermeneutical work are both included, rather than one or the other being neglected as in too many cases. (Even so, Continental and especially German prominence in hermeneutics and in biblical studies, where hermeneutics as we know it began two centuries ago, cannot be missed.) The Preface also says that notes are not included, owing to the nature and purpose of the book, with the flow of the presentation being focal.
The first chapter (“What is Hermeneutics?”) is helpful with its overview of what’s ahead:
- Romantic Hermeneutics with Schleiermacher (1768-1834) & Dilthey (1833-1911)
- Phenomenological and Existential Hermeneutics with Husserl (1859-1938) & Heidegger (1889-1976)
- Philosophical Hermeneutics with Gadamer (1900-2002)
- Hermeneutic Phenomenology with Ricoeur (1913-2005)
- Critical Hermeneutics with Habermas (1929-)
- Structuralism with Saussure (1857-1913) and Patte (1939-)
- Poststructuralism with Derrida (1930-2004)
- Dialectical Theology & Exegesis with Barth and Bultmann discussed
- Theological Hermeneutics with Thiselton (1937-) and Vanhoozer (1957-)
- Literary Hermeneutics with Alan Culpepper (1945-)
In the Conclusion under “Ongoing Debates” there are seven “highly controversial questions” added to the basic three of whether to highlight (a) the author and the intention placed within the text, (b) the text and its cultural-historical context, or (c) the reader’s present situation and socio-historically conditioned way of understanding the text. These seven questions, in condensed form, are:
- Should we look primarily for the author’s mind, creative act, circumstances? Should we dialogue with something the author could not control or have foreseen—asking the text questions it asks of us?
- Does even a slight common accord pre-exist to enable understanding, or do misunderstanding and radical difference always come first?
- To what degree should we rely on methods, laws, or principles of understanding?
- What does it mean to cultivate a critical and reflective attitude? Does that exclude methods? Is there a role in hermeneutics for practical wisdom and personal responsibility and, if so, what?
- Is interpretation an act that’s objective or subjective or neither? Is it a play, an inter-subjective accord, or is it too fluid to specify?
- Is there a correct interpretation? Is the best interpretation at the moment what we should seek? Or should we simply be reading for its own pleasure without concerns of transcultural truth?
- “What is the proper role of hermeneutics in theological and biblical interpretation?”
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