Kevin Vanhoozer, Again

Vanhoozer at MooreThank you Jamie, for letting me know that the Kevin Vanhoozer lectures from the Annual Moore College Lectures have now been posted online. The lectures can be accessed here.

(See my earlier post on the first lecture here, including my comment about the question I asked Kevin.)

I was present for the first (public) lecture on Friday night, and my question can be found at about 1 hour, 10 minutes of that lecture. Listening to Kevin’s answer again, I still think he misunderstands my question, but perhaps not so drastically as I thought on the night. He still suggests that the problem with interpretive pluralism as Smith presents it, is located in the biblicist interpreter who wants the Bible to address questions it was never intended to address. This is certainly an aspect of Smith’s argument, and I agree with Vanhoozer on this point. Smith, however—and this is the question that Kevin did not concede—does locate interpretive pluralism in the biblical text itself, however, in addition to the problem of the biblicist interpreter. The biblicist approaches the Bible as though its meaning was univocal, as though it speaks clearly with a single voice and meaning. Smith continually suggests, however, that this approach is itself inadequate:

If these descriptive accounts and analogies about how the Bible is actually read and made sense of by real Christians are essentially correct and revealing, then that tells us something very important. It tells us that the Bible is multivocal in its plausible interpretive possibilities: it can and does speak to different listeners in different voices that appear to say different things. […] Whatever biblicist theories say ought to be true about the Bible, in their actual, extensive experience using the Bible in practice, Christians recurrently discover that the Bible consists of irreducibly multivocal, polysemic, and multivalent texts (polysemy means “multiple meanings” and multivalent means “many appeals or values”) (Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, 47, original emphasis).

Or again:

The ideas of biblical multivocality, polysemy, and evidential under-determination may not fit the biblicist theory about scripture. Biblicists instead tend to assume the single, univocal meaning of biblical texts. […] The multivocality and polysemy of the Bible, and the diversity and division to which they give rise, are undeniable, historical, empirical, phenomenological facts.  It is not that multiple possible meanings are necessarily read into scripture by readers’ subjectivities (although sometimes they are) but rather that, even when read as good believers should read the texts, the words of scripture themselves can and usually do give rise to more than one possible, arguably legitimate interpretation. This very biblical multivocality and polysemy is exactly what explains a great deal of why Protestantism in particular—the tradition that, as the historical champion of sola scriptura and biblical perspicuity, has primarily fostered biblicism—is itself extremely fragmented doctrinally, ecclesiologically, and culturally. […] To deny the multivocality of scripturure is to live in a self-constructed world of unreality (Smith, The Bible, 52-54).

My question to Kevin was asking for his response to this claim. I would still like to hear it, and I will listen to the lectures with interest to see whether he does address it in one of the later sessions. To me, Smith’s contention has more than a grain of truth, and if anything, makes Kevin Vanhoozer’s project all the more necessary. We need carefully devised hermeneutical principles for reading scripture well. Kevin’s proposal for a gospel-oriented (the five solas) and ecclesial (the priesthood of believers) model for biblical interpretation will be, I believe, an important contribution to this essential discussion.

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