This book delineates the individualist “interpretation problem” that has long beset Protestant biblical interpretation and engages theological resources that could serve to move beyond it. Lauren Smelser White argues that readers of Scripture—specifically those who long to submit their lives to God's transforming Word, which they believe the Bible discloses—ought to reckon with the participatory role that human bodies (corporeal and corporate) play in producing revelation's norms. Such a reckoning need not entail giving up on Scripture delivering the life-changing address of a divine Other. In support of that claim, White distills a picture of revelation as a divine-human discursive encounter: a process wherein our hermeneutic constructions are incorporated into the Word's self-disclosure, and whereby interpreters who embrace this venture in vulnerability may experience graced transformation. She concludes by proposing that this “Christomorphic” interpretation process is analogous to a mother’s embodied responsiveness in caring for her child. Such a hermeneutic paradigm suggests distinctive commitments from communities who desire to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in interpretive acts.
Lauren Smelser White is assistant professor of theology at Lipscomb University.
1. Identifying the “Protestant Interpretation Problem”: Sola Scriptura Hermeneutics from Luther to Barth
2. Karl Barth’s Distinctive Iteration of Sola Scriptura
3. Protestant Alternatives in Wolfhart Pannenberg and Hans Frei: New Angles of the Interpretation Problem
4. Balthasar’s Contemplative Option: The Allures and Hazards of a “Christophorous” Hermeneutic
5. Incarnational Unfolding through Pneumatological Incorporation: Balthasar’s Linear Model and Coakley’s “Spirit-Led” Alternative
6. Word Made Flesh, Flesh Made Word: Discourse as Sacramental Site of Revelatory Encounter
Can we be touched by a text without ‘touching’ it? Answers from Enlightened reason and classic Protestant revelation say no. Yes, I myself can interpret a text, led by reason and the Spirit, but only if I don’t touch it with my self. Only if I suppress life experiences and leave behind no threads of cultural clothing. And yet, Lauren Smelser White deftly argues—weaving in a “thread” or two from Derrida—the goal of immaculate objectivity makes embodied, transforming revelation implausible. It insulates us from the risks of divine giving and receiving. What is needed are communal, personal interpretive practices receptive to God’s receptivity to us. This is a high view of scripture’s openness to our erring, suffering, responsive flesh. White’s dialogues with Barth, von Balthasar, Sarah Coakley, and Louis-Marie Chauvet, direct us toward an embodied, ecumenical hermeneutic of God’s nurturing, just, and boundless Word.
One of the brightest among a new generation of theologians, Lauren Smelser White is both deeply committed to Christianity’s biblical basis and poignantly aware of how pervasive textual fundamentalism has long inhibited the revelatory, redemptive power of the Word of God for individuals and denominational communities. Her expert, balanced review of the strengths and weaknesses in 20th-century Protestant scholarship opens into an astute enlistment of more recent fundamental theologians—notably feminist and sacramental—to propose a full-bodied comprehension of divine revelation as a Spirit-guided, shared communal event.