on Gadamer, Hermeneutics, and the Church

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method: refuting the “prejudice against prejudice”

For Gadamer the words truth and meaning should be in quotations: “truth” and “meaning” .  He doesn’t simply discard absolute truth entirely but questions the possibility for an infallible method to access this truth. It must be this way if we really expect to learn anything, he claims, and thus  it must have the capacity to surprise us:

A person trying to understand a text is prepared for it to tell him something. That is why a hermeneutically trained mind must be, from the start, sensitive to the text’s quality of newness.  But this kind of sensitivity involves neither `neutrality’ in the matter of the object nor the extinction of one’s self, but the conscious assimilation of one’s own foremeanings and prejudices. . .

Not occasionally only, but always, the meaning of a text goes beyond its author.  That is why understanding is not merely reproductive, but always a productive attitude as well. . . .Suffice it to say that one understands differently when one understands at all. . .

He’s saying that the meaning of a text goes beyond its author, it means more than it’s author could have known, so it’s always productive, not reproductive. If it was reproductive it would give us a system that we could learn. Rather, it teaches what you didn’t anticipate and what the author did not expect to. The overall purpose of his book is the questioning of ‘prejudice against prejudice ’ – a reader always brings to the text his own foreknowledge, understanding, horizon, and the purpose of reading is for the horizon of the writer and of the reader  to merge together to produce a new horizon. It always goes beyond what the writer intends and what the reader anticipated.

We have assumed that in order to read a text accurately we must rid all preconceived notions, but Gaddamer says we can’t possibly do that.  Going back to Heidegger’s Dasein; we can’t see things completely new, but only in terms of what we already know, and what we bring to the situation. All our knowledge is interpreted, mediated knowledge; that is, we don’t simply see a thing, read a text, and see it for itself, but as it is in our experience. This is Heidegger’s deviation and adaptation of Husserl’s idea of bracketing. Usually, this has been seen as a problem (that you can’t remove your bias) – which is seen as a circle, you’re seeing what you want to see (i.e. eisogesis). What Gadamer and Heidegger are saying, is that you can’t read a text without bringing something to it. The only way arrive at a common understanding is through a common tradition. Tradition protects us from misunderstanding. But Heidegger is saying something more radical than that; we are always bringing something new to a text. We can never arrive at a completely pure knowledge of a thing apart from our own experience.

Perhaps this is how the Spirit speaks to his Church. Indeed, the task of the church in every generation is the read the bible with fresh horizons–horizons handed by the tradition of the Church, the narrative of Scripture and the culture it is calling to life.

The Western Wheel

Clyde showed up on the panoramic porch saying, “wow, this is the life.  This is what we were created for. This is the life!”

By his smile and big eyes scanning the scenery and deep exhale as he sat in a chair to take it all in, I could tell he was speaking of the glory of vacation—the glory of vacating the ordinary world of menial activity, restless work, and the daily grind that blinds us from enjoying the beauty of creation.

Clyde’s on to something. On the one hand, he’s a realist, and recognizes that there is something perverse with the way humans live their lives; true humanness is hampered. But on the other hand, Clyde’s an idealist; he’s sure that the curse has been lifted through the wonder-working power of vacation.

This was his good news. The enemy has been crushed. The enigmatic affliction of labor has been resolved by a cabin on the lake with a view, some good food and good company. Most importantly, freedom from the ol’ 9 to 5.

The limits of his leisure prevents him from discovering the lie he’s believing. The fast-paced world he lives him compels him to run without rest 50 weeks out of the year. Weekends are an extension of the work week, so two weeks of vacating seems like the glorious hub that man was created for. He finds no life in his work, and the occasional vacation is lengthy enough to provide respite from the demands of the Western world, but too short for him to recognize the dissatisfaction of idleness. And round he goes.

Clyde doesn’t know it but the reason he hates work is because of what he thinks it promises him. He works not only to survive but because work gives him something in return, and that something gives the illusion of human satiation of the deepest kind. He works for his gain, he works to get, he works to win and to beat: so he can’t rest. The more he works, the more he believes that he is in control; he believes he deserves to reap the fruit of labor that he’s earned. He’s in pursuit of the grand prize of unending idleness, which in the end will only bring fatigue and despair because of its disconnection from his true human purpose.

He fails to realize that true rest is not idleness nor vacation.  True rest is found in collaborative work with the person that transcends all time and space—the Creator. True rest is life-giving creation, creative expression, not for man’s sake but for the sake of a flouring world.

On Solitude: Starting the Year with God


Hey! I wrote an article and it was published on convergemagazine.com. Take a look here.

or read below:

The start of a new year can be both exciting and intimidating. It’s filled with hope for success and fear of failure. At the start of the new year we look for resolutions: we acquire more projects, more friends, more money, more triumphs, more of whatever will make us feel good about ourselves. Why? To resolve that question resounding deep in the depths of our psyche: Who am I? Am I funny, am I admired? Am I disliked, hated, or despised? Am I valued? Who am I?

On January 1, 2012, I left my home, my friends, and my family and moved across the country to a city where I knew no one. The future was promising: I could start new hobbies, make new friends, and change the way I dressed. I could redefine myself without having to answer to anyone. I’ve always been the independent type, so starting over alone was easy at first. But despite my introversion, I soon found that living alone, so far away from family and friends, is hard. It’s uncomfortable and it’s lonely. But, I’ve since learned, that that doesn’t mean loneliness is bad.

If we choose to, our loneliness can turn into the Christian practice of solitude, which can allow us to face the “Who am I?” question, not alone, but with God.

Solitude is not like a typical “resolution” which feeds our compulsion to find a sense of value in accomplishment. Rather, solitude is an awkward, nail-biting practice that forces us to meet the discomforting distress of our own sin. Like sitting in the dentist’s chair, in solitude, you sit in God’s chair, and He does the long, painful work of addressing your pains and needs. But it’s worthwhile: the Christian practice of solitude can foster Christian virtue and help reorient our affections for Christ. While solitude intensifies vulnerable questions of identity, Christ does His work to make us new.

Solitude may look different for everyone, based on needs and schedules, but here are eight tips on how you can make the most of a practice of solitude, and hopefully make the most out of the start of a new year.

1. Decide on a time.

I would advise everyone to yield a full 24 hours at least once a year, and at least one hour every week to solitude. If you can do more, do more. But, please don’t let the fear of not doing enough keep you from doing any at all — if you can’t afford 24 hours, find 12 hours, or six, or even one. One hour away from the usual grind is more rewarding than you might think.

2. Find an unfamiliar space.

This could be anywhere, really, indoor or outdoor. It could be in the forest, in a yard, or in someone’s home. Do you have a friend or family member who might have a space that you could use for an extended period of time? Or maybe you know someone who wishes to practice solitude as well — a good idea is to swap homes for the time devoted to solitude. Unfamiliar spaces are better than familiar ones because they take you out of your ordinary environment and the typical distractions. But, if you can’t find an unfamiliar space, a quiet space in your home will do fine. If you’re willing to pay, retreat centres exist for this very purpose. 

3. Leave the gun, take the cannoli.

Leave all digital technology at home, or in another room, far away from you. In solitude, we get rid of our infrastructures: no phones, no computers, no music devices, no projects to accomplish. Just a Bible and you: vulnerable, sinful, and broken.

4. Plan for snacks.

If you plan on taking a whole 24 hours, it might be a good idea to bring some food — but keep it simple (like a loaf of bread, or some granola bars). If you plan lavish meals you’ll find yourself looking forward to eating more than praying. If you can fast, even better.

5. Don’t give up.

In solitude, everything in you will want to give up — to get your phone, check your email, or just cut it short. DON’T! The struggle of solitude is an important part of the process. You need to struggle with your discomfort, you need to sit in the discomfort of sin’s reality and presence in your life and in the world. Ask yourself: “What’s making me so uncomfortable?” “Why am I so bored?” “What is so much more important than this moment right now, and why?” “What is God saying?” To practice solitude is to say, “I’m ready for the truth.” But the moment we catch a glimpse, we’re reminded of its pain, so we run. Don’t run, wrestle with it.

6. Solitude: Be with God. 

The most important part of the practice of solitude is your encounter with God. You can’t manipulate God, that’s for sure, but you can seek Him, and all the better if you do. There are no rules, and God can do what He wants, when He wants. So pray, and pray honestly — there’s no fooling God.

7. Make it a habit. 

Hopefully, a 24 hour period of solitude will propel you into the habit of solitude on a smaller scale. Practice the principles of solitude daily through momentary retreats and God desiring dispositions. A walk,  a minute of silence, or just turning off your phone are simple ways to remember God and cultivate devout dispositions throughout the day.

8. Get back to the world.

Getting back to the world and our community is an important counterpart to solitude. Solitude isn’t an escape or withdrawal for the sake of rest or renewal. Before His ministry with people, Jesus spent time in the desert, and it was only after 40 days of fasting and temptation in solitude that Jesus called His disciples. In solitude, God encounters us, convicts us of sin and compels us by His love; He defines our identity by His purpose and work, and through Him we no longer view our resolutions, activities and goals as “our own thing,” but rather, as part of the common vocation of the church of Christ, who makes all things new.

Barth on speaking about God

“As ministers we ought to speak of God. We are human, however, so we cannot speak of God. We ought therefore to recognize both our obligation and our inability and by that very recognition give God the glory.”

– Karl Barth

knowledge of the heart

Feeling loved is feeling understood

Who can know without knowing pain?

Who can know without being shamed?

Isolation is easy, not selfless 

not free.

But insecure, vulnerable, and weak;

this heart knows, this heart seeks.

it’s He who was slain, 

who knows from His heart,

captured and broken

a love torn apart 

The Folly of Idolatry


      13–17       The woodworker draws up plans for his no-god, traces it on a block of wood. He shapes it with chisels and planes into human shape—a beautiful woman, a handsome man, ready to be placed in a chapel. He first cuts down a cedar, or maybe picks out a pine or oak, and lets it grow strong in the forest, nourished by the rain. Then it can serve a double purpose: Part he uses as firewood for keeping warm and baking bread; from the other part he makes a god that he worships—carves it into a god shape and prays before it. With half he makes a fire to warm himself and barbecue his supper. He eats his fill and sits back satisfied with his stomach full and his feet warmed by the fire: “Ah, this is the life.” And he still has half left for a god, made to his personal design—a handy, convenient no-god to worship whenever so inclined. Whenever the need strikes him he prays to it, “Save me. You’re my god.”

      18–19       Pretty stupid, wouldn’t you say? Don’t they have eyes in their heads? Are their brains working at all? Doesn’t it occur to them to say, “Half of this tree I used for firewood: I baked bread, roasted meat, and enjoyed a good meal. And now I’ve used the rest to make an abominable no-god. Here I am praying to a stick of wood!”

      20       This lover of emptiness, of nothing, is so out of touch with reality, so far gone, that he can’t even look at what he’s doing, can’t even look at the no-god stick of wood in his hand and say, “This is crazy.”

Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), Is 44:12–20.

Craig Gay on Christian Ethics

The basic Christian insights about love and sin mean that, as Christians, we will always find ourselves in tension with the world at large.  We will, for example, find ourselves in the awkward position of insisting that people be treated with ver great care socially, economically, and politically, while refusing to pledge allegiance to any of the ideologies that promise to do just this.

– Craig Gay (The Way of The (Post) Modern World)

Ellul on Faith and Liberation

The fight of faith to which we are committed is not a fight against man.  It is not a question of destroying him, of convincing him that he is wrong.  It is a fight for his freedom.  Reinserted into a sacred, a prisoner of his myths, he is completely alienated in his neoreligions—this brave “modern man.” Every religion is both necessary and alienating.  To smash these idols, to desacralize these mysteries, to assert the falseness of these religions is to undertake the one, finally indispensable liberation of the person of our times.

– Jacques Ellul (The New Demons, 1975). 

Rousseau on Consumption

Man who had previously been free and independent, is now so to speak subjugated by a multitude of new needs. Consuming ambition, the ardent desire to raise one’s relative fortune less out of genuine need than in order to place oneself above others, instills in all men a black inclination to harm one another; a secret jealousy which is all the more dangerous as it often assumes the mask of benevolence.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1755

Martin Buber on Education

I do not accept any absolute formulas for living. No preconceived code can see ahead to everything that can happen in a man’s life. As we live, we grow and our beliefs change. They must change. So I think we should live with this constant discovery. We should be open to this adventure in heightened awareness of living. We should stake our whole existence on our willingness to explore and experience. Martin Buber ( Hodes 1972).