Merold Westphal writes on the utilization of postmodern philosophies of literary criticism in the attempt to interpret the texts of the Holy Scriptures. There are so many ways the theologian as writer, the ordained as homilist and the lay person in personal devotions have interpreted the Bible. This book would guide each reader into a more uniform methodology of interpretation. He uses the works of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, E. D. Hirth, Jr., Wilhelm Dilthey and others and applies their individual methods of examination of texts to the interpretation of the Bible. Each philosopher's understanding of literary interpretation is explained to the reader and subsequently examined for its applicability to examine the Bible. The arguments for what may or may not be acceptable are well-crafted and well-grounded.
Westphal seeks to expose the Scripture reader to the actuality of scriptural interpretation and the application of postmodern literary criticism to scriptural hermeneutics. To accomplish this Westphal explains the thoughts of some of the best literary philosophers in their quest to explain how the history, environment, prejudices, and presuppositions the reader brings to the interpretation of Scripture influence the outcome. He concentrates on the works of Gadamer in relationship to others in the field of literary criticism.
The book is structured for the novice as well as the advanced reader. Chapters 1 and 2 are cast as a beginning orientation to hermeneutics and its history. Chapters 3 through 5 begin to explain why some forms of literary criticism do not apply to scriptural interpretation. Psychologism, Objectivism, Authorial Privilege and Revoking Authorial Privilege are discussed in some detail. Chapters 6 to 9 concentrate on the works of Gadamer with respect to hermeneutics and the philosophical bases of possible "rules of the road" for interpretation in contrast and comparison to the works of Dilthey, Schleiermacher, Ricoeur, and Hirth. Chapters 10 through 12 propose the Church as Conversation and the need for conversation among all Scripture readers in the Church so that all of the Body of Christ, in all denominations, can come to an overall consensus on the meanings of Scripture.
This book is a well composed treatise on the interpretation of scripture comparing philosophers who see literary interpretation from a postmodern perspective that claims that one interpretation is as good as another to those who are more reserved in their way of discerning the meanings of texts and what God is communicating to us in Scripture. While Westphal does well to write so all can understand, the lay person may have to work a bit harder to understand the philosophical terminology and concepts. An index is available and is very useful for tracking down subjects as needed. From the academic, to the pastor and the layperson, all interpret the Bible. All need a common way to listen to the Bible. This book in scriptural hermeneutics could be used as a primary text for a college course or as a means to give insight to the more advanced lay person in a parish Bible study.