Leo D. LEFEBURE. True and Holy: Christian Scripture and Other Religions. Mary Knoll, NY: Orbis, 2014. pp. 274. $30.00 pb. ISBN: 978-1-62698-053-2. Reviewed by Daniel LLOYD, Saint Leo University, North Charleston, SC 29406.
Leo D. Lefebure’s well-researched True and Holy is primarily an historical and contemporary survey of Christian biblical traditions and hermeneutics. It is aimed at reforming traditional Christian biblical hermeneutics for the promotion of interreligious dialogue. Lefebure details a variety of Christian exegetical traditions of antagonism towards non-Christians and then identifies modern, respectful hermeneutical models which can lead to more fruitful interreligious dialogue. He starts with two chapters outlining his critique of hostile interpretations. There he gives a brief survey of select approaches to hermeneutics from the Christian perspective, beginning with a nod to the work of Origen and Augustine. For Lefebure, these patristic authors are important examples for his project as they allow for a non-literal approach to violent passages in the Bible and also show the diversity of Christian exegetical traditions. This brief section of the book functions as a springboard to showcase a select range of modern hermeneutical approaches based on the generosity and respect Lefebure counsels, including those from Kant, Schleiermacher, Gadamer, Ricoeur, Tracy, and Clooney.
Successive chapters treat Christian biblical interpretations of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Each chapter walks through the history of major examples of hostile interpretations against the particular religious tradition at hand. Lefebure then provides examples of modern hermeneutical approaches (either those of individual theologians or, in some cases, Church declarations or documents) which are rooted in respect and a desire for dialogue with that particular tradition. The final chapter in the book gives a brief presentation of methods found in the work of Bernard Lonergan and René Girard. He argues that these theologians’ works can be helpful for developing hermeneutical methods supportive of interreligious dialogue.
As the author makes clear, his book stands within a growing Christian hermeneutical movement. This movement includes the rise of interreligious commentary on others’ sacred texts. According to Lefebure, every tradition must start by self-assessing and ridding itself of hostility towards those outside of the tradition. This in turn enables the mutually beneficial reading of others’ traditions. For instance, Lefebure points to the example of Gandhi and notes that it is “one of the greatest ironies in the history of biblical interpretation that it took a Hindu to teach Christians how effective the teachings of Jesus on nonviolence could be” (12). Such a passage demonstrates both the tenor of Lefebure’s project and the goals it seeks. All religious traditions should attempt to look with respect and good will on those outside of the tradition in order to find as much common ground as possible with each other. Doing so allows all traditions to be as mutually beneficial to one another as possible, while never glossing over important differences. Though the latter idea is not well developed in Lefebure’s work, he insists several times that genuine dialogue between traditions cannot be simply about finding the lowest common denominator of ideas.
The survey format of the book will no doubt fuel the kinds of praise and critiques it will receive. This is an important survey for anyone who may be largely unfamiliar with an often troubling history of biblical exegesis and hermeneutics in Christian thinking. However, a survey also lacks nuance and the details which contextualize significant ideas. One example can be found in Lefebure’s description of the Christian view of Muhammad in history. He states, “Medieval Christians repeatedly interpreted Muhammad either as the Antichrist or as a forerunner of the Antichrist” (108). He then describes a historical range of variations on this theme as antithetical to respect and dialogue. Lefebure does so though without clearly explaining the important theological and historical reasons for why Christians would think this way. Such knowledge, about the details of Islam’s explicit rejection of Christian theology and doctrine as well as the consequences of military conflicts, needs to be told in order to understand the exegesis Lefebure is condemning. Many readers will therefore come away from this very informative book thinking of it as an excellent start to any number of important conversations, both those entirely had within the Christian tradition and those of an interreligious nature.
In light of the above comments, the question of audience also arises. Historians and theologians will already be aware of at least the broad outlines of the hermeneutical issues put forward. Non-specialists will likely be inspired by the goals of the book, lucidity of the presentation, and the even-handedness the author displays. However, those interested in the topic from either group will again note the need for finding other works which draw out the details, methods, and ideas presented here. Lefebure’s copious in-text citations are a good start to this process. As a survey book which principally advocates and briefly outlines new trends in Christian biblical hermeneutics, we might expect either an updated version in the not too distant future or, better yet from this author, a new and detailed work which carries the modern hermeneutical project into fuller development.