Eph 4:14-15: Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

Col 1:9-10: For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer has written that the church is uniquely suited to be a place where individuals learn the ethics of understanding.  He notes:

"The church is that community in which the interpretive virtues – intellectual, ethical, and spiritual – are cultivated. For it is not only a community’s interests but also its virtues that make it an appropriate environment for obtaining literary knowledge. In short, literary knowledge is not simply a matter of having the right descriptions but also of having the right dispositions."

In Vanhoozer's vision, the local church can be a place where we acquire certain habits essential for the proper interpretation of others' ideas.   We learn how to deal faithfully, honestly, and rigorously with sermons, discipleship studies, creeds and confessions, biblical commentaries, systematic theologies, and of course, most importantly, the Bible itself.  As a result, this kind of regular practice in reading carries over into the way we deal with all human texts.  We seek to avoid distorting the message; we work to nuance the particulars of wording; we learn to balance context, background,and genre.

Likewise, this task is not a natural labor alone but is maximized by the Spirit's work on the human person.  God schools us in the handling of interpretation, teaching us to lay aside our will to twist texts to our own purposes and to cast suspicion on our own cultural filters when they act to hide us from from what is there.  Equally, he convicts us to read against the grain of a text that teaches falseness and corruption.

It is sad to reflect on how often churches fail in fair interpretation.Too many times, churches are places that teach the opposite of honesty.  We learn to bend texts to our own will to power.  We promote half-truths about our political and cultural opponents.  We exist in cultural ghettos with knee-jerk reactions against anything that might even remotely offend.  We quickly condemn when we have not done the hard work of understanding, and thus we bring ridicule on ourselves and the church as a whole.  Instead, we should practice a hermeneutics of love.  We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, and each of us wants to be properly understood and not distorted.

One of the burdens of some of these selections on worldview is to suggest that interpretation occurs both in and outside of community, that we need other voices to help us uncover meaning, even if we also recognize that texts can speak something other than what our community holds.  (cf. Hermeneutics and Clarity)  This is especially the case with the Christian teaching.  We do ourselves a mistake to discount the genuine, God-given plurality of the universal Church.  The Holy Spirit has emphasized different facets of the unity of his truth through different branches of the people of God.  None of us has a monopoly on scripture and theology.  Instead, we learn from each other how to better unpack the richness that is there.  In the same way, the nature of the Church reminds us that truth is intersubjective; it is best found out through a variety of approaches and methods and is best uncovered by accounting for the insights of a larger scope of interpreters than ourselves alone.  By doing so, we practice the virtue of mutual accountability.

Central Insight: Church can be a lesson in the virtue of proper interpretation, both in how to approach texts and in how to learn from others in their insights.

Suggestions for Application: Show how particlar virtues of reading, such as honesty, openness, attentiveness, and/or discernment, are necessary to explicate the meaning of a particular passage.

Vanhoozer, Kevin J. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.