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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik


Dalferth, Ingolf U., Bühler, Pierre, u. Andreas Hunziker [Hrsg.]


Hermeneutische Theologie – heute?


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2013. XXII, 273 S. = Hermeneutische Untersuchungen zur Theologie, 60. Kart. EUR 69,00. ISBN 978-3-16-152001-3.


George Pattison

Hermeneutical theology is generally perceived as belonging to the 1950s and 1960s, a time when theology was responding to the impact of Heidegger and Gadamer amongst the philosophers and Bultmann and Barth amongst the theologians. Already then there were significant differences between the kind of hermeneutical theology associated with Gerhard Ebeling and that which was represented by Ernst Fuchs and Eberhard Jüngel. The former stood in the line of Bultmann and developed the cognitio dei through an interpretation of the cognitio hominis. The latter combined perspectives from Barthian Trinitarianism and the later Heidegger and worked from the cognitio dei to the cognitio hominis. Ingolf U. Dalferth indicates that he inclines to the latter position, and concludes his introduction by describing the task of a contemporary hermeneutical theology as working through an understanding of God »als die kreative Wirklichkeit des Möglichen allen Mög­lich­keiten des weltlichen Wirklichen unergründlich voraus and zu­grunde zu liegen« (37). Nevertheless, the collection as a whole sets out to do justice to both streams of hermeneutical theology and, over and above critical reflection on the inheritance of the key figures, also to see what might be the best possibilities for its renewal. The essays are of a consistently high quality, tightly ar­gued and well-referenced, and a short review such as this can do little more than indicate the range of approaches taken and topics addressed.
Dalferth’s own essay explicates the key terms of hermeneutical theology and shows how understanding is an event that involves the whole of a text’s process of development and reception and the condition of understanding is therefore the condition of its impossibility (15). Yet Dalferth suggests that a radical theological ap­proach can learn to read verbal signs as a means of both of God’s presence and of a total world-transformation that embraces every as­pect of our experience. It’s not just about God but about the totality of our being in the world and how that world is meaningful for us.
Pierre Bühler focusses on key aspects of Ebeling’s thought, which he broadly affirms, doubting the possibility of a presuppo­sitionless cognitio dei. However, Ebeling hadn’t really reckoned with cultural studies in the current sense. Andreas Großmann likewise follows the Bultmann/Ebeling trajectory, but takes the story back to the work of Heidegger and Bultmann in the 1920s and early 1930s. Rejecting crude criticisms of Bultmann for merely aping Heidegger, Großmann, like Bühler, ends by emphasizing the greater challenge we today face in understanding what understanding itself really is – and yet »theology today cannot not be hermeneutical« (81).
Jürgen Werbick draws on Ricœur and questions of ritual practice to show how Christian hermeneutics necessarily seeks normativity, based as it is on the assumption that, in Jesus Christ, human words can reveal divine truth but human words cannot escape the conflict of interpretations as they seek out the »essential possibil­ities of human freedom« (94).
Jörg Lauster considers the similarities and differences between a Bultmannian hermeneutics and contemporary approaches to see religion as a form of world-interpretation. Despite the differences, Bultmann identified issues that arise for any theological her­me­neutics, not least his view of scripture as direct address, provoking a response from the reader.
In one of the longer contributions, Andreas Hunziker tackles a ques­tion that is especially relevant to English language debates, namely, whether a hermeneutical approach cuts off the possibility of genuinely acknowledging the otherness of the other. Hunziker sees this issue as productive for hermeneutics and draws on the work of Emil Angehrn, Thomas Freyer, and Philip Stoellger to end with three questions to hermeneutical theology: whether faith means understanding, whether it means self-understanding, and whether revelation is identical with God making himself understandable to us .
Ulrich H. J. Körtner
too is concerned to show that claims as to the obsolescence of hermeneutical theology are premature. Theology cannot be dissolved without remainder into cultural studies but presupposes the active claim of God as integral to a truly »theo­logical theology«. Also like other contributors, Körtner draws at­tention to the inherent dimension of passivity in the human and hermeneutical situation.
Bultmann returns once more in Christof Landmesser’s »Freedom through Interpretation«. Landmesser shows how Bultmann’s early historicist approach was, by 1913, being supplemented by the aim of seeking »the eternal […] as it is expressed in temporal forms« (180). Thereafter we see a tension between the demands of histor­ical research and the need to overcome the distance between text and interpreter. Although much in Bultmann has been superseded, his insistence on the need for historical study, his resistance to adapting the text to one’s own theological perspective, and the requirement that, via phenomenology, the text is seen in its relevance to the interpreter remain relevant.
Hartmut von Sass (»Sacrament and Parable«) looks to Fuchs for a »linguistic turn« in hermeneutics, in which there is no reality without language, which he also interprets sacramentally. Von Sass calls for a rehabilitation of the ex opere operato motif on linguistic ground. The Kingdom comes as parable: »Sie wirkt was sie sagt, und sie ist was sie gibt« (226). This essay is one of the few in which the actual text of the New Testament is given extended attention, when von Sass shows how Jüngel overlooks many of the complexities of the parables to which he appeals.
The concluding essay by Hans Weder also addresses the parables, approaching them in the context of a post-Enlightenment situation in which theological reflection needs to show from world­ly experience itself how human flourishing involves dependence or relationality at the base of worldly self-affirmation and action. Only so can theological categories be shown as resonant with worldly experience. Examples include the Lukan »great commission«, and, especially, the parables of the Kingdom that reveal the creative possibilities of the everyday by metaphorically expanding the scope of language beyond univocal statements concerning what »is«. They reveal the »Lebensfreundlichkeit« of dependence and relationality. This pattern is then applied to John 1, to Paul’s account of Abraham as father of faith, and to Romans 1.20. All this leads to a fundamentally thankful orientation towards life as integral to our becoming fully human.
This brief summary will have given some indication of the intensity of focus of these essays that, between them, cover considerable ground and make good the claim that theology still has much to learn by taking its own hermeneutical agenda as seriously as possible. Bultmann re-emerges as a major figure from whom we can still learn much, which this reviewer welcomes. Perhaps Anglophone philosophy and theology came late to the hermeneutical table, and some of the issues in play are therefore less obviously »outdated«, having been represented by significant recent voices such as David Tracey and John D. Caputo, neither of whom get discussed here. But this is still a collection from which I have learned much and can warmly commend more widely.