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Hermeneutics and the Church: In Dialogue with Augustine by James A. Andrews (review)
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James A. Andrews has set a difficult task for himself: demonstrating that the no man’s land of hermeneutics—the area between the academy and the church, between scholars and practitioners—can be successfully crossed. In Hermeneutics and the Church: In Dialogue with Augustine, Andrews both issues a call for interdisciplinary dialogue about biblical interpretation and demonstrates how that dialogue might be accomplished. Key to the dialogue is hearing and engaging “a voice from outside” current arguments (69 and passim). The voice Andrews has chosen is Augustine’s in De doctrina christiana, citing Augustine’s status as a theologian and De doctrina’s status as a classic. In his careful analysis of De doctrina, particularly Augustine’s emphasis on the functionality of scripture (as opposed to its ontology), Andrews has attempted to move the contemporary dialogue about hermeneutics to one which not only accounts for both text and community, but which also sees the text as essentially outside the community, addressing it with a message from God.

Without labeling it as such, Andrews essentially posits a hermeneutical web which connects biblical text, scriptural authors, current context, historical context, the ideas in De doctrina, readers, interpreters, and, perhaps most importantly, members of the church. For Andrews, the essential paradigm into which all these components fit is the sermon. Hermeneutics is incomplete without the offering of biblical interpretation to the church whose members then, in turn, enact that interpretation. Andrews lays out his argument in five tightly connected chapters followed by a conclusion that shows the way forward.

In chapters 1 and 2, Andrews lets Augustine set the boundaries of the dialogue by explaining Augustine’s context and summarizing and outlining De doctrina. Andrews analyzes recent scholarship on the nature of De doctrina in chapter 1, and concludes that De doctrina is an “expanded hermeneutics”—expanded because Augustine addresses interpretation of scripture in Books 1–3, but goes further to include a turn to rhetoric in Book 4. Because Augustine was ultimately more concerned with the practice of interpretation than with theory, in De doctrina he expands interpretation to include not only the first step of understanding the text, but also a second step in which that understanding is delivered to the church. Andrews argues that De doctrina is a unified whole comprised of two movements: “the way of discovering (modus inveniendi) what should be understood” and “the way of presenting (modus proferendi) what has been understood” (65, 67). In chapter 2, Andrews then provides an outline which serves to demonstrate the unity of De doctrina.

Having allowed Augustine to determine the parameters, Andrews next presents his understanding of interpretation in chapter 3 and of its presentation in chapter 4. In chapter 3, Andrews describes the lay of the land in contemporary hermeneutical practice. He argues that Augustine’s understanding of scripture and its interpretation provides a way of navigating between a hermeneutics that uses general principles (derived from philosophical hermeneutics or literary theory) and a hermeneutics that focuses on interpreting a specific, or local, kind of text. Andrews posits that most scholarly disagreement comes not from whether to use general hermeneutical principles, but, rather, when to use them.

That is, how do theory and practice fit together? Thus, Andrews argues, a more helpful model addresses the question of when to use an overarching theory in the practice of interpretation: either before interpreting a text (a priori) or in the process (a posteriori). A priori hermeneutics begins with a general interpretive principle and applies it to a specific task of interpretation. A posteriori hermeneutics moves from the practice of interpretation to an ad hoc rule for interpretation and then back to practice. Andrews argues that a posteriori hermeneutics presents a “fusion” of theory (general concerns) and practice (local concerns) that can, for all intents and purposes, give a practitioner the best of all possible worlds (115). Because Augustine was concerned with the practice of interpretation, and because he wrote De doctrina for people already engaged in the practice of interpreting scripture, his hermeneutics can be termed a posteriori. Indeed, Andrews sees Augustine’s very theory of signs, not as the theoretical basis for his hermeneutics, but as a tool for the practice...

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