As you may or may not know, I am in the final stages of completing my dissertation for a PhD in New Testament and Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. This just so happens to coincide with my ever-increasing interest in the blogging phenonmenon. Therefore, I thought I would make available some of my dissertation on my blog. I am terribly anxious about the actual meat and bones of the dissertation. Though, from afar, I think it has potential. So I am offering here the first attempt at an abstract. As an enhancement of the actual abstract, I've linked certain terms and people in case you want to investigate further. I'd love to know what you think.
In this dissertation I examine the concept of meaning in current proposals of theological interpretation. Theological interpretation seeks to come to terms with the biblical texts as sacred scripture and to offer hermeneutical strategies for the interpretation of the texts as such. These strategies derive from the interpreter’s understanding of the concept of meaning, which is educed either from the supposed nature of the texts and their authors or from the function of the texts in religious communities. Thus, approaches to theological interpretation become debates between ontological and pragmatic strategists.
Stephen Fowl and Kevin Vanhoozer have embraced the term “theological interpretation” for their separate projects, but their ideas of what that is and how “meaning” is a part of it differ greatly. I describe their respective concepts of meaning and conclude the following: 1) while Fowl rightly moves against the strictures of dichotomous modes of thinking and reinvigorates the interpreters’ appeal to the interpreting community, he too easily dismisses the usefulness and the viability of the concept of meaning; and 2) while Vanhoozer rightly moves against the relative nature of deconstructive modes of interpretation and rescues the notion of authorial intention from both authorless postmodernists and psychologizing modernists, he too easily restricts the concept of meaning to authorial intention alone.
I argue that a more holistic concept of meaning, one that can be described with triadic terminology reclaimed from Austinian speech act theory via James McClendon and James Smith, allows theological interpreters to understand their craft not so much as a discovery of intentions or the creation of interests but as a conversation in which truth is mediated. This mediation, I contend, is the most useful and theologically/philosophically cogent conceptual image for meaning.