Getting Down With Distanciation
Yesterday, I attempted to answer the question, “What Is Distanciation?” As a follow-up to that post, I would like to share a few more thoughts concerning distanciation as I believe it is a crucial part of sound exegesis. I will mention two ditches to avoid as well as two derivatives to enjoy.
Two Ditches to Avoid
As I reflected on the process of distanciation, I perceived two ditches which I believe are important to avoid. The first ditch is dogmatism which carries the temptation to adopt an unthinking, conformist approach to the text. Unruly dogmatism driven into the text shrouds the meaning of the author because of the defensive pietism of the interpreter. This defensive approach, accomplished by modernity’s certainties, results in a distancing in the wrong direction—away from the text of Scripture.
On the other hand, if modernism had the ditch of dogmatism, postmodernism has the ditch of doubt. While the process one undergoes requires a healthy sense of critical assessment, if the interpreter does not get past the process and makes the means an end, what will inevitably result is a commitment not to exegesis but deconstructionism. Postmodernity’s questioning of language threatens the interpreter’s ability to find meaning in the text, because the ditch of doubt often times finds greater virtue in the reader’s response than the author’s intent. Indeed, we must query the text, but our query should not bring into question the truthfulness and meaning of Scripture. This, too, is a serious threat to avoid. Two Derivatives to Enjoy
Now that I briefly mentioned two ditches to avoid, let me mention two derivatives to enjoy from distanciation. The first derivative is a greater horizon in one’s understanding of the text. Allowing yourself to humbly approach the text with a willingness to change your convictions, you allow the text to determine not only the meaning, but also your theology. We will soon find that God’s truth is not fragile and God’s Word can be trusted. We experience a greater horizon in the understanding of the text as we engage God’s truth and allow it to shape our thinking and theology.
A second derivative is similar to the first one, and that distanciation provides a deeper understanding of the meaning in the text. When one undergoes distanciation, he will be able to see things in the text he was previously unable to see because of the blinding commitments which caused him to either have a superficial or at best partial understanding of the text.
“Provided that part of the task of interpretation is nurtured along with distanciation, distanciation will not prove destructive. Indeed, the Christian life, faith, and thought that emerge from this double-barreled process will be more robust, more spiritually alert, more discerning, more biblical, and more critical than it could otherwise have been (24).
As I continue to process this idea of distanciation, I hope to have a better understanding of what is at stake in rightly dividing the word of truth. There is no shortcut to solid exegesis, and we must painfully labor in the work of studying, teaching, and proclaiming God’s infallible Word.
Let me leave you will a good summation from
“We must first of all grasp the nature and degree of the differences that separate our understanding from the understanding of the text. Only then can we profitably fuse our horizon of understanding with the horizon of understanding of the text—that is, only then can we begin to shape our thoughts by the thoughts of the text so that we truly understand them. Failure to go through the distanciation before the fusion usually means there has been no real fusion: the interpreter thinks he knows what the text means, but all too often he or she has simply imposed his own thoughts onto the text” (24).