Spirit and Scripture: Exploring a Pneumatic Hermeneutic edited by Kevin L. Spawn and Archie T. Wright (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013).

SPIRIT AND SCRIPTURE edited by Spawn and Wright
SPIRIT AND SCRIPTURE edited by Spawn and Wright

As someone who became a Christian through the Pentecostal Movement the subject of Pneumatology has been front-and-center for my own formation as a Christian and my own study and research. As a reader of the Bible often I wonder what role God plays in how we understand and read the text. Are we left to our own? Does understanding Scripture depend solely on using the correct hermeneutical method? If not, does study and research matter at all or should we expect the Spirit to download correct interpretations into our minds as a matter of faith?

Pentecostal scholars Kevin L. Spawn and Archie T. Wright have compiled a series of serious essays addressing these sorts of questions, or, more specifically (p. xviii), “(1) How does the Holy Spirit mediate meaning from the text? (2) How is Scripture both divine and human discourse? (3) How do the experiences of both the charismata of the Spirit and related supernatural occurrences shape the hermeneutical lens of the biblical scholar?”

The book is divided into five parts. Part I: Beginning the Exploration and Part V: Summation set the stage then summarize the drama for the reader. Spawn and Wright co-authored two essays for these sections: “The Emergence of a Pneumatic Hermeneutic in the Renewal Tradition” and “Cultivating a Pneumatic Hermeneutic”.

In the middle are three sections where the discussion takes place. In Part II: The Exploration of a Pneumatic Biblical Hermeneutic from Various Perspectives within the Renewal Tradition we find six essays. Mark J. Boda’s “Word and Spirit, Scribe and Prophet in Old Testament Hermeneutics” reads the texts dating from “the late monarchial period” to the return from exile under the Persians seeking to “highlight key intersections between Word and Spirit, view this in light of New Testament revelation, and then reflect on  its implications for contemporary hermeneutics, especially within North American evangelicalism.”

Spawn’s “The Principle of Analogy and Biblical Interpretation in the Renewal Tradition” is a thought-provoking essay on the “Principle of Analogy”, i.e., interpreting what is before you based on your experience in the world. For example, if we hear a story about zombies we are prone to doubt before believing because we know from our day to day experience that zombies aren’t something you should expect…unless you’ve actually experienced zombies! For Spawn the claim made by critical scholars that we shouldn’t read miracle stories literally or as historical events because they don’t correspond to our experience is true only when it doesn’t correspond to our experience. For Pentecostals/Charismatics who may have experienced miracles there is analogy.

Wright’s “Second Temple Period Jewish Biblical Interpretation: An Early Pneumatic Hermeneutic” primarily juxtaposes the claimed inspired reading of Scripture found in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament. He then goes on to ask whether or not this pneumatic hermeneutic should inform how modern Christians read Scripture.

Ronald Herms’ “Invoking the Spirit and Narrative Intent of John’s Apocalypse” explores the Pneumatology of the Book of Revelation, how the Spirit speaks to the Churches in this document, and the unique role and authority of this document as it relates to the prophetic.

John Christopher Thomas’ “‘What the Spirit is Saying to the Church’ — The Testimony of a Pentecostal in New Testament Studies” is “a somewhat testimonial and autobiographical” essay that interacts with the challenge of the unity and diversity of Scripture and the role of the Spirit in interpreting these unified and diverse documents.

Mark J. Cartledge’s “Text—Community—Spirit: The Challenge Posed by Pentecostal Theological Method to Evangelical Theology” asks whether the Evangelical commitment to the historical-grammatical hermeneutic is the best way to read the Bible as Scripture or if the Pentecostal Tradition may have something to offer Evangelicals.

In Part III: Responses to the Perspectives we find short essays from Craig G. Bartholomew, James D.G. Dunn, and R. Walter L. Moberly. While Dunn’s “response” was not really a response as much as his own commentary I found it to be the most interesting part of this section. If anyone has the right to add to the discussion rather than just responding it would be Dunn! He’s clearly thought deeply about this matter.

Part IV: Contributor Responses to Bartholomew, Dunn and Moberly is exactly what it sounds like it is: the contributors respond to the respondents. These responses are three to four pages in length, quite short.

If you are thinking about the role of the Spirit in hermeneutics I recommend this short volume. The essays are well-written and researched. I especially enjoyed Spawn’s essay on analogy, but they were all very good, and Dunn’s thoughts have provoked me to deeper thought on this subject.