Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Klyne Snodgrass and a Hermeneutics of Identity

Klyne Snodgrass has recently called for a hermeneutics of identity. He defines hermeneutics as “the process by which texts are understood and appropriated” (Snodgrass 2011: 3). He then offers a four-level hermeneutic that includes: (1) a hermeneutic of realism; (2) action; (3) hearing; and (4) identity. After discussing the difficulty in using identity when the word doesn’t appear in the Bible, he concludes “the Bible gives us an identity, tells us who we are and how we fit into God’s story and how that identity is to be lived out” (Snodgrass 2011:4-5). He then states, “Scripture is about identity formation” and that “identity formation must be the focus of the church” (Snodgrass 2011: 5). The latter brings to the fore the unique focus of Snodgrass’s work. He is concerned “with the identity of Christians” rather than the broader discussions of first-century Jewish and gentile issues within the earliest Christ-movement: “The difference is significant. These studies give far too little attention to identity, what makes up identity, and how the Christian message seeks to construct a new identity for people” (Snodgrass 2011: 8).

Snodgrass's definition of identity is, “that sense of being and self-understanding that frames our actions, communicates to others who we are, and sets the agenda for our acts” (Snodgrass 2011: 9). He then provides eight factors that shape identity: (1) our physical and psychological characteristics; (2) our histories; (3) our relations; (4) our commitments; (5) our boundaries; (6) an ongoing process of change; (7) an internal self-interpreting memory; and (8) some sense of the future (Snodgrass 2011: 11-13). Next, Snodgrass offers four characteristics of a hermeneutics of identity. (1) it “requires that we have humility in coming to the biblical text and that we listen, knowing that our present identity needs radical lifelong conversion, reorientation, reshaping, and empowering”; (2) it “focuses on the goal of reading and seeks to keep central the realization that the ultimate and central question is always, ‘Who are you?’ and the answer is in how God views humanity, especially humanity as God intended in Christ”; (3) it “focuses on the process of reading and hearing as an identity-forming activity”; and (4) it “will remember that interpretation of Scripture is a communal affair” (Snodgrass 2011: 18-19). He concludes that “a hermeneutics of identity provides a lens for reading that brings the matters of life into focus” (Snodgrass 2011: 19).

What do you think, is Snodgrass on target? What is he missing? Do you buy the idea of a hermeneutics of identity? What has he left out in his eight characteristics of identity? Can the Bible form identity in the way Snodgrass envisions? Is his definition of identity flawed or is it accurate?

Klyne R. Snodgrass, “Introduction to a Hermeneutics of Identity,” Bibliotheca Sacra 168 (January-March 2011): 3-19.


Coleman A. Baker said...

I think I like this approach, but I wonder how what we do (in terms of understanding identity formation in early christianity) fits in here? It seems to me that it is very important for us to understand the identity dynamics at work in the texts context while we also seek to understand how the text continues to form identity today.

I also see here how reception history can help. How do we think these texts served as identity forming documents in early christianity, through church history, and now in our context. All three work together, it seems, to form a hermeneutics of identity.

Yahnatan said...

I agree with Coleman. As a Messianic Jew I think the body of Messiah still has much to learn from first century identity dynamics. I would be sorry to see all that get swept under the rug.

That proviso aside, I am very interested in projects exploring Paul's identity-forming efforts in his communities. I believe William S. Campbell has been working on Paul from this angle; I'll be interested to see where he goes with it...

Laura said...

I notice that Snodgrass' article is #1 of a 4 part series. (This is the first article in a four-part series, "A Hermeneutics of Identity," delivered as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectureship, February 2-5, 2010, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.) Do you know if/when the other 3 parts will be out in print?

Anonymous said...

Laura wrote: "Do you know if/when the other 3 parts will be out in print?"

Yes, all four parts are published in V. 168, No. 669, 670, 671, and 672 of Bibliotheca Sacra. You may have to go to a seminary library to read or photocopy the articles.