Monday, April 27, 2009

'Biblical Hermeneutics,' by Milton Terry: an Amazon review

"When I was a student at Moody Bible Institute, I asked various professors what books they recommended as the best of the best in several different areas. (Yeah, I was that kind of nerd).

One of the suggestions was a surprise: a book that was close to 100 years old at the time, and it was the suggestion for hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics is the art of interpreting a text. Since I was studying Bible and theology, the hermeneutics we were dealing with was the art of interpreting the text of the scriptures. And the suggestion was Milton Terry's Biblical Hermeneutics.

I am ashamed to admit that I didn't read this book for almost 20 years. It sat on my shelf, daunting and looking too large to read without a major commitment. Late last fall, I decided that it was time to either put up (read it, in other words) or give the book away.

So read I did. And true to my earlier fears, this book was a major undertaking. I read fairly quickly, and still spent close to 3 months digesting the close to 750 pages of densely packed and closely reasoned text.

And, you know, my professor was right. Nothing I've read on the question of biblical interpretation has covered all the bases of this sub-discipline like this book. The book is a master work, a methodical, but well-written overview. And given the academic quality of the book, it's surprisingly readable. Even, at times, enjoyable. And unlike some who believe the word of God, Terry doesn't avoid the hard questions of biblical interpretation, and deals at length with textual and interpretational difficulties.

Some can separate the biblical text from their faith. I can't. So I appreciated that Milton Terry has -- while being a rigorous scholar -- a concern that the text be not only correctly interpreted from an academic standpoint, but also that the text be properly interpreted to enable God's church to hear and learn God's word.

I don't agree with Terry on everything. No one but a sychophant even pretends to. But listening to the arguments of those we disagree with sharpens our minds and intellects. The slight weakness is one that could not be avoided: the book is dated in some areas. This could not be avoided, given that the book was published in 1898. A glaring example is Terry's dealing with the glossolalia. We hear such discussions in the context of the modern charismatic movement, a movement that gained its modern face beginning in 1901, and really coming of age at the Azusa Street revivals of 1906. But, of course, this is not an error, just something that the reader must mentally correct for when reading about the topic in the book.

This is a good, well-written, and worthwhile book. It is worth the reader's time and efforts, and will bear fruit in a renewed appreciation for the word of God."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Though I'm not finished with this book yet, I fully agree with this review. It can be a bit difficult to read in some parts, but for the most part, understanding it comes quite easy. The reason that it is taking me so much time to digest is simply the depth of it.

The sections on prophecy are incredibly insightful, and really help to clarify a great deal of confusion that reigns in that arena in today's climate. For those chapters alone, the book is worth having on your shelf as a regular reference.

Personally, I think this topic -- hermeneutics -- is probably one of the most lacking areas of study in most Christians' lives, and also one of the most important. If your method of interpretation of Scripture is incorrect, the doctrine that flows from it will be corrupt. This is a foundational topic of study, and should be at the top of every Christian's reading priorities (outside of Scripture itself, of course).

Soli Deo Gloria!
Jerritte Couture