I see that Dr. White has gotten into a debate with the usual suspects over at “Reformed Catholicism.” A few quick comments:
1.His opponents appeal to the mind of the church. But the church is an abstraction. This doesn’t mean it isn’t real. But it isn’t something over and above the members who compose it.
When White’s opponents appeal the *mind* of the church, they are surreptitiously appealing to the *minds* of the church. The minds of individual churchmen.
After all, what one church do Tim Enloe, Kevin Johnson, and Paul Owen belong to? They all belong to different denominations, don’t they?
Owen belongs to a schismatic sect. Enloe belongs to a consortium of different theological traditions. And Kevin Johnson is a prominent critic of Doug Wilson, who belongs to the same denomination as Enloe.
So where do we find the mind of the church in their own concrete ecclesiology? How does their theory of the church cash out in actual practice? They are catholic in what they say, but Anabaptistic in what they do.
Hence, when they appeal to the mind of the church, which church are they referring to? Is this some lowest common denominator of what all Christians believe, regardless of their ecclesiastical affiliation or background?
2.They also lodge the recurring claim that there’s a Baptist (or Reformed Baptist) method of exegeting Scripture, and then there’s the method by which the rest of Christendom exegetes the Bible.
The Baptist hermeneutic represents a fringe group, in contrast to the vast majority of Christians.
I, for one, would like to see some documentation for this charge. Is the methodology of James White or Eric Svendsen fundamentally different from the methodology of Catholic commentators like Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, and Luke Timothy Johnson, or the methodology of Anglican commentators like Wright, France, Smalley, Barnett, Cranfield, Towner, Gordon Wenham, David Wenham, &c.?
They may differ in how they assess the evidence, but the underlying hermeneutic is the same.
What we have, in fact, is the self-reinforcing ignorance of those who begin with a paper theory of church and sacraments. With their paper theory in hand, they have no incentive to study exegetical theology, and so they have no specific (or even general) knowledge of how exegesis is actually done in transdenominational scholarship.
3.In appealing to the true audience, White’s opponents commit several elementary blunders:
i) They fail to distinguish between the historical audience of the speech (the bread of life discourse), and the literary audience of the gospel, in which the speech is recorded.
Even if the *gospel* of John is addressed to the “church” (whatever that means), the bread of life discourse is addressed to Jesus’ Jewish audience, before the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
So there’s a basic difference between the audience for the speech (as it was originally delivered), and the audience for the documentary record of the speech—when the speech was committed to writing as part of the Fourth Gospel.
ii) Or are they saying that the speech has one meaning, but the gospel has a contrary meaning. That the speech means one thing for the Jewish audience, but a different meaning for the Christian audience?
Are they claiming that we need to bleach out the Jewish coloring of the Fourth Gospel in our interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, and stain it with the dye of the Church?
Does the understanding of the Church cancel out the understanding of the Jewish audience to whom the teachings of Christ were originally addressed?
iii) To which church in particular was the Fourth Gospel written? I’d like to see them reconstruct the target audience for the Fourth Gospel.
Was this a local church? A set of local churches? Was this situated in Asia Minor? What was the ethnical composition of the church to which John originally addressed his gospel? Jewish? Gentile? Mixed?
And does the understanding of the church override the understanding of the Jewish audience? Or do we compartmentalize the meaning of the Gospel?
iv) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that we can disregard grammatico-historical exegesis, then even if Dr. White’s opponents are correct in reassigning the hermeneutical frame of reference from the Jewish audience for the speech to the ecclesiastical audience for the gospel, we are no longer bound by the understanding of the community to which or for which John directed his gospel.
a) If you’re going to claim that the controlling factor is the understanding of the covenant community to which John wrote the gospel, then, to begin with, you must identify that community.
But if you reject the grammatico-historical method, then how do you propose to reconstruct the 1C ecclesiastical audience?
BTW, appealing to the Johannine community is just as “nominalistic” as appealing to the Jewish audience. You are still invoking a concrete historical particular to supply your hermeneutical grid. So Enloe’s objection, even if valid, is a double-edged sword.
b) Bracketing (a), let’s assume that you successfully identify the church (churches?) which was (were?) the intended recipient of this gospel.
Yet if you reject the grammatico-historical method, then the understanding of the Johannine “community” or Johannine “circle” ceases to be binding on modern Christian readers.
If you reject the grammatico-historical method, then whether you identify the implied reader as the Jewish audience or the Johannine community is irrelevant. For by rejecting the grammatico-historical method, you thereby reject the normativity of original intent. If you repudiate the grammatico-historical method, then whatever the Fourth Gospel meant to the Johannine community isn’t what it must mean for you and me.
4.Ironically, White’s opponents exemplify a very radical brand of individualism. They interpret John 6 the same way Hal Lindsey interprets Revelation.
For Lindsey, is perfectly okay to reinterpret the 1C imagery in light of modern military technology.
Johnson et al. operate with the same hermeneutical autonomy, swapping in their own favorite traditions.
Sure, they appeal to historical theology, but they are highly selective in their appeal. What they do, then, is to choose a contemporary denomination according to their personal and prior selection-criteria, and then impose that filter on the text of Scripture.
They start with whatever denomination encapsulates whatever theological tradition they privilege, then map that back onto the bread of life discourse.