Monday, October 30, 2017

Sensus plenior

Sensus plenior is a way some interpreters classify apostolic exegesis. They think NT writers discover meanings in the OT that aren't really there. Put another way, they think apostolic exegesis is at odds with grammatico-historical exegesis. At variance with original intent, the historical context, &c., I could give a more detailed definition, but that's not the point of my post. I think interpreters who apply that rubric to the NT have failed to think deeply enough about how NT writers arrive at their interpretations as well as the context of the OT passages they adduce. But that, too, is not the point of my post. And I've discussed the hermeneutics of typology and prophecy on many occasions. 

However, I think the sensus plenior rubric is applicable to a different genre. When I watch certain movies and TV dramas, especially ones that resonant with me, I mentally recontextualize them by viewing them through a Christian prism. They have a significance for me that goes beyond what the generally secular directors and screenwriters had in mind. I consider what the plot, characters, setting, and dialogue connote from a Christian frame of reference.

And that's not just the case of a viewer superimposing his own interpretive filter onto the story. For what makes a story significant, what makes anything at all important, is the Christian reality which even secular directors and screenwriters tap into. In a godless universe, no facts have greater moral or existential significance than other facts. It's all just stuff that happens. Nothing intrinsically or ultimately good or bad. In a Christian world, by contrast, every event is significant. When some people fritter away their lives in trivial pursuits, that's significant–because it squanders the gift of life. 

In addition, I sometimes mentally rewrite the plot. Contemplate unexplored alternatives. 

Or I interject myself into the plot. What if I found myself in that situation? What would I do? 

In one sense, directors and screenwriters want to involve the audience in that way. Want the  audience to identify with the hero or anti-hero. 

But this is also a way for Christians to engage and appropriate stories that are often not intentionally Christian, and certainly not consistently Christian. Ironically, we can find more value in some stories than the storyteller could justify from his own viewpoint. And that's not just a case of foisting extrinsic value onto the story. A story only has value insofar as it derives from reality that can underwrite the moral and existential significance of human lives.  

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