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CRITICAL BOOK REVIEW

Doc Hughes
Theological Hermeneutics: Development and Significance, by Werner G. Jeanrond. New York:
The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1991. Pp. 220. ISBN 0824511174 (hardcover).
1. Introduction
Jeanrond defines hermeneutics as the theory of interpretation (p. 1). From the role of Hermes
task in explaining mythological messages from the Greek gods to humans, hermeneutics bridges
lacunae between the divine and human realm. Thus two realms ultimately compose the purpose
for hermeneutics, the realms of a text or work of art and the people who desire to understand the
text. Herein situates the problem Jeanrond recognizes as the reality of the reader and the reality
of the text combining to form a true understanding of the text. Hence reflection upon the text and
the reader, along with how the reader understands the text, facilitates the business of
hermeneutics. Furthermore, the main objective of hermeneutical reflection seeks to improve the
act of reading a text or looking at a work of art rather than replacing it. This is done by
considering the capabilities and limitations of human understanding (pp. 1-3). Thus, this book
represents a dialectical view towards the human side of hermeneutics as well as a didactical
aspect of the hermeneutical process. Yet, the author includes several other components for study.
Jeanrond presents an academically balanced synopsis of the history of hermeneutics, its
philosophical and theological components, and the past and current dilemmas and positive
aspects surrounding the discipline. He does this by reviewing major theologians and
philosophers involved in the hermeneutical process in a time period of two stages. One, he
covers historical concepts from classical Greek literary theory and philosophy through the Middle
Ages and until the Enlightenment, specifically Friedrich Schleiermacher. Jeanrond also assesses
theological impacts of hermeneutics and sets up his argument for an inclusion of philosophy and
theology in the hermeneutical process. Two, he describes the flow of hermeneutics from
Friedrich Schleiermacher to present day studies, allowing for brief analyses of significant
theologians impacting the discipline. The author not only points to theological hermeneutics
(special hermeneutics) as a necessary discipline for text interpretation, but also philosophical
hermeneutics (general hermeneutics). This unique balance of vast knowledge provides a
stepping-stone for both inclusion and exclusion of hermeneutics in contemporary studies.
However, Jeanrond never details his own methodological hermeneutical process; rather, he
simply insists proper hermeneutics must include both theology and philosophy in presenting a
modern appeal for Christianity.
Here lies the broadest and most applicable aspect of the book, as its concerns not only entail the
methodology of hermeneutics, but also relate to hermeneutical thinking as a reflection upon the
human condition (p. xi). The burden of the author rests in the living faith of those participating in
the discipline and the church as a whole. The most adequate illustration of this suggestion
involves the hermeneutical circle, where an understanding of a particular text involves bringing
a set of pre-understandings to the text (p. 5). In regards to Christian theology, pre-understandings
help form the identity of the church and individual through interpretations of biblical texts,
creeds, liturgies, theological writings, and spiritual expressions (p. 4). On one hand, these texts
provide a major foundation of the church. On the other hand, self-understanding supports a
stronger base for Christian identity. Thus, Jeanrond offers a discussion to the intimate
relationship between exegetical praxis and interpretation theory (p. xiii). He limits exegetical
praxis to the spirituality of faith, but uses faith as a springboard for comparisons of philosophical
and theological theories. For instance, he unites the works of Barth, Bultmann, Fuchs, and
Ebeling through a hermeneutics of faith, an inner-theological hermeneutics, and revelation.

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Although these philosophers and theologians come from a variety of camps and posit great
differences in their hermeneutical theories, their ultimate interest was only in so far as it helped
to foster the particular Reformation tradition of theology of the Word (pp. 147-148; 157-158).
More precisely, their goal of theological hermeneutics promoted proper preaching excluding the
establishment of more adequate epistemological foundations of theological thinking. Jeanronds
use of faith therefore limited his exegetical praxis for Christian spirituality and identity, but he
integrated a web of diversities through one common goal of interpretation.
Philosophical interpretation involves investigating the understanding of any aspect of reality as it
pertains to macro-hermeneutics, the interpretation of the universe. Theological interpretation
deals more with micro-hermeneutics, the interpretation of individual expressions of a
linguistic or artistic nature (p. 4). Jeanrond uses the interweaving of these two features to help
provide balance between text and reader, where detailed micro-hermeneutical achievements
facilitate macro-hermeneutics. In other words, interpretations of artistic approaches to reality,
including the application to the interpreters own self, foster the interpretation of the overall sense
of the universe. The author also acknowledges the limited roles of both hermeneutical divisions
because of pre-existing and conflicting interpretations of reality. This summarizes the books
interests resulting in the true meaning of the text, as the author questions the possibilities of this
phenomenon to understanding. In fact, Jeanrond claims, The understanding of a text is
fruitless, but there may be several adequate understandings based on certain criteria, such as the
balance of micro versus macro-hermeneutics. Therefore, the book reveals manifold possibilities
in achieving an accurate interpretation, but the author also skillfully brings awareness to the
restricted capabilities of the readers reality (p. 3).
2. Scope/Purpose/Content
The introduction to the book in chapter one sets up nicely, as Jeanrond outlines the specifics for
his discussion. His three In this book statements make it easy for the reader to follow his
methodological process throughout the chapters. It also signifies the contemporary issues the
book covers, such as interpretations of verbal expressions and linguistic texts rather than nonverbal communication, hermeneutical theology rather than theological hermeneutics, and the
question of adequate hermeneutical criteria rather than the question of authority in biblical
interpretation (pp. 8-10). Although he places one view over and against another, the author still
mentions the lesser discussed view with fewer details. For example, while the focus of the book
pertains to hermeneutical methodology, Jeanrond gives a brief overview concerning Luthers
significance of sola scriptura verses Papal infallibility (pp. 170-171). Following this process, the
author reveals a thorough investigation into how hermeneutical practices established significance
throughout particular eras.
2.1 Chapter Two
Chapter two unveils another appreciative aspect of Jeanronds work, as he not only speaks the
philosophical and theological lingo, but he also defines terms and methods. For instance, he uses
terms such as allegorical and grammatical interpretations as key components handed down
from Greek critical readings to expound similarities and differences between linguistic devices
and the hidden sense of the text (p. 14). Without defining these terms and without any prior
knowledge to Greek rhetorical methods, the reader would certainly be lost. Defining becomes
especially helpful in chapters four and five where the author focuses on the written text and the
transformative power of reading.
Chapter two contains a host of theological interpretive methods derived from early Christian
hermeneutics and Jewish traditions, especially the works of Augustine of Hippo (354-430), Hugh
of St. Victor (died 1141), Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Martin Luther (1483-1546), John Calvin

Doc Hughes

(1509-1564), and Salomo Semler (1725-1791). Here, Jeanrond begins sketching his small thread
of connection to his ultimate theoretical conclusion of philosophy and theology combining for a
proper hermeneutical interpretation, particularly with the works of Augustine. Augustine, the
father of semiotics (the theory of signs) proposed a praxis-oriented hermeneutic freeing the
reader of biblical texts from crude literalism and the dangers of arbitrary allegorization. This
encourages readers to embrace a theological reading perspective informed by the biblical texts
themselves. Thus, it is not essentially important for the Christian disciple to receive instruction
which the Bible gives from his or her personal encounter with the texts. Rather, it only remains
important the Christian arrives at the same order of salvation which the biblical texts refer (p. 23).
Scriptures are then needed only in order to teach others, but remain necessary as the ultimate
criterion for the determination of true Christian faith (p. 25). The author links Augustines
semiotics with Antiochene considerations, and Augustines priority of spiritual praxis with
Alexandrian concerns. This leads to both philosophical and theological theories offering a
coherent theological perspective of reading.
2.2 Chapter Three
Jeanrond follows this method of philosophical and theological inclusion in the works of the
previously mentioned theologians, philosophers, and others, where the schools of Antioch and
Alexandria provided two poles of interpretation (p. 42). However, the philosophies of Aristotle in
Antiochene hermeneutics lacked the popularity of the Alexandrian school. Thus, in chapter three
Jeanrond uses Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), the father of modern hermeneutics,
Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), Hans-Georg Gadamer (19002002), and Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) to bridge the philosophical gaps in the hermeneutical
process. The book details this effectively by showing Schleiermachers demand for and influence
in the philosophies of scholars following after him. Schleiermacher triggered a philosophical
conundrum by asking the ultimate hermeneutical question: what is human understanding and
how does it happen? (p. 45). Because of Schleiermachers influence, hermeneutics became the
art of understanding and no longer remained within the confines of ecclesiastical ideologies into
which Roman Catholicism and Protestant Orthodoxy promoted (pp. 44-45). The author focuses
on the grammatical and linguistic tenets of Schleiermacher in relation to the human sciences of
Dilthey, Heideggers phenomenology, Gadamers symposium of truth or method, and Ricoeurs
phenomenon of existence. Although Ricoeurs descriptive aim of interpretation differed radically
from Schleiermacher, Ricoeur aligned his philosophical views with the intention of promoting
several interpretive moves in understanding the meaning of a text. Furthermore, Ricoeur
acknowledged the necessity of interpreting and understanding human existence by examining
religious texts (pp. 76-77). Hence, Jeanrond gives preparatory analysis for a break in his
theological and philosophical developments in order to fully expound on text and interpretation in
chapters four and five, or the written text versus the reader.
2.3 Chapter Four
In chapter four, the book reveals the dialectical relationship between textual models and their
individual application. Jeanrond brings a sense of awareness to the art of writing and the text
itself rather than limiting his study to understanding the author of a text. By doing so, he
highlights the significance of reading texts independently from their original conditions of
production. On one hand, this brings new life to absent authored texts, such as the Gospel of
John, because the meaning of the text becomes more important than answering the dilemma of
the history of the texts production (pp. 81-82). This makes the text directly applicable to human
life and fulfills the texts original intention of disclosing its meaning to the reader based on the
strength of its own communicative potential independent from its original circumstances (p. 82).
On the other hand, does this not severely limit the potential for a texts complete understanding?
Was this not Schleiermachers concern for going behind the text and assessing the mind of the

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author? Nevertheless, Jeanrond briefly mentions this dilemma but then continues into new
territories of defining various texts, such as poems and biblical texts. The author uses an
exceptional systematic method for defining sentences, texts, genres, and styles. He makes a swift
move from definition to appreciation. In fact, he leads the reader to feel writing and textual
understanding poses better for the human condition than a bowl of chocolate ice cream. That
being said, his appreciation for the text signals his admiration for the communication of the text
and how it affects the reader.
2.4 Chapter Five
One of the more unique chapters in the book, chapter five depicts the communication between
text and reader and how reading possesses a transforming power. As Schleiermacher discloses
understanding as an art, Jeanrond divulges reading as the same phenomenon, where A
phenomenological description of the act of reading seems to be called for in the context of
theological interpretation in order to retrieve the general dimensions of reading before allowing
the particularly theological imagination to enter the process of text-interpretation (p. 94). In
other words, discussions of theories of reading as an art must precede the act of reading for
interpretation. This is so because the act of reading requires both subjective and objective
motivations. Jeanrond proposes an interesting question: under which conditions may a
particular act of reading be called successful or adequate?(95). The rest of chapter five
displays multifarious theories of reading promoted by important contemporary scholars, including
E.D. Hirschs objectivist theory of interpretation, Roland Barthes analysis of the pleasure of
reading, Wolfgang Isers theory of aesthetic effect, and Paul Ricoeurs structuralist analysis. The
author never prefers one reading method over another, but instead finds positive useful aspects in
all of them to enhance the act of reading.
The highlight of chapter five comes in the form of Jeanronds statement, Reading has a
transformative power (111). He declares for a reader to truly understand a text and its existential
possibilities, the reader must open himself or herself to it. Thus, reading involves a double
disclosure of both the texts sense, the reference of the text to at least one aspect of the readers
world, and new modes of being in the world, the revelation of new modes of selfunderstanding (pp. 85, and 110-111). The author then raises serious questions such as, Should I
as a reader allow every text to transform my self-understanding and my understanding of the
world? and At what stage in the process of interpretation should the critique of the text begin?
(p. 111). But the question Jeanrond never approaches involves reading as a non-transformative
power: is every text written in an effort for transformation? And while the author seems
concerned with the circuitous process of understanding, he appears less concerned with his
meaning of transformation. What does he mean by transformation, and what does it mean to be
transformed by the text? Regardless of missed questions, Jeanrond proceeds to dimensions of
text interpretation and ethics of reading where he sets up his final chapter of theological
hermeneutical development.
2.5 Chapter Six
Chapter six captures the twentieth century development of theological hermeneutics and
concludes theological developments began in chapter two. At first glance it seems odd the author
skips three chapters in finishing this development, but the intentional chapter six conclusion of
development incorporates aspects not only of chapters two and three but also four and five. Plus,
chapter six sets up his final comments for a mixture of philosophical and theological
hermeneutics in chapter seven. Chapter six contains similarities to and departures from
Heideggers philosophy by comparing and contrasting the works of Karl Barth (1886-1968),

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Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976), Ernst Fuchs (1903-1983), and Gerhard Ebeling (1912-2001).
Most important to this chapter and to Jeanronds overall inclusion of philosophical and
theological hermeneutics pertains to the Barth-Bultmann debates.
Both Barth and Bultmann opposed the hermeneutical process of historicism applied in the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as theological rationale for the twentieth century
provided the rejection of historical research alone establishing criteria for the truth of Christian
faith (pp. 121-123). However, Barth and Bultmann parted ways because of philosophical
differences. Barths revelation-hermeneutics focused on theology for the sake of the church,
much like Augustine and the Reformers (p. 128). God remains the subject who interprets
humanity as humanity submits to the Word of God. While God speaks in history, God interprets
history (p. 129). Subordination and obedience to the Word of God stressed the absolute priority
of Scripture over all emotions, axioms, systems, philosophies etc. (p. 132). Thus, Barth
rejected any attempt for philosophical hermeneutics in determining the meaning of the text.
Furthermore, the object of the Bibles witness is Jesus Christ, the God who deals with the sin of
humanity (p. 132). Meanwhile, Bultmann established a philosophical connecting-point between
Gods self-revelation and our human understanding of Gods activity among us (p. 137). Taken
from the tradition of Schleiermacher and Heideggers earlier work on existentialist hermeneutics,
Bultmann analyzed the meaning of any interpretation of the text fuelled by a particular
preunderstanding (p. 139). Existentialism not only postulated an anti-historical understanding of
the text, but also followed insight into the nature of human historicity (p. 140). Bultmann
rejected Barths realization of Gods self-revelation in human history because it requires some
form of preunderstanding (p. 140). In retrospect, the meaning of the Scriptural text discloses
itself anew in every future (p. 141). Bultmann challenged Barth to declare the nature of the
source and meaning of his conceptuality (p. 141).
While Jeanrond praises Barth for his strong contributions to the theological message of the text,
he recognizes Bultmann for reconnecting theological and philosophical hermeneutics (pp. 136,
141). This is not to say Jeanrond completely agrees with Bultmanns theorization, rather he
recognizes the positive and negative contributions of each theologian leading up to The New
Hermeneutic. Here, the author works craftily toward the conclusion of the chapter and his
burden for writing in two ways. One, he degrades The New Hermeneutic because of its close
ties with Neo-orthodox theology and lack of linguistic discussion which dominated the 1960s (p.
158). Two, he postulates critical hermeneutics requires a critical and self-critical philosophical
reflection on language, on its condition and its performance, as well as a thorough critique of the
texts themselves (p. 152). In other words, philosophy and theology must unite in order to
properly interpret a text.
2.6 Chapter Seven
Finally, chapter seven exposes the brilliance of Jeanronds argument. He not only challenges
theologians and philosophers to engage the hermeneutical process, but he also shows how the
discipline relates to Christian identity and the church. He presents three camps in Christian
theology, including those who seek to engage all groups of human thinkers who care for the
people of this world and for the universe in which we live, those who determine the Christian
vision specifically inside the church and biblical theology, and those who call again for an
orthodox approach to Scriptures (p. 163). The author relates the significance of hermeneutics
for Christian theology by warning of the ultimate concerns in preserving the Christian faith and
formal continuity of the church at the expense of experiencing faith in different times and
cultural circumstances (p. 172). In other words, the care for ecclesiastical continuity betrays the
eschatological faith and mission of the Kingdom of God. Jeanrond criticizes the formally and
institutionalized church as a valid criterion for critical hermeneutics. In fact, he submits the

Doc Hughes

church may in itself be a possible obstacle to authentic Christian praxis (p. 173). Furthermore,
he states, If the Christian tradition is not to end soon altogether, a critical theology and a critical
faith-praxis are urgently demanded (p. 173). Jeanrond uses the objects of Jesus religious critics
religious authority of the Temple, the Torah, the Land, the family, the City of Jerusalem, and
also the ideology of certain messianic expectationsin order to validate a rejection of absolutist
claims of tradition for an immediate experience and worship of God through prayer, tablefellowship, and reaching out to the outcasts of society (p. 178). The author then hammers his
point home with the statement, Jesus insisted at the cost of his life that the true reign of God, i.e.
the authentic experience of Gods loving presence, is at hand for all those who care to see (p.
178). Thus, hermeneutics is not an optional occupation but a necessity for any theologian who
seeks to fulfill critical service to the church and world in the pursuit of truth (p. 181). Jeanrond
leaves the question open as to whether philosophy and theology should remain separated, but he
strongly urges the combination in an effort to engage all aspects of human understanding in the
search for meaning in the universe (p. 182).
3. Conclusion
Jeanrond exhibits a well-balanced, creative, scholarly, and contemporary symposium of
theological hermeneutics. He exposes the significant contributions and deficiencies in numerous
philosophical and theological attempts toward the hermeneutical process. His style of writing
and contextual inclusion provide the reader an adequate understanding of his argument, along
with enough information for backfire if one chooses to engage him. The six page bibliography
and two separate indexes allow the reader to easily flip and reflect or accomplish further research
in the field. Two central fallacies of the book relate to Jeanronds use of endnotes rather than
footnotes and his lack of personal, paradigmatic, and hermeneutical ideologies in solving his
theological and philosophical conundrum of critical hermeneutics as it relates to Christian
identity and the church. Endnotes absorb more time, something most scholars view as essential
as food and water, and the brevity of the book warrants another twenty pages for Jeanronds
regnant notions.
Overall, I recommend this book to any candidate involved in theology, philosophy, or biblical
studies. It establishes a well-grounded introduction to hermeneutics as well as insight into more
complex systems and ideologies of the discipline. While the intended audience of the book
pertains to those interested in hermeneutics theory or involved academically in hermeneutical
history or participating in the discipline itself, the praxis-oriented application challenge the
believer and non-believer alike in striving for a higher meaning in the search for truth. Jeanrond
fulfills his primary intentions of presenting codification of the hermeneutical circle and
establishing hermeneutics as a necessary process for Christian identity. [end]