The Progressive-Conservative Hermeneutic

This article describes a hermeneutic, or a rule for scriptural interpretation, then gives a few examples of other interpretations that already use this approach and adds a new one.

The progressive-conservative hermeneutic is an application of conservative logic to accepted scripture that results in a new understanding of scripture, where a new understanding of scripture is called progressive revelation.

Jesus uses a form of this by using the specific conservative principle of original intent and the precedence of early truth. Jesus rejects the notion of divorce that is permitted under Moses by appealing to Genesis. This story is recounted in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. This is an important example of progressive revelation because the teaching from Jesus here is grounded in scripture and yet:

  1. His response was outside the theological norms in all schools of Judaism of the time.
  2. His theology was not only permissible but preferred in the eyes of God.

Christians would do well not to overweigh traditional denominational teaching and take new interpretations of accepted scripture seriously (importantly distinct from new doctrines based outside of scripture).

I now propose a new interpretation of 2 Timothy 4:3-4 on the basis of this hermeneutic. The traditional teaching, I believe, is that people seeking teachers that suit their own desires is a bad thing overall. I’d like to reinterpret the verse as:

  1. A prediction that the church would fragment, and as such a prediction which has come true.
  2. Indeed bad for those particular people who “turn aside to myths” but actually a good thing for the Church overall.

To elaborate on point 2, I believe that markets of ideas generally result in a large proportion of bad ideas, but a small proportion of immensely valuable innovations that would otherwise not be obtained. Diversity of ideas is a two-edged sword that generally enhances innovation, but at the cost of enduring many bad ideas. Markets of ideas within Christianity are accomplished by denominationalism plus a mobile laity that exerts voice by foot traffic and allocations of donations.

From 1:20:32 for the next 10-20 minutes, Bret Weinstein makes a clear-eyed argument for how free information, the market of ideas, and the absence of censorship will lead to optimal long-term idea selection, albeit with predictable sorts of costs, particularly in the short run. The benefits of an open market of ideas become much greater when the moral hazard and calculation problems faced by a singular institution are considered.

While the discussion below is targeted political and NGO health organizations, I think it applies just as well to the Roman Catholic church at a time prior, when it constituted a monopoly and censor in the market for Christian ideas in the west. Breaking the monopoly unleashed Protestantism, which I think is hugely beneficial for truth-seeking of the Church, but indeed at a great price of many particular heresies. From history, let’s remember, though, that there were plenty of heresies prior to Luther’s 95 Theses, including heresies like indulgences that had been adopted by the monopolist censor.

The fact that the hermeneutic is an apparently contradictory concept might be taken as a point in its favor. Often, the reconciliation of apparent opposites is a sign of mature intellect, within both religious and academic circles. For example, research shows that pessimistic optimism is linked with success over plain pessimism or optimism (here and here). The Trinity is another example of a useful idea that is a reconciliation of apparent contradiction. The Gospels are another case where apparent contradiction becomes a strength. As the Wallaces remind us, authentic eyewitness testimony almost always varies in detail, and the absence of variation is actually more suspicious – it may indicate something like a shared and rehearsed collusive fiction.


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