Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister

The Purpose of the Poem is to Read the Poem

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GlassesThere is a distinction from class which I think is important. It was apparently originally from Gadamer, who is a fancy pants hermeneutics expert. But who knows how well the idea as I have it relates to his,

The distinction between argument and poetry, and it’s a distinction of purpose.

In Philosophy the goal of an argument is to demonstrate the conclusion. The actual words of the argument are mostly interchangeable, provided they lead to the same place in as compelling a manner. In a great speech or a seminal treatise, The emphasis is not the speech itself, but something outside the speech, the ideas it gave you. You read it once and don’t need to read it again for as long as you remember the main point, you don’t need to remember how the author got there.

A Poem by contrast is all about particular turns of phrases and the ensuing reader experience. You read a poem over and over and read it better each time because when you know how it ends you have a better sense of how to read the beginning. The ideas it gives you help you to read it better and enjoy it more. A poem can be about something outrageous or nothing at all, it doesn’t matter because the conclusions it makes are not the purpose. The purpose of a poem is to read the poem.

Some people read the Bible as if it’s an argument; some, as if it’s a poem.

For most of my life I have been in the argument crowd. Paul’s letters for instance are each written to a church for a purpose and if I find that purpose I understand the book, To apply the book I apply the conclusion “Christ is fully human too” DONE, that’s enough of Colossians. The goal of Biblical Exegesis for a long time was to uncover the “main point” of a book, passage, or testament.

Recently I’ve become enamored with the poetry idea. What if the Bible were more about how people got there? What if I could read the books for fun to enjoy the unfolding narrative instead of trying to decode everything? Isn’t that almost the only choice for a lot of canonical books? I’ve long been disappointed in the Christian subculture’s tendency not to read the bible. That the default training is towards argument thinking offers a good explanation as to why not.

It also has something to say about why there are so many different theologies and how we all read the same book differently. For my money, I think there are advantages to both styles of reading, and I enjoy that it seems to function pretty well as both genres. And I think it’s silly to read every book of the Bible the same way.


Written by RyanGaffney

December 16, 2015 at 3:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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