Discussions about hermeneutics—the theories and practices of interpretation—are ubiquitous. We all read texts—whether these be histories, novels, musical scores, paintings, playscripts or anything else humans produce that has meaning—and we are all interpreters of texts who argue over their meaning and over our interpretations. The question of our time is: Is there anything beyond our various interpretations?
Paul Ricoeur, the leading hermeneutic philosopher of the 20th century, “disappeared” (as the French say) in May at the age of 92. Of what special significance is his passing to pastors and theologians? Why should we care? We should care about Ricoeur because his philosophy enables us, jaded denizens of a post-Christian world, to care—to believe, to hope, to love—again, and this without sacrificing our intellect. He is the hermeneutical equivalent of John the Baptist, preparing the way for a new hearing of hopeful words.