Bad Hermeneutics-An Attempt to Neutralize the Bible

As I write this post, it is reformation day, a holiday for all who trace their religious heritage back to the reformation. Of course, everyone knows the story of how Martin Luther walked to the Wittenberg Castle Church, and nailed his 95 theses to the door [a common practice in that day] on October 31, 1517, thus sparking the movement we now call the “protestant reformation.” Of course, the controversy over indulgences led to the great Biblical doctrine of Sola Fide followed by the other great Biblical doctrine upon which Sola Fide is based, Sola Scriptura. Then, encountering the five points of Calvinism, I saw the way in which Sola Fide was consistent with a denial of antinomianism.

I will never forget the first time I heard those great truths. Coming from a tradition where, at one point, I believed that true Christians were without sin, and when they sinned, they forfeited their salvation, the notion of salvation being by faith alone was something I latched hold of, and, being taught to love the scriptures from a very early age, I leaped on the idea of Sola Scriptura. I wanted to be a reformer who stood for truth just like Luther and Calvin did. I wanted to be the focus of a reformation in society that brought this nation to its knees again.

One problem. All of the focus was on me. My views were quite simplistic, and I didn’t listen to others who, although not in theological agreement with me, were offering me wise advice. It is not that I disagree with the five points of Calvinism, Sola Fide, or Sola Scriptura now. Quite the contrary. I defend and uphold them even to this day. However, what has changed in me is the richness of these truths, and, as I learn more about the Biblical languages and linguistics, I continue to see these great truths become richer and richer. When I studied under Dr. VanGemeren at Trinity, it really opened my eyes to an entire world that I was missing by so narrowly focusing on my own narrow ideas about Biblical interpretation. I studied other languages, and I started studying linguistics, and as the world of the Biblical text has opened up to me, I see a world of great beauty and great truth, and not just the black and white canvas through which I was looking earlier.

My story is not unique. There are many people who cannot engage in an exegetical discussion, because they are so blinded by their traditions that they are unwilling to challenge whether or not they have the correct interpretation of scripture. Unfortunately, it happens in reformed circles as well. The common refrain is “The Bible says x, and by you saying x is false, you are denying the Bible.” No, it is just possible that what we are denying is that you have the correct *interpretation* of the Bible. One of the greatest problems I had to deal with at Trinity was the problem of postmodernism in language. I will never forget reading Kevin Vanhoozer’s book Is There a Meaning in This Text?, and seeing the great danger of reading the Bible through the lens of your traditions rather than allowing the Bible to shape and mold those traditions.

However, this creates the need to define what we mean by “Sola Scriptura.” As we have already seen, the Family Integrated Churches argue that “the sufficiency of scripture” leads to their position. Earlier this week, Gary DeMar published an article on Sola Scriptura, and you had an anti-Trinitarian argue that “the sufficiency of scripture” leads to a denial of the Trinity. So, Sola Scriptura can lead us to the family integrated churches, a denial of the Trinity, as well as traditional reformed orthodoxy. We should not be surprised when Roman Catholics use this fact to attack Sola Scriptura.

However, is it really Sola Scriptura that is being attacked? I think part of the problem is our attitude. Vanhoozer, in his book, called for an attitude of “critical realism” when it comes to the interpretation of scripture. That is, we don’t jump on an interpretation without testing it to see if it is correct. Also, several different interpretations can be correct, so long as they are not contradictory. However, I am concerned that this “reformation” attitude that we have in our church today will lead to all kinds of silliness and nuttiness. When a person becomes so narrow minded in how they handle the text of scripture that they will not see that they are contradicting themselves, or that their interpretation of scripture does not match the context, they actually end up doing more harm than good. Anyone can claim “the sufficiency of scripture” as the foundation of their argument. It is much harder to get down and dirty, and deal with issues such as *how* we handle the text of scripture.

Now, I do believe that there will always be a way in which we can know that we have discovered the correct interpretation of a passage since we are created in God’s image, and God himself is a linguistic being. Also, we live, move, and have our being in God himself, and hence, we must interact with him on a daily basis. Thus, we know what language looks like, and the only way you can hold to a position like that of Jacques Derrida is if you do not believe these propositions [I will let atheists respond to Derrida from their own system, as I don’t believe that you can answer Derrida from an atheistic perspective].

However, I think the main problem with most of us is ethical. A while back, my pastor told me about a book called Killing Calvinism. My first thought was that this would be another grossly biased book going after Calvinism. To my surprise, he said that it was actually a book dealing with how Calvinism was destroying itself from the inside, with our attitudes and behavior. I went home and googled it, and I found a series of quotes from the book that I think would be helpful for us all to read. However, I want to post this one quote that was a breath of fresh air when I read it the first time:

“God does not need us to be his spin-doctors. When we feel compelled to make sure that his sacred Word does not give the ‘wrong impression,’ we are really demonstrating a tremendous lack of confidence in the clarity and authority of Scripture. . . . When we refuse to let our theology dictate Scripture, we are free to live with large doses of paradox. We are not afraid of passages that emphasize the need for good works. We do not feel awkward about verses that call on everyone to make a choice and take a stand for the Lord. Instead, we are free to put all of our hope in our sovereign God while striving to follow everything he has commanded us to do and be.” (74–75)

Of course, one of the ways in which people can become spin-doctors is through the use of inconsistent hermeneutics. Sometimes we can even justify the practice because we are being “countercultural” or “historical” in how we handle the text [i.e., we are simply imitating the Puritans]. If that is the case, then we are really doing nothing more than neutralizing the Bible to fit our own preconceived ideas about history or society. We simply, at that point, do not want the Bible to have anything to say to our precious “reformation.” When we do this, we are simply deceiving ourselves into thinking that we are following the “sufficiency of scripture.”

For Sola Scriptura to work, one must have consistent hermeneutics. We must have hermeneutics that let the scriptures speak as normal human language. When we engage in inconsistent hermeneutics all in order to protect some conception of “reformation” we believe is needed today, it ends up causing more harm than good. God does not need a spin doctor. What we need for true reformation is to go back to taking the text seriously, and that means, not only a critical realism in terms of the meaning of the text, but a willingness to change our views if we are wrong. There is no shame in that. My views have changed drastically since even 2007. As we learn and grow, our desire should be to bring our beliefs more and more into consistency with what God has said. We need a reformation that stems from *God’s* agenda, not from our own, and that can only come when we submit ourselves to what he has said, and not read odd ideas into the text based upon inconsistent hermeneutics.

Unfortunately, as we remember reformation day, many of the reformation ideals that we have look more like the Peasant Revolt than the work of Luther and Calvin. We want to tear down and destroy ideas and people, without any concern for the consistency or wisdom of what we are doing. True reformation takes wisdom, first in reforming our own lives, but second in applying the scriptures to how we interact with one another. That is the hardest part, but I believe it is necessary if *true* reformation is to come to this society. We must truly recognize Jesus as Lord, and not try to neutralize what he has said by spinning the text through inconsistent hermeneutics. We should never let *our* agenda become Lord in the place of God by spinning his word. Only when Jesus is Lord can we see true reformation in this society.

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2 Responses to “Bad Hermeneutics-An Attempt to Neutralize the Bible”

  1. pochoa1 Says:

    I apologize for posting somewhat off topic but I could not find an email for you. I was reading an old post you had from your previous blog:

    http://puritancalvinist.blogspot.com/2007/05/fristianity-problem-fristianity-problem.html?m=1

    I was hoping you could answer this objection. I was just mulling over this issue recently.

    There is a problem I am having with that argument which is why I am commenting to you. If we said that Frist wasn’t merciful by not saving couldn’t he have mercifully been allowing them to live so that they might seek after him but none did and all eventually died. He wanted to reveal himself if anyone would seek after him but none did but he was being merciful all along the way. I mean mercy can’t be demanded and if we look at Yahweh he didn’t give mercy to any of the angels after they rebelled.

    The pivotal point , “There is no mercy in God(Frist).” But just because frist hadn’t shown himself and saved anyone doesn’t mean he couldn’t be merciful especially if we consider that Yahweh is merciful and yet he didn’t save any of the angels.

    If there were no mercy then it follows that frist is impossible but couldn’t the defender of frist still establish that there is mercy in frist?

    God bless,

    Peter

  2. otrmin Says:

    Pochoa1,

    If you say that, then you are caught with a God who does not work all things after the council of his will [Ephesians 1:11]. Also, it ignores the fact that the distance between man and God is so great that man cannot get to God in and of himself. You would have to deny this as well.

    The problem with the Fristianity problem is that it doesn’t understand that worldviews work together. When you deny one aspect of the worldview, you have to tweak another aspect until you eventually have a totally different worldview. That is the problem. Hence, not only do you have to deny that God works all things after the council of his will, but you would also have to deny the creator/creature distinction which is fundamental to Christian theology as a whole. Hence, in short, the Fristianity problem thinks that you can divide up belief systems, tweak one belief, and expect the rest to hold. It simply won’t, because once you tweak one belief, the rest comes down as well, because beliefs are dependent on one another.

    God Bless,
    Adam

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