Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Breaking Out of the Spiral

A nearby pastor who has great concern about my hermeneutic and ministry, decided he would help me by sending the following quote from a book:

While we must recognize the christological thrust of Scripture as a whole, we should interpret individual passages thus only if the text warrants it. We should never read more into a text than it allows. Nonchristological passages are part of the broader thrust of Scripture as it prepared for Christ but are not christocentric in themselves. Do not impose your theological system upon the text. As stated throughout this book, one's theological system is an essential and valid component of the hermeneutical tool chest. Without a basic system of thinking a reader could not make sense out of any text let alone one as difficult as a prophetic passage. Yet at the same time a system that has become rigid can lead the interpreter to thrust the text in a direction it does not wish to go and thereby can seriously hamper the search for truth.
Now, there are a couple of reasons I supply you with the quote. A) This quote was a greater catalyst in my thinking than this "helpful pastor" will ever know. B) This is the only exposure I have to the author's views. Honestly, I may misrepresent what the author intended by this quote, for this is all I've seen. I wanted to be fair and let you see it too. C) That said, it also means I have no clue what "camp" the author would put himself into. I'm glad for this. For I desire that this series simply be based upon light the Word of God sheds and not on postures formulated by different schools or disciplines of competing theological camps. D) I don't even know if this quote is accurate. The emailer may have inadvertently made errors or may have purposefully misrepresented the author. He may have typed it spot on (including punctuation, spelling and grammar). I have no idea.

Yet, after reading the quote many times, there are a couple of areas that are of concern to me.

Can the sum of the parts be less than the whole? It does not seem possible to at one point say the Bible as a whole has a Christological thrust while at the same time claiming individual passages do not. In fact, if you are saying a passage is preparing for Christ, how does that not mean it's thrust is Christ? It seems to me, you've either got to conclude that the whole of Scripture (and thus the individual parts which make up the whole) all point to Christ, or they don't. (Now, they can vary on how they point to Christ, but this does not seem to be the point the author is making.)

Why are we suddenly talking about theological systems? A hermeneutic and a theological system are not the same thing. My theological system is not a tool I use to determine how I read the Bible, but instead, it is the result of how I read the Bible. Therefore, in a discussion about hermeneutics, we find ourselves deflecting the conversation to systems and advocates, scholars and classical works. How'd we get there? I don't disagree when the author says we should not impose our theological system on the text, but I also don't think I should impose my love of enchiladas on the text either. And to me, they both are about as equally relevant in the course of this quote.

When Jesus addressed those who had studied Scripture, He did not say their system was the problem. Instead, He exposed that their hermeneutic was flawed. For instance, consider the Sadducees who deny the resurrection of the dead (Matthew 22:23-33). Now, while Matthew and Jesus both point out that their theological system is flawed, it is interesting that Jesus does not base His rebuke upon this. He could have played their silly little game (for their hypothetical situation was supposed to expose the "foolishness" of the resurrection). Instead, He exposes their faulty hermeneutic. By not reading Exodus 3:6 carefully, the Sadducees miss that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob must be living, for God claims He IS their God. Sure, the Sadducees had a faulty theological system, but this was due to the fact that their hermeneutic was off.

In my opinion, the author of the above quote makes a typical but critical error. In the midst of discussing hermeneutics, he bogs the discussion down by introducing theological systems (even if it is to urge caution with them). If we truly believe in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, then the Scriptures inform our systems, not the other way around. So, how do we determine the way we read the Scriptures?

If our answer to that question is to appeal to a system, we have once again usurped the authority of Scripture. No longer is the Word that which binds the heart and conscience of the believer, but a theological system sits on the throne. The Word would become governed by the lens we read it through. (This becomes the spiral postmodernists swirl down until the Bible can make no sense nor bear any real authority.) No, if Scripture is the real authority, then we have to allow it to tell us how to read itself.

That's right. No systems. No exterior scholarship. No camps or schools developed by church fathers. So, if the whole of Scripture is to point to Christ, we should come to that conclusion because the Word of God says so. And if that means the parts of Scripture must also all point to Christ, then we should come to that conclusion because the Word of God says so.

So. What does the Word say?

I'm glad you asked...

1 comment:

Darby Livingston said...

Long live Jesus! (And all those who diligently search the Scriptures looking for life and find Christ in their midst.)