Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Presuppositions and Biblical Interpretation

This semester I'm taking 'Introduction to Biblical Theology,' and for this class we've been assigned to read and review According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy (I will abridge my review and post it here sometime in the next couple of months). I'm nearly finished with parts one and two, and thus far I like the book very much. I think it is an excellent primer to biblical theology and deals with many of the difficulties of hermeneutics in a clear, concise, and thoughtful way.

In the third chapter of the book he discusses the differences between working within humanistic models of knowing and a properly Christian model of knowing. When contrasting their differing presuppositions Goldsworthy states that,
Either we work from the basis of a sovereign, self-proving God who speaks to us by a word that we accept as true simply because it is his word, or we work on the basis that man is the final judge of all truth. The Christian position, to be consistent, accepts that the Bible is God's word, and says what God wants it to say in exactly the way he wants to say it (p. 44).
A fundamentalist would agree with this statement. I agree with this statement. Both could affirm this statement as could any position in between, and mean very different things when affirming it. However, some Evangelicals (fortunately there are many Evangelicals who graciously disagree) would claim that a model that departs from the traditional Evangelical model of inerrancy automatically denies this statement. However that is not the case.

I believe in an inerrancy of intent. God's communicative goals were perfectly achieved in Scripture (more on that here). Thus Scripture will yield the truth when you ask the right questions of it. It does not answer every question that we have in a straightforward manner, God gave us the Holy Spirit and our redeemed mind for that reason (I must qualify that by saying that the way we understand the Bible certainly will impinge upon the way we answer almost every question whether the Bible addresses them or not). The Bible has dual authorship, both human and divine. Peter Enns incarnational model is very helpful here. Scripture was written by people in a specific (pre-scientific) cultural context. For example, sometimes they made non-scientific statements about things that are scientific issues now. To say that the Bible has nothing direct to say to address scientific matters is not to deny the truthfulness of Scripture but to understand the Bible in its own terms. It's a case of letting God's revelation speak inerrantly, as he intended it to, rather than trying to force it to answer questions that (in my opinion) God never intended it to answer.

We need to learn to be gracious on this matter. We need to see that people on both sides are trying to do their best to understand what it means for Scripture to be true and authoritative. More irenic dialogue is needed. While I don't expect everyone to eventually come to agreement on this issue, we need to not divide over it and above we must all love one another. Unity in diversity is one of the true marks of the Christian church, and (like Michael Patton) I believe, hope, and pray that we can disagree in a way that glorifies God.

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