Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hermeneutics to the Glory of God

The Chief End of Man
The Westminster Shorter Catechism says the chief end of man is to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31; Rom. 11:36) and to enjoy Him forever. (Ps. 73:25-28) Man, as God's creature, owes everything in his world to God. Adam and Eve were created by God, for God. Ps. 150:6 says, Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord! Robert Duncan Culver writes,
Therefore, since the Scriptures plainly say repeatedly and in various ways that the created order of this planet was designed to bring glory to God and to enhance His reputation, and since mankind was told to populate it, subdue it and rule it as God's vicegerent, each person is not merely personally responsible to express heartfelt acknowledgement of God's glory. [Systematic Theology, pg. 299]
In everything that we do and everything that we are, we are to seek out ways to honor and glorify God. How do we do this? We do this by applying the truth of Scripture to our thinking, our speaking, and our living. Here I want to talk about one aspect of how we apply the truth of Scripture to our thinking. As a reformed Christian, I embrace the biblical doctrine of total depravity. That man's nature has been touched extensively in all parts by sin is taught everywhere in Scripture. How does this fact affect man's intellect? Moreover, how does the fact of depravity affect man's approach to interpreting Scripture? Some would pass over this subject without giving it a second thought. We have been guilty of this in evangelicalism. In the name of scholarship, we allow unregenerate men who did not actually believe the gospel a seat at the table and treat their hermeneutic methodology as if it is just a different approach that we may or may not disagree with. We do this even when the method leads to a wholesale denial of the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith. This I believe is not only bad scholarship, but is immoral and represents a fundamental failure on the part of scholars and theologians to hold unbelievers accountable for the basics of possessing a genuine faith. If it is determined that a scholar in fact does not possess genuine faith (because he refuses to believe the gospel), then that scholar must be placed on notice along with the rest of the theological community. To treat an unbelieving scholar as if they are a genuine believer allows deception to take root and grow. Moreover, to allow such persons to enjoy a prominent place in academia or the church is a dereliction of duty.

The Fact of Depravity
Vern Poythress points out our need for a redemptive hermeneutic,
Spiritual sickness infects both scholars and ordinary readers. We need a radical remedy: we need to meet God and know him, as Isaiah did. We need to repent as Isaiah did. [Poythress - The Supremacy of God in Interpretation, pg. 2]
Isaiah required cleansing to receive and give the word of God (Isaiah 6:1-13). How could we be any different? The Bible is a supernatural book containing revelation about God which requires the special illumination of the Spirit in order to be understood. A person who does not exhibit the fruit of genuine faith in the gospel should not be given special standing as one who is qualified to participate in a discussion on the matter of biblical hermeneutics. Paul writes in 1 Cor. 2:12, "Now we have received, not the Spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God." One reason we have the Spirit of God is so that we may be able to understand God's revelation. In fact, Paul goes on to say, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised." (1 Cor. 2:14) The impact of sin on man's intellect is devastating in terms of understanding God. Man's desire is to pervert the truth about God everywhere he finds it. He cannot understand God's revelation and he is in fact, hostile to it. How could such a man be trusted with a biblical passage? Unregenerate man has a mind that is naturally hostile to God. (Rom. 8:6-8) His mind has been and remains blinded by Satan, the god of this world. (2 Cor. 4:4)

The Impact to Biblical Interpretation
So how does this depravity manifest itself in biblical interpretation? Lets take a look at a very specific example regarding the anti-supernatural bias found in most liberal, rational approaches to hermeneutics. It is presumed by scholars who take this approach that the text of Scripture contains stories about miraculous events that could not possibly have taken place on the ground that they do not take place in our day. Therefore we must deconstruct the text, and contextualize it so that it does not offend the senses of modern, rational humans whose intellects are just too sensitive to believe that such outstanding stories could have literally taken place. What are the consequences to this method and how should we react to those who employ it? Moreover, what should our relationship with these people be? First, such a view destroys the gospel of Christ and leaves Christianity in the ash-heap of superstitions that should have long been abandoned. Paul describes the basics of the gospel in 1 Cor. 15:1-3. Those basics are as follows: 1. That Christ dies for our sins, according to the Scriptures; 2. That He was buried; and 3. That He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. These three accounts of the life of Christ are the gospel of Jesus Christ. To deny any one of them is an explicit denial of the gospel. If you deny the possibility of miracles, you must deny the miracle of the resurrection. Such a denial amounts to simple unbelief. A person who denies the resurrection of Christ is simply not saved. I know what you're thinking. You are thinking that I am guilty of judging. And you would be absolutely correct. I am guilty of judging. But according to 1 Cor. 2:15, there is nothing wrong with judging because Paul says, "He that is spiritual judges all things." What I am not guilty of is the hypocritical judging condemned by Christ in Matt. 7:1. Before you say it isn't your place to judge, perhaps you should look again at 1 Cor. 2:15.  Vern Poythress asks the question,
What basic requirement do we need to meet in order to study the Bible rightly? One thing is needed. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." (Prov. 1:7)
No scholar, regardless of his education, can begin to understand the Scripture correctly without the indwelling Holy Spirit. And this can only take place where there is the presence of genuine faith for it is the Spirit who brings faith to the unregenerate sinner in the first place. So what should we do? We should correct the error when we see it. We should confront unbelief for what it is and not simply treat it as differences in methodology between Christians or scholars. Finally, the Christian or scholar who exhibits this unbelief cannot be treated as if they possess genuine faith once it is determined that they do not. They must understand that you do not personally accept their testimony of Christ because they in essence deny Christ by denying His word. This is not a comfortable thing to do. But Christ never pulled any punches with the religious of His day, nor did His apostles. Why should we be any different? I would be remiss if I did not say that this process must absolutely be bathed in love and humility throughout. We must be loving, humble, but firm and immoveable. It should be kept in mind that I am talking about hermeneutical methodology that leads to the denial of the Christian faith in essence. Great caution and humility must be the order of the day in this area.

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