Evangelical scholars come to surprising agreement on the issue of hermeneutics.
Many people from different church backgrounds believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God. They don’t begin stepping on land mines until they start trying to convince each other just what it is that the Bible teaches on a particular subject.
This is the realm of “hermeneutics,” or the principles for interpreting the Bible. Hermeneutical differences are what drive the wedges between Baptist doctrine and Lutheran doctrine, between young-earth creationists and those who believe Genesis can account for the long ages of geology.
Last month a broad cross section of evangelical theologians and Bible scholars, some 80 in all, met in Chicago under the auspices of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy to try and come to terms with the troublesome issue of hermeneutics. The council was formed in 1978 with a 10-year mandate to promote conservative scholarship on issues swirling about the Bible. In its first year, the council issued a 19-point statement of beliefs on biblical inspiration and authority, but even at that first meeting it was evident that the issue of biblical interpretation would have to be confronted.
Sixteen scholars of diverse denominational backgrounds were invited to present papers on critical hermeneutical topics at last month’s meeting. For each of those major papers, two more “response” papers had been prepared. The topics were presented in panel discussions, the differences debated in workshops, and the results welded into a 25-point declaration of affirmations and denials. The conference lasted three days and was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel near O’Hare International Airport.
As the meeting opened, the organizers were nervous. “We had all the potential of blowing this thing sky high,” said the chairman, Earl Radmacher, president and professor of systematic theology at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary.
Yet as the event came to a close, it was evident that the three days of academic formality and shirt-sleeve camaraderie had borne fruit. “I was surprised throughout the conference that there was so much agreement,” said Alan Johnson, a New Testament professor at Wheaton College. “I think this could well be a landmark document.” At the closing session, J. Robertson McQuilkin, president of Columbia Bible College, was visibly moved by the success of the endeavor. He had delivered a paper on the nettlesome question of which Bible teachings were meant for the culture of the original hearers and which are still appropriate for today. At the outset of the conference, one of the stiffest critics of McQuilkin’s viewpoint was Johnson. After working out their differences, each was able to live with, if not relish, the final language on their topic.
Another sticky subject was that of “authorial intent,” or, just how much did the Old Testament writers know and what did they intend when they recorded prophecies (such as Isaiah 7:14) that were so dramatically fulfilled in the New Testament? Radmacher, who delivered one of the response papers on the topic, said he heard a collective sigh of relief at the close of the intense, crowded workshop on this subject. “It was clear that the Holy Spirit was meeting with us in that session,” said Radmacher, who had his seminary students back in Oregon meeting to pray for the success of the conference.
Norman Geisler, a professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, believes the sixth affirmation, defining the nature of biblical truth, will repair what he believes is damage caused by an influential book on inspiration written three years ago by seminary professors Jack Rogers and Donald McKim. Geisler believes that the fourteenth statement, which declares the historic nature of the biblical record, is also important because it will shore the bulwarks against more liberal interpreters who do not believe that all biblical incidents actually happened.
Geisler was one of six men who drafted the final language of the affirmations and denials. The others were Carl F. H. Henry, lecturer at large for World Vision International; Roger Nicole, theology professor at Gordon-Conwell Seminary; James I. Packer, theology professor at Regent College; Robert Preus, president of Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Ind.); and Radmacher.
The scholars who met in Chicago sought to stake out the principles for proper Bible interpretation, not to apply those principles. Thus, those seeking solutions for long-standing Bible debates will not likely be satisfied with their work. The twenty-second affirmation, for example, states only that Genesis 1–11 is “… factual, as is the rest of the book,” neatly avoiding the creation debate altogether.
(The major paper on origins was delivered by Walter Bradley, a mechanical engineering professor at Texas A&M University, who does not believe in the young earth theory and six literal days of creation. Neither does Gleason Archer, an Old Testament professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, who presented one of the response papers on the subject. The other reponse was delivered by Henry Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research. He is perhaps the country’s most influential proponent of the young earth, literal six-day creation viewpoint.)
Next month, the leadership of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy will meet in Dallas to review its progress and to chart the next five years of the organization’s existence. One of its remaining goals is to tackle yet another biblical issue, one that quite likely will make the topics of inspiration and interpretation seem like Sunday school exercises by comparison. This is the question of how to get people to apply biblical teachings to their daily lives.
Here is the list of affirmations and denials approved at the conference:
1. WE AFFIRM that the normative authority of Holy Scripture is the authority of God Himself and is attested by Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church.
WE DENY the legitimacy of separating the authority of Christ from the authority of Scripture, or of opposing the one to the other.
2. WE AFFIRM that as Christ is God and Man in one person, so Scripture is, indivisibly, God’s Word in human language.
WE DENY that the humble, human form of Scripture entails errancy any more than the humanity of Christ, even in His humiliation, entails sin.
3. WE AFFIRM that the person and work of Jesus Christ are the central focus of the entire Bible.
WE DENY that any method of interpretation which rejects or obscures the Christ-centeredness of Scripture is correct.
4. WE AFFIRM that the Holy Spirit who inspired Scripture acts through it today to work faith in its message.
WE DENY that the Holy Spirit ever teaches to anyone anything which is contrary to the teaching of Scripture.
5. WE AFFIRM that the Holy Spirit enables believers to appropriate and apply Scripture to their lives.
WE DENY that the natural man is able to discern spiritually the biblical message apart from the Holy Spirit.
6. WE AFFIRM that the Bible expresses God’s truth in propositional statements, and we declare that biblical truth is both objective and absolute. We further affirm that a statement is true if it represents matters as they actually are, but is an error if it misrepresents the facts.
WE DENY that, while Scripture is able to make us wise unto salvation, biblical truth should be defined in terms of this function. We further deny that error should be defined as that which willfully deceives.
7. WE AFFIRM that the meaning expressed in each biblical text is single, definite, and fixed.
WE DENY that the recognition of this single meaning eliminates the variety of its application.
8. WE AFFIRM that the Bible contains teachings and mandates which apply to all cultural and situational contexts and other mandates which the Bible itself shows apply only to particular situations.
WE DENY that the distinction between the universal and particular mandates of Scripture can be determined by cultural and situational factors. We further deny that universal mandates may ever be treated as culturally or situationally relative.
9. WE AFFIRM that the term hermeneutics, which historically signified the rules of exegesis, may properly be extended to cover all that is involved in the process of perceiving what the biblical revelation means and how it bears on our lives.
WE DENY that the message of Scripture derives from, or is dictated by, the interpreter’s understanding. Thus we deny that the “horizons” of the biblical writer and the interpreter may rightly “fuse” in such a way that what the text communicates to the interpreter is not ultimately controlled by the expressed meaning of the Scripture.
10. WE AFFIRM that Scripture communicates God’s truth to us verbally through a wide variety of literary forms.
WE DENY that any of the limits of human language render Scripture inadequate to convey God’s message.
11. WE AFFIRM that translations of the text of Scripture can communicate knowledge of God across all temporal and cultural boundaries.
WE DENY that the meaning of biblical texts is so tied to the culture out of which they came that understanding of the same meaning in other cultures is impossible.
12. WE AFFIRM that in the task of translating the Bible and teaching it in the context of each culture, only those functional equivalents that are faithful to the content of biblical teaching should be employed.
WE DENY the legitimacy of methods which either are insensitive to the demands of cross-cultural communication or distort biblical meaning in the process.
13. WE AFFIRM that awareness of the literary categories, formal and stylistic, of the various parts of Scripture is essential for proper exegesis, and hence we value genre criticism as one of the many disciplines of biblical study.
WE DENY that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.
14. WE AFFIRM that the biblical record of events, discourses and sayings, though presented in a variety of appropriate literary forms, corresponds to historical fact.
WE DENY that any such event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated.
15. WE AFFIRM the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning which the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.
WE DENY the legitimacy of any approach to Scripture that attributes to it meaning which the literal sense does not support.
16. WE AFFIRM that legitimate critical techniques should be used in determining the canonical text and its meaning.
WE DENY the legitimacy of allowing any method of biblical criticism to question the truth or integrity of the writer’s expressed meaning, or of any other scriptural teaching.
17. WE AFFIRM the unity, harmony, and consistency of Scripture and declare that it is its own best interpreter.
WE DENY that Scripture may be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that one passage corrects or militates against another. We deny that later writers of Scripture misinterpreted earlier passages of Scripture when quoting from or referring to them.
18. WE AFFIRM that the Bible’s own interpretation of itself is always correct, never deviating from, but rather elucidating, the single meaning of the inspired text. The single meaning of a prophet’s words includes, but is not restricted to, the understanding of those words by the prophet and necessarily involves the intention of God evidenced in the fulfillment of those words.
WE DENY that the writers of Scripture always understood the full implications of their own words.
19. WE AFFIRM that any preunderstandings which the interpreter brings to Scripture should be in harmony with scriptural teaching and subject to correction by it.
WE DENY that Scripture should be required to fit alien preunderstandings inconsistent with itself, such as naturalism, evolutionism, scientism, secular humanism, and relativism.
20. WE AFFIRM that since God is the author of all truth, all truths, biblical and extrabiblical, are consistent and cohere, and that the Bible speaks truth when it touches on matters pertaining to nature, history, or anything else. We further affirm that in some cases extrabiblical data have value for clarifying what Scripture teaches and for prompting correction of faulty interpretations.
WE DENY that extrabiblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it.
21. WE AFFIRM the harmony of special with general revelation and therefore of biblical teaching with the facts of nature.
WE DENY that any genuine scientific facts are inconsistent with the true meaning of any passage of Scripture.
22. WE AFFIRM that Genesis 1–11 is factual, as is the rest of the book.
WE DENY that the teachings of Genesis 1–11 are mythical and that scientific hypotheses about earth history or the origin of humanity may be invoked to overthrow what Scripture teaches about creation.
23. WE AFFIRM the clarity of Scripture and specifically of its message about salvation from sin. WE DENY that all passages of Scripture are equally clear or have equal bearing on the message of redemption.
24. WE AFFIRM that a person is not dependent for understanding of Scripture on the expertise of biblical scholars.
WE DENY that a person should ignore the fruits of the technical study of Scripture by biblical scholars.
25. WE AFFIRM that the only type of preaching which sufficiently conveys the divine revelation and its proper application to life is that which faithfully expounds the text of Scripture as the Word of God. WE DENY that the preacher has any message from God apart the text of Scripture.
No Charges Filed In Cocaine Arrest Of Andrae Crouch
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has declined to file charges against gospel singer Andrae Crouch. The 40-year-old, five-time Grammy winner was arrested on November 12 and held for investigation of cocaine possession.
A1 Albergate, a spokesman for the district attorney, said no charges were filed “because we felt the amount of cocaine was too small to justify prosecution.” According to Albergate, the office will not prosecute for possession of less than .10 of a gram. He said only .08 of a gram was found in Crouch’s car.
A few days after his arrest, Crouch participated in a live telephone interview on Los Angeles Christian radio station KBRT’s “Talk from the Heart” program. During the interview, Crouch claimed innocence. He didn’t elaborate on the arrest, stating that details would come later. However, the vague comments he did make suggested there may have been someone else involved. Crouch said, “I have to be careful. In the position I’m in, I have to be careful about everything.” He stated, “I’m a very trusting person. You can put too much trust in other people, and then if anything’s under your roof.…” Crouch finished the statement with an analogy comparing his predicament with that; of Ronald Reagan when Reagan gets blamed for everything wrong in America.
Crouch, who has written several well-known Christian songs including “My Tribute” and “Through It All,” has no known history of drug-related problems. Friends and business associates were reportedly stunned upon hearing of his arrest.
Los Angeles County deputies stopped Crouch on a Los Angeles-area freeway because he was traveling “in a very erratic manner,” according to Sergeant Steve Finley. After tests on the cocaine proved positive, Crouch was jailed and later released on $2,500 bond. Finley said it was certain Crouch had not been using drugs because there were no visible symptoms.
In the radio interview, Crouch said he would “seek the advice of elders” before releasing an official statement. He said the incident was devastating and that one of his first concerns was that nobody would believe the truth.
Crouch stated, “This is the most trying time in my life and I have never felt so loved by the family of Christ as I have in these past few days.”
Crouch, who has recorded more than 10 albums, was named soul gospel artist of the year in 1975 and 1977. He has appeared on many television variety shows, including Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” and “Saturday Night Live,” and has sung at the White House.
Gays Are Gaining Acceptance In More Churches
The issue of homosexuality in the church is active on several fronts. The National Council of Churches (NCC) has delayed its decision on admitting the 14-year-old Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, a largely homosexual denomination. The NCC will vote next November after hearing in the spring a report from its Commission of Faith and Order. To be received into the NCC, a two-thirds vote from its 32 member denominations is required.
The Minnesota Council of Churches, however, is now urging its members to welcome homosexuals into their congregations and to support legislation that protects gay rights.
A statement approved by nearly all the Minnesota council’s 55 directors contains unprecedented language from mainline churchmen in support of homosexuality.
One section of the statement reads: “There may be creative and whole expressions of one’s sexuality at various levels in relationships between men and women, between men and other men, and between women and other women.” The statement not only urges an acceptance of gays; it also implies that homosexual practice is not sinful: “Endless discussions as to [gay] ‘sinfulness’ while we are blind to our own, especially in relationship to them, is an embarrassment to God’s command that we do justice.”
In a related development, the nine-member court of the United Methodist Church’s annual conference has ruled unanimously that nothing in United Methodist church law prohibits the ordination of a homosexual. The court said it was aware of an earlier church statement that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” but added, “Our authority, though, is to interpret the existing law of the church.
CAM International is withdrawing its personnel from Nicaragua, where they have served for 82 years. The mission decided to redeploy to avoid a foreign presence that might be detrimental to the development of the national church.
In his visit to Spain last month, Pope John Paul II did the expected: he vigorously condemned abortion and divorce, and extolled the virtues of Catholic education and conjugal fidelity. But he also met with the leaders of the country’s tiny Protestant community and acknowledged that the Spanish Inquisition was guilty of “errors and excesses” in its sixteenth- and seventeenth-century efforts to combat heresy, which included persecution, torture, and execution.
The (Lutheran) Church of Sweden estimates that 250,000 of its members are unbaptized. The state church’s new central board, which meets for the first time in March, will be asking the church’s bishops for suggestions on how to deal with the situation.
Fifty thousand Swiss citizens have signed a petition asking for “more of God’s Word on radio and television.” The campaign, sponsored by several Protestant groupings, is continuing, and may lead to programming changes in the state-run broadcast media. A similar campaign in West Germany, called “More Gospel in the Media,” has netted 11,000 signatures so far.
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