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 ...

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