Saturday, May 5, 2012

Christ Centered Exposition Juxtaposed with Principle-Application Centered Exposition: My Response to my Pastor

My pastor, Daniel Gettemy, made these points and asked this question in response to this post:

[...] I think you're making a pretty clear case for how one's grasp/view of Inspiration (or lack thereof) is feeding their exegetical approach. What role do you think, if any, ones view of Pastoral responsibility plays in the development of a series such as "The Coming Financial Armageddon"? In other words, do you think that such an exegetical approach (as the two had above) develops primarily as a consequence of a low view of inspiration? Or, do you think there are multiple factors, such as one's view of the pulpit's place in congregational ministry that are at play as well? I see both in play - even in my own ministry. There's certainly a tension that exists that has to be managed. I'd love to hear your view on how the Primary can and should feed the secondary issues in exegesis and (even) pulpit ministry.

Thanks brother!

The following is my response to his points and query.

I think that both John MacArthur and David Jeremiah both operate from a typical Evangelical concept of inspiration---which as a friend of mine has noted, usually mistakes inspiration for incarnation; meaning that the text of Scripture is mistakenly imbued with properties that solely should belong to Jesus Christ as God's own personal Self-revelation of himself to humanity, of which Scripture then is taken up into as his Spirit breathed act of bearing witness to his own inerrant Word (so to speak), in Christ. So in other words, revelation becomes depersonalized (in the MacArthurite/Jeremiahite construal); and it is reduced to a set of impersonal logically deduced (postivistic) propositions which we squeeze axioms and principles from as a road-map for our daily lives (so the Bible becomes an answer book like the Reader's Digest or something, or a how to book for "Dummies"). This is a hang-over from the rationalist Fundamentalist hermeneutics that folks like MacArthur, Jeremiah, and almost all Evangelicals have inherited from this bygone era in our relatively recent past (e.g. the Fundamentalist reaction to the so called 'Liberalism' and higher criticism that penetrated American Christianity at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries). This in a nutshell serves as the backdrop to MacArthur's and Jeremiah's interpretive moves today.

So I think, in response to your question, that their hermeneutics have resulted from a defective view of inspiration or a bibliology or doctrine of Scripture that is built upon a rationalist/reactionary edifice that reduces and depersonalizes revelation to propositions instead of the person, Jesus Christ. Which explains quite a bit, relative to the way that both MacArthur and Jeremiah have proceeded in their "exegesis" of the text. They both presume that Scripture is our source-bed for providing a set of values and propositions that needs to be discerned (e.g. exegesis), principalized, and then given up for application for their listener's lives.

So the only solution, that I see, is to abandoned the defective edifice upon which Evangelical's understandings on a doctrine of Scripture (and thus hermeneutics) is built; and re-orientate oneself in a way that sees Scripture within the personal triune speech act of God to us, given to us through his Son, in and through the creative activity of the Holy Spirit. This way Scripture is no longer understood as a proposition book which humanity can master; but instead, Scripture is understood as the God ordained place wherein God in Christ by the Spirit contradicts and confronts our "human mastery" through direct encounter with him, in Christ (wherein Scripture finds its Spirit breathed voice through the resurrected humanity of Jesus Christ). This will set up a hermeneutical framework that methodologically seeks to lay bare the inner reality of Scripture, which finds its ground in Jesus Christ himself (in principle, quite intensively!). So the exegete and expositor won't be seeking to figure out how a particular text (like in the OT for example) is "relevant" or answers people's particular questions today. Instead, the exegete will trust that God alone knows all of our hearts, and his answer to our deepest longing is personal encounter with Him. That is what Scripture is for; to lead us to him in Christ. So when teaching an OT passage, for example (or even a NT one), the expositor will use a hermeneutical practice that exemplifies the kind that we see the NT authors using; it will interpret the OT promises in light of their fulfillment in Christ. For example, it will tie the suffering and rebellion we see happening over and again amongst God's people in the OT; into what Jesus elected for himself as he elected our humanity/reprobation for himself and gave us his elect status as our vicarious representative in his resurrected humanity (so the exegete would emphasize that God humbled himself, and in that humbling he exalted humanity in the resurrected humanity of Christ ... something like that).

So this requires a massive paradigm shift for the expositor's hermeneutical practice. It requires that the Pastor believe that God knew best when his prescription for humanities' daily longings and issues was who he revealed, himself, in Jesus Christ. It is this encounter alone that will set the captives free, and provide the deep kind of perspective and spirituality that God wants for all of his people (on a day to day basis)! MacArthur and Jeremiah (and any Evangelical pastor, in particular, that follows in their footsteps, methodologically) have missed the boat I have been describing. Does this help clarify?


  1. "So the exegete and expositor won't be seeking to figure out how a particular text (like in the OT for example) is 'relevant' or answers people's particular questions today."

    Do you think this is why Paul warns us not to have disputes over the law? I understand your point on the scriptures being a proposition book that can be mastered by man, but I'm still trying to grasp the "personal encounter with Him" type of interpretation. Would "not all men can accept this, but only to those whom it is given" and "he who has ears to hear" be examples of what you propose here?

    1. My basic point in this post is that Christ centered exposition should methodologically lead us to Christ. The guiding supposition is one that Jesus held; ie that Scripture is all about him (Jn 5.39). So Scripture exposition then should reflect this by being an invitation into a participatory relationship with God in Christ. Or, it should result in doxology wherein we look from ourselves to our lives in Christ.

      Scripture exegesis should not primarily be an exercise of abstracting principles for living that are determined by my 21st century context today. Jesus has and will be the answer for all centuries and eternity in the same way. So Scripture should be all about pointing beyond itself to its reality in Christ! All of our ethics etc then come from encounter with him instead of encounter with what the pastor thinks of him.

      What has become concerning to me, Steve; is that what I have written in my post seems like an abstraction (encountering Jesus in the Scriptures). When in fact what counts as biblical exegesis today, for most Evangelicals, is in fact grounded in the rationalist/abstracting hermeneutics of principle/proposition based herm inherited from our Fundamentalist past. I'm not suggesting that we don't have propositions, but that the person of Jesus Christ frames those in a way wherein they are God breathed dynamic speech acts that ever and again bring us into his concrete and lively presence.

      Further, that the exegete already has a hermeneutical template provided by the NT authors themselves. They reinterpreted the OT promises in a fuller way; in a way that would seem strange unless they understood Christ to be their fulfillment. It is this kind of exgesis that sees Christ as the telos, purpose, for Scripture, Salvation History, and Creation itself (Colossians 1:15ff)! And it is this kind of exposition that provides an occasion for fellowship with the God whom the Scriptures ever again invite us to and his banqueting table. It is as we meet him afresh in the Scriptures that we will have the right order for living life in the here and now.

      So I am not trying to suggest that there are no "principles" for living to be gleaned from Bible study; but I am suggesting that we cannot rightly understand any of that w/o seeing these principles in the lived reality of Jesus' vicarious humanity for us. And it is this kind of dualism (that drives a wedge between our humanity and Christ's for us) that produces the kind of principle-application based exposition I am combatting (a bit) in my short little post.

  2. And then here is a question a guy by the name of Ali asked me on Facebook in regard to this post:

    "Sooo, could you provide an example. Say, for example, how would you approach the issue of divorce? A person has divorced their physically abusive spouse and is wanting to know whether, as a follower of Christ, remarrying is a sin or not. How would you address that using your hermenuetic?"

    And here is my response to him:

    Ali, I think like the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5, and then I would, like Paul take his Christic frame for marriage and tie that back into the creation/recreation purpose for marriage that we find established for marriage starting in Genesis working all the way (canonically) through the book of Revelation and the Marriage Supper Feast of the Lamb. I would interpret marriage through this postive Christologically conditioned orientation. This is the way Jesus does in Mt 19 for example.

    With this Christic frame for marriage in mind I would then note the in between time we currently inhabit; and the reason there is still divorce is because of the hardness of people's heart, or the ongoing reality of sin in general.

  3. Bobby,

    First off, thank you for taking the time to give such a well-thought response to my previous comment. The post is encouraging and insightful and gives plenty of clarity. It's helpful for me to pick your brain (and heart) in continuing to develop a more focused, Christ centered hermeneutic for my own studies and ministry.

    Interesting that you trace the depersonalization of revelation back to The Fundamentals (or, those who defined them). I hadn't really considered that. Perhaps when the focus (for Evangelicalism) became a rationalistic battle for the Book, an unintentional fallout was a wrong-direction moving hermeneutic. That explains a lot of the propositional-truth-to-happy-living approach that satiates Evangelicalism. As you know, helping people think differently and view Scripture differently than that is, today, quite a challenge!

    I also agree that Christ centered exposition is an apostolic approach. The apostles didn't explain the OT in terms of "3 points to a better...", but in bringing clarity to the redemptive purposes of God in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of His Son, Jesus; and the life that we now have in Him. The Spirit's sanctifying work through this ongoing knowledge of the Son is what needs to be the confidence of the expositor.

    Thanks again Bobby! You're quite gifted in communicating these truths in print - maybe you should write a book... ;-)


    1. Pastor Daniel,

      Yes, this, without a doubt is the source of the Evangelical depersonalization of the Scriptures; that is, it is the impact of the Fundamentalist uncritical adoption of the 'history of religions' 'higher criticism' etc. mode of engagement that in the end has led Evangelicals (through their uncritical adoption of the Fundamentalist's mantle) to interpret Scripture through a by and large anthropocentric lens, instead of a Christocentric one. Even though any Evangelical you would ask would say just the opposite; i.e. that they see God's Word as his love letter to us ... indeed, but Evangelicals, in general, need help catching their hermeneutics up to their belief ;-).

      And thank you!

  4. Some quick questions ;-)
    1. do you think that Jesus (as the divine word) had his own hermeneutic, discernible within the gospels?
    2. Is your own proposal a kind of synthesis of Barthian hermeneutics and canonical approaches to hermeneutics?
    3. If so how adequate do you think the canonical approach is at the points where scripture is engaged in a temporarily extended argument/disagreement?

    1. Hi Bruce,

      Great to hear from you!

      1. That's a good question; I think Jesus, in the Gospels, offered the contours of his own hermeneutic in the Gospels---for me that keeps me returning to John 5:39 and Luke 24 in particular. It seems to me that Jesus believed that the OT TaNaKh was all about him; how that plays out in a hermeneutic probably isn't as nice and neat as I'd like.

      2. Yes, I think that is probably the way I am trying to move (e.g. Barthian synthesis and canonical approach). I would like to say a Torrancean synthesis, and I would de jure; but since TFT, other than in his Edinburgh New College Lecutures, from what I've ascertained thus far, doesn't offer clear practice and examples of how that might play out in an commentary kind of way.

      3. I think the canonical approach can tend to smooth the landscape of Scripture out, sometimes, too much; but I also think that if we attend to the literary norms that the canonical approach seeks to work through; that a 'temporarily extended argument/disagreement' can be accommodated by the canonical approach insofar that it seeks to negotiate between intra and intertextual concerns. (Does this get at answering your question on this point---I think I was tracking with your question here).

      How do you approach biblical interpretation, Bruce? 2) Do you think we can do christocentric hermeneutics? 3) What do you think of Barth's approach to hermeneutics, as say reflected in his Romerbrief?

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