I was skimming through a book I had read a while back and rediscovered this quote that adequately sums up my perspective on the importance of reading the New Testament through “1st-century eyes” before we seek to apply it to our current context.
“New Testament interpretation is a dialogue, simply because any twentieth-century attempt to inquire into first-century writings is bound to be a dialogue. A dialogue that starts by recognizing the inescapable distance between the first century and the twentieth, which begins with the recognition that a first-century text is bound to be in some degree or other strange and foreign to us. For if it is not, the likelihood is that we have assimilated the one to the other too quickly; we have allowed the voice of the twentieth century to drown out the distinctive tones of the first century; or the word of the first century to drown out the questions of the twentieth century. If the former is the temptation of the too critical, the latter is the failing of the too uncritical. But if we want to hear the distinctive voice of the New Testament writings, whether in terms of what marks them out from other first-century writings, or in terms of hearing the otherliness of the word of God addressing us now, some sort of dialogue is unavoidable: a dialogue in which we find our own questions being clarified and redefined and in which we allow ourselves to be put in question.” – Dunn, James D. G ( The Living Word)
This evening has been taken up by some deep reading in the field of hermeneutics. I have been working through Thiselton’s Hermeneutics: An Introduction. The first couple of chapters were a bit challenging, but I am now getting into the flow of his thought. What a ride! He has provoked me too much thought and challenged my own “settled” views on interpretive theory. But the following statement caused me to put the book down and think for a moment. This is what he says:
“…hermeneutics is not an instrumental discipline used supposedly to support theological or Christian doctrinal conclusions at which some have already arrived. We are looking for ‘integrity’ rather than Kant’s ‘autonomy'” (pg. 124)
It has me wondering how often I, rather unconsciously, do this when studying the text. How often do you do this? Ideally, we would want to approach the text of scripture and allow it to say what it has been saying all along or even allow it to speak to our particular context and culture. But we do the text a disservice and do not act with “integrity” when we only go to the Bible to prove a point that we have already settled on. I know I’m guilty of this and sometimes it is hard to differentiate between what I need to “hear” to make me feel better about where I am theologically and what the text is saying.
Just a thought to keep in mind when you study the Bible. We all do this. But it helps tremendously to be aware of it.
Here’s a quote that might go against the grain of what is predominantly taught in conservative evangelical circles. The more I look at how faith is described in the Bible and exercised in the narrative of scripture, the more I think it is a good representation of biblical faith:
“Biblical faith isn’t about trying to attain certainty; it’s about committing to a course of action in the face of uncertainty.” – Greg Boyd
Faith is not mere mental assent to a set of biblical propositions. Nor is it just believing the “right” doctrines. It is allegiance to the Lord Jesus expressed in a willingness to obey his commands regardless of the outcome. The word “faith” itself implies a level of uncertainty; we don’t know how things will end up when we commit to following Jesus, but we trust in and exercise loyalty towards our Lord Jesus without a shred of concern for ourselves. That’s how we show we truly love Him.
“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me, and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14:21; NRSV)
When asked about the importance of assurance in the Christian life, Douglas Campbell, a brilliant and faithful biblical scholar, responds in this way:
“One of the things that we are delivered from is introversion and narcissism. And God doesn’t want us wandering around worrying about ourselves. God wants us turned out towards the rest of the world; there are people out there that need help. We are the ones that are supposed to help them. Unfortunately, we have generated theological models that have created such anxiety that we’ve got classrooms full of anxious Christians and they’re not really confident that God is working in their lives and is able to work in the lives of others. So, I really do encourage my students… ‘If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord; believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you will be saved’. You’re there, bro. Stop worrying about yourself and get out there and visit some prisons”
I have found that when I spend time caring, loving, and serving others as Christ commands us to do, you don’t have time to be distressed about whether or not you’re in the kingdom. Get out there and do the good works that God has called you to do! Assurance will take care of itself.
(This was transcribed by me from a debate between Douglas Campbell and Douglas Moo; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlujS-fH8R4 (1:56:03)