Four Views on Moving beyond the Bible to Theology

Gary T. Meadors Zondervan, Grand Rapids October 20, 2009
Purchase

Although all the authors in this volume agree that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, they differ in their views of how the Bible should be interpreted and applied. In short, the essays provide four different answers to the question of how to apply the Scriptures to current issues. The title of the work is intended to describe what happens in biblical interpretation. When the interpreter applies the Scriptures to an issue or question not envisioned by the biblical writer, or applies the teaching of Scriptures differently from their use in the original context, the interpreter has moved “beyond the Bible.”

Walter C. Kaiser Jr., distinguished professor emeritus of Old Testament and Ethics and president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, defends a “principlizing model.” He argues that the task of interpreting the text requires the development of principles, which are a restatement “of the author’s propositions, arguments, narrations, and illustrations in timeless abiding truths with special focus on the application of those truths to the current needs of the Church” (p. 22). He illustrates how to develop these principles and then to apply them to contemporary issues such as women in ministry, euthanasia, homosexuality, and others.

Daniel M. Doriani, senior pastor of Central Presbyterian Church, St. Louis, defends a “Redemptive-Historical Model.” He explains that this method is “committed both to close exegesis of crucial passages and to analysis of the sweep of Scripture. That analysis looks for progress, development, or other patterns through epochs of redemption” (p. 107). Doriani insists that any development or progress must be seen in the canon of the Scriptures, not in trajectories or in the mind of God.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Blanchard Professor of Theology at Wheaton College and Graduate School, defends a “Drama of Redemption Model.” He summarizes his method as follows. “The drama-of-redemption approach affirms God’s actions in history, preserves the emphasis on story, and incorporates a canonically attuned, wisdom-oriented ‘chastened’ principlizing, while better integrating the interpreters into the action. The superiority of theodrama as a model for thinking about biblical authority and interpretation thus consists in its awareness that understanding is a matter not only of cognition but of action” (p. 159). Vanhoozer sees the Scriptures as the church’s script and the interpreter as an actor whose task is to “perform the script,” not simply apply the Bible (p. 170).

William J. Webb, professor of New Testament at Waterloo Seminary, in Ontario, Canada, defends a “Redemptive-Movement Model.” Webb explains, “I encourage Christians to embrace the redemptive spirit of the text, which at times will mean that we must move beyond the concrete specificity of the Bible. Or, we must be willing to venture beyond simply an isolated or static understanding of the Bible. Or, we must progress beyond the frozen-in-time aspects of the ethical portrait found in the Bible” (pp. 215–16, italics his). Webb believes that “Scripture seems to gives [sic] us an ethic that needs in some ways to be developed and worked out over time. It would appear that many biblical texts were written within a cultural framework with limited or incremental movement toward an ultimate ethic” (p. 217, italics his). Other texts imply significant advances toward an ultimate ethic. Webb concludes, “In using a RM approach, Christians must journey far beyond any surface-level appropriation of Scripture to an application of the text that listens intently to its movement meaning as heard within its historical and canonical contexts. . . . Our task as Christians is not to stay with a static understanding of Scripture but to champion its redemptive spirit in new and fresh ways that logically and theologically extend its movement meaning into today’s context” (p. 248).

Each of the authors interacts with each of the other essays. These responses are lively and engaging and help clarify the major and minor differences of opinion between them. But unlike the format in most of the books in the Counterparts series, this volume includes three additional “reflections” chapters. Mark L. Strauss, professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary, San Diego, summarizes the four models and then adds two more options. He also suggests guidelines for contextualization, concluding with the encouragement that this conversation continue and expand. Al Wolters, professor emeritus of religion and theology at Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario, criticizes all four authors for overlooking general revelation in their models. Wolters notes, “The only kind of normativity that they want to acknowledge is that which comes from the Bible. In my judgment, this is a misconception of the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura. Special and general revelation need to be read in the light of each other. To be sure, biblical revelation has epistemological priority over God’s revelation in creation, but both come with divine authority. God speaks to us through the very structure of creation—creation conceived in a broad biblical sense to include the God-ordained fabric of human culture and society” (p. 317). Christopher J. H. Wright, international director of Langham Partnership International in the United Kingdom, helpfully observes that going beyond the Bible is the necessary task of any biblical exposition. He explains, “One could, of course, simply read aloud the Bible passage.  . . .  But the moment one opens one’s mouth to preach the text, one is ‘going beyond’ it—in at least this critical sense: the text was not written to the people in front of me, but my sermon is preached to them” (p. 320, italics his). Having this illustration early in the book would have helped the reader understand why this book is so important. Wright’s reflections also defend a missiological model, one that is dependent on the story line of the mission of God in the Scriptures.

This is an excellent introduction to an important hermeneutical issue. In addition to the helpful treatment of these theological issues, it serves as a model for theological dialogue. The authors share a commitment to the Scriptures, but they read and apply the text differently. They clearly respect each other while presenting significantly different views about how to apply the Scriptures. This book is highly recommended for students, pastors, Christian leaders, and others concerned about how to apply accurately the ancient words of life to modern questions and problems. 

—Glenn R. Kreider

April 1, 2011
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2011 vol. 168 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

Subscribe Today