UPDATED: Are we rationalist?

(Thanks to Mr. R. Scott Clark who has responded to this post.  After reading his post my initial concerns and objections remain. For further explanation, see my comments to our friend Colin Adam here below. I have given about as much attention to this as I can at the moment. Matt will be back at the end of the week and can then give a follow-up to his post. Thanks to all and especially Mr. Clark for the interaction.)

R. Scott Clark has responded to Matt’s post with the following:

“It’s isn’t that complicated. Pay close attention here: The Apostolic hermeneutic is to see Christ at the center of all of Scripture. We’re not reading him into
Scripture. We’re refusing to read him out of it. There, I said it.
That’s what it is. Perhaps the reason our dispensational friends cannot
see it is because they are blinded by their rationalism.”

His response is as misguided as it is seemingly uncharitable. Clark has used the classic red herring that this is a “dispensational vs. reformed” theology dispute. History and the facts could not be more opposed to such lines of thought. My concern is not that the world put their faith and trust in dispensationalism or the Westminster standards for that matter. I will be the first to admit that many classic dispensationalist have erected mountains where there should be smooth plains but I will also point out that many reformed interpreters have flattened the text and are quick to excuse elements of discontinuity. I really don’t care about labels such as these because, more often than not, they merely confuse or misdirect where simple clarification can be more helpful. If a label has to be qualified a thousand times before it can be understood then it may be more helpful to simply explain your perspective.

Additionally, those who are currently writing on these issues from more dispensational vantage points would have no problem saying that Jesus the Messiah stands at the center of Scripture. Clark needs to do better than pull out fifty year-old third-hand negative quotes from Dwight Pentecost to bolster his supposed argument. I have no problem saying that the anticipation of the OT was the Messiah and that the NT is the realization of that expectant hope. Don’t most Christians say this? To suggest otherwise is slight of hand meant to confuse or belittle those raising dissenting questions.

Clark also drops the “R” word saying that his dispensational friends are blinded by rationalism. Really? Did he actually read Waymeyer’s post where he stated in albeit, rational terminology: “Of course, any principle which cannot be proven clearly from Scripture would not be allowed on the list and should not be used by the one committed to using the apostles hermeneutic.” This does not sound like a plea for interpreters to rest on their reasoning or enlightenment posteriors.

Last time I checked, christology is a branch of systmematic theology and not a branch of hermeneutics but don’t get everything bunched-up just yet. Please do not conclude from this that we think Jesus the Messiah is somehow absent in the OT, no far from it! Kaiser (not a dispensationalist mind you) rightly notes, “To reject the Old Testament as the prior, authoritative revelation of God is to reject the Bible’s own basis for determining who is and who is not the Messiah.” So the question still remains: if “the Apostolic hermeneutic is to see Christ at the center of all of Scripture” then how do you do that without resorting to a subjective approach or worse a hyper-allegorical approach to the OT? Additionally what are the specific principles in this regard that can be objectively applied to every passage of the OT?

11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Scott Christensen on September 26, 2007 at 5:33 am

    Paul & Matt,
    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your measured, irenic and diligent inquiry into these matters. At the risk of not being taken seriously, have either or the both of you considered publishing something along these lines to help us poorer thinkers think more clearly? Maybe Rick Kress will publish it?

  2. Paul,

    First of all, great blog. It is an encouragement to us all.

    To what you’re discussing…

    While I don’t think its fair to brand those talking a similar approach to yours as utterly ‘rationalist’, I think the equal and opposite danger would be to imagine people from the perspective as tending towards a “hyper-allegorical” interpretation of the Old Testament.

    True, just as an unyielding commitment to ‘rationalism’ (over and against whatever methods the bible seems to employ) can be a danger on the starboard side, so also can the hyper allegorising approach be the deadly rocks that shipwreck us on the other end. However, this doesn’t mean that this latter extreme can’t be avoided (any more than to say, hyper-Calvinism can’t be avoided by Calvinists).

    I would recommend Dennis E Johnson’s “Him We Proclaim” as a useful attempt to to lay out a criteria for finding the road between every Old Testament text and Christ (without falling into pure subjectivism and speculation).

    Johnson mentions…

    # Typos texts –
    # Old Testament quotations applied to Christ –
    # Unmistakable allusions to Old Testament events, applied to Christ –
    # Subtle and debatable allusions to Old Testament events, persons, and institutions –
    # General Old Testament patterns fulfilled in Christ and his work –

    as just some of the ‘objective’ roads that can be pursued.

    Johnson also has a whole chapter answering the main objections leveled against using a Christ-centered hermeneutic. As such, Johnson’s book is of a more apologetic nature than other such works in the category. Even if you don’t agree with him in the end, its well worth a read.

    I’ve also got another question though: following your line, are we willing then only to adopt apostlic ‘doctrine’ but not apostolic ‘hermeneutics’? In other words, are we saying that we are happy to embrace the apostle’s message, but not their methods of interpretation. This is a line that Johnson pursues (quite convincingly in my opinion) in his book.

    In Acts, the apostles are clearly working with a Christ-centered hermeneutic, sometimes applying OT texts surprisingly to our Lord. Some have even bluntly argued on this basis that they had “the RIGHT doctrine from the WRONG texts.” They then assert that we dare not follow their approach.

    But is this really legitimate? Surely the inspired apostle’s have something to teach us with regards how we interpret the Old Testament, not just in specific cases, but in providing us with a transferable approach to other texts?

  3. Colin,

    I have read with great interest Dennis Johnson’s “Him We Proclaim.” He is obviously writing in the same tradition as Greidanus and Goldsworthy yet with an updated approach. I think all of these authors have made valuable contributions to not only this discussion but to preaching in general. It would be foolish for me to enter this discussion and ignore what they have brought to the table. I would add Vos and Clowney to this as well both of whom R. Scott Clark suggests I might not know even exist. Not only do I know they exist Mr. Clark I have read them with great benefit.

    With that in mind I was eager to see how he would interact with Kaiser as he has been the most consistent in articulating the priority of the OT for understanding the NT. Johnson’s discussion of Kaiser was paltry (pp. 157-160) compared to the amount of attention that Kaiser has given to this. Johnson also seemed unaware that his objections to some of Kaisers points have been addressed many times over.

    This became obvious to me when Johnson cited one example (only one) from Kaiser’s sermon samples (i.e., Leviticus 16). He terribly misunderstands Kaiser’s approach and claims that its unavoidable for Kaiser to preach Christ (which he does). When Kaiser says that the OT can stand on its own this does not mean that he doesn’t believe in the NT. He’s saying that its meaning (not fulfillment) is not intelligible without further revelation. Many seem to be confusing the OT’s anticipation of fulfillment with being meaningless. The two are not the same.

    Additionally, his discussion of 1 Peter 1:10-12 left much to be desired since there was really no discussion of it at all in this context. What did the OT prophets know and when did they know it. Matt Waymeyer has dealt with this in a post here at ET.

    This comes down to a fundamental difference of perspective. The redemptive-historical school (also the “Christ-centered” preaching school and the “apostolic hermeneutic” school) all affirm that the NT holds the key for understanding the message of the OT like the last chapter of a mystery novel (an illustration they often use).

    Charitably consider the following:

    1. The comparison of rejecting apostolic hermeneutics while accepting apostolic doctrine is the logical fallacy of false analogy. I can say this for the same reason I can accept the theology of the OT prophets yet reject their methodology as normative for today. I think it is selective for adherents of the apostolic hermeneutic school to ignore the “hermeneuitcs” of the OT prophets if they are to be consistent. Johnson and others have not adequately dealt with the fact that the prophets and the apostles spoke by divine inspiration which is not repeatable or normative unless your a total continuationist.

    2. Jesus maintained throughout His ministry that the failure of the Jewish audience was that they did not believe what had already been delivered (see John 5:46-47).

    3. I agree that this is a deeply christological discussion. The only way the prophets (John the Baptist) and the disciples were to recognize Jesus was to know the anticipatory message of the OT. Matthew writes his gospel to encourage Jewish believers that Jesus is the Messiah-King so he begins with a legal Jewish genealogy tracing the development of Jesus’ ancestry and showing His connection to the covenant promises of the OT. Jesus and the Apostles (especially see John 1:45) were proclaiming in its realized form what had already been preached for many millenniums going back to the patriarchs. Jesus was not then nor now the only one claiming to be the Messiah. The litmus test was the Messianic message of the OT.

    4. The theological foundation for the teaching of Jesus and that of the Apostles was the OT. They upheld the truth that anything which contradicted the TaNak was to be rejected (Deut. 12:32). Paul said, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4; see also Acts 26:6, 22; 24:14; 28:23).

    Colin, these are just a few thoughts that come to mind. Thank you for your thoughtful interaction and certainly your wonderful blog.

    Blessings to you,

  4. Scott,

    I have the criteria that unless someone 1)asks me to write a book, 2) same person has contract in hand, and 3)it’s a compelling issue then I’m not inclined to do anything about it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing or that I have no desire to publish some things but my three points always come into play.

    Matt Waymeyer on the other hand has all three of the above. In fact, I don’t think he’ll mind me saying, I have one of his manuscripts on my desk which is about to go to the publisher after some editing. I think anyone who has been following this discussion, especially its New Covenant implications will be in for a real treat with Matt’s new book. You will be hearing a lot about it here at ET when it comes out (interviews, excerpts and all).

  5. The irony here is that Scott and Matt have probably passed in line at In-N-Out since they are in each other’s back yard (Oceanside/Vista).

    Maybe they could sit down over a double-double (animal style) and talk through this. I think that would be a most fascinating discussion and profitable for both sides (meaning the readers).

    Knowing Matt, I’ve always appreciated his well thought out arguments. The things I’ve read about and from Scott show him to be a good thinker as well.

    What say you Matt and Scott? I’ll pick up the tab.

    By Grace,


  6. Posted by Scott Christensen on September 26, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    Thanks for the head’s up. Now you’ve got me excited. I will be looking forward to ET updates and the book itself.

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  8. Posted by Bobby Grow on October 1, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Interesting . . . R. Scott Clarke really does not provide any arguement, he just asserts his position with the usual appeal to the history of interpretation and “selectively”, and falsely, paralleling the disp. herm. to the Marcionites . . . how rhetorically filling.

    All one has to do is spend a semester looking at how the NT uses and quotes the OT, say in the books: Romans, I Peter, and John; and one will quickly realize that these “apostolic” authors (who penned scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit) engaged in common “Jewish” first century bib. interpretive models such as: midrash, pesher, atomization, etc.. This at best is open to observation, but to normalize this hermeneutic is impossible since, because their writings were inspired, they were able to engage in sensus plenior (see Douglas Moo’s discussion on this)—which we as uninspired interpreters are unable to engage in. This leaves a whole swath of OT passages, and their fulfillment (see Is. 11:11ff for example) untouchable for the Amil interpreter, unless they want to assert that they have the “authority” to engage in modern day “sensus plenior” (which in effect is what their “type/anti-type” herm. reduces to). And this is what this whole herm. discussion actually comes to, isn’t it? It’s an issue of “authority”—the R. Scott Clarke approach parallels the Roman magesterium, more than it does any sort of “Prot. herm.”. So maybe this actually is an issue of ecclesiological confusion on Clarke’s part rather than an issue of herm. Actually these issues seem to be dialectically related.

    Anyway, IMO, Clarke’s post to you, Paul, is oversimplified; and seems intended to tickle the ears of the “initiated”, instead of a careful critique from an Oxford grad, that one might expect from such a fellow. I better stop . . .

  9. […] and Systematic Theology at Westminster West, and he responded with a post of his own. To which our own Paul Lamey responded, to which Clark responded, etc. etc. etc. Meanwhile, as all this is going on, I’m back in the […]

  10. You said “if “the Apostolic hermeneutic is to see Christ at the center of all of Scripture” then how do you do that without resorting to a subjective approach or worse a hyper-allegorical approach to the OT? Additionally what are the specific principles in this regard that can be objectively applied to every passage of the OT?”

    I think I have been accidentally exploring the answer to this.

    I have been a bi-vocational evangelist/pastor in Utah for 25 years.

    Recently in my studies, I have been permitted to see shadows of Christ everywhere in the scriptures.

    Here is an example of what I am finding:

    Look at the Tamar story. God was so involved in the life of the author that the author recorded this odd transaction without really knowing why it was important. But God used the history, and the author, to paint a picture of the birth of His own Son such that:

    Tamar:Mary made herself available near the appointment:the appointed time
    Tamar:Mary was promised a goat:scape goat “for he shall save his people from their sins.”
    When Tamar:Mary asked for assurance of the promise, she was given three things:
    Rod: “The power of God will overshadow you”
    Signet ring: “He shall be called the Son of God”
    Bracelets: Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife (in Numbers an empty vessel without bracelets is unclean. Mary was not unclean, and Judah was told “there was no prostitute here”
    Tamar:Mary conceived , not by her legitimate husband, but by his father Judah:God
    Tamar:Mary was going to be killed:divorced until the father was identified.
    Afterwards she was honored.
    Tamar:Mary had twins: God-man
    their names mean “breaking forth” and “the sunrise” ::dayspring
    Phares:Jesus though born to Tamar:Mary first, was really the second breach:second man
    God was so involved in the history and lives of the people and authors that the human scribes were almost typewriters incarnate, and God left his fingerprints throughout his word with such shadows as the story of Tamar. The inspiration of the scriptures goes well beyond our conception of it. Every jot and tittle had real history behind the living, observation and recording of it. Every paragraph had God’s hand on the whole of the author’s life.

    I am not sure why God is allowing me to see these shadows nor what I should be doing with them. I have stumbled across some papers referring to sensus plenior. I believe the same hermeneutic that flushes out the shadows explains the NT authors’ use of the OT.

    I am sharing more diagrams at http://idontknownuthin.com

    I believe I can discuss the details of the hermeneutic used to flush these out, and am looking for someone to dialog with to formally establish “the specific principles in this regard that can be objectively applied to every passage of the OT.”

    Thanks for the look, I hope they bless you.

    Bob Jones

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