Archive for May, 2011

The Hermeneutics of Continuity and Discontinuity

Covenant theologians and dispensationalists differ on how much continuity and discontinuity exists throughout the progress of biblical revelation. Simply stated, covenant theologians tend to see more continuity in Scripture, whereas dispensationalists tend to see more discontinuity. The problem comes when continuity or discontinuity begins to function as the lens through which Scripture is interpreted. Put another way, the problem comes when covenant theology or dispensationalism begin to function as a system of hermeneutics.

For example, covenant theologian Robert Booth refers to continuity as “a principle of biblical interpretation” which should guide the interpreter in his handling of the Scriptures. According to Booth: “Our interpretive starting point will determine how we understand the Bible. Most people do not consistently apply any interpretive principle, yet we should all strive for interpretive consistency. The…covenantal principle of interpretation holds that we must…assume continuity and unity in God’s revelation.”

This approach could be referred to as “a hermeneutic of continuity,” because it comes to Scripture with the assumption that one will consistently find continuity in the Bible rather than discontinuity. The problem with this approach is that the unity of Scripture does not demand continuity over discontinuity in a given area. Otherwise, the unity of the Bible would preclude the possibility of any discontinuity throughout redemptive history.

Rather than using a hermeneutic which consistently assumes either continuity or discontinuity, it is better for the interpreter to set aside his assumptions and make an objective comparison between A and B in a given area to determine how much continuity or discontinuity may exist. Put another way, continuity and discontinuity in a given area should be a post-exegetical conclusion, not a pre-exegetical assumption. Otherwise, the one who looks at Scripture through the lens of continuity will tend to deny legitimate points of discontinuity, and the one who looks through the lens of discontinuity will tend to deny legitimate points of continuity.

The Reader-Response Method

The most significant hermeneutical paradigm shift in the 20th century involved the repositioning of the interpreter to the center of the interpretive process. According to this approach—commonly known as the Reader-Respond Method—the meaning of Scripture emerges as a product of the interaction between the modern-day reader and the ancient biblical text. In this way, there can be many different legitimate meanings of a given passage, for each new interpreter brings his own presuppositions, experiences, and interpretative framework to the Scriptures. This results in a unique interpretation/meaning for every reader. As Robert Stein observes, because subjectivity is to be welcomed and embraced rather than avoided, the biblical text ends up functioning like an inkblot into which the interpreter reads his own individual meaning. Put simply, this is the scholarly version of “What does this verse mean to you?”

Three New Books for Men

Father’s Day is fast approaching so I’m always looking for books that rise above the surface of the typical fare. Here are three that grabbed my attention:

Men of the Word: Insights for Life from Men Who Walked with God edited by Nathan Busenitz. I was really excited to receive this book from the publisher. Many character studies of biblical men are often nothing more than launching pads for all types of moral eisegesis but this is not the case with Men of the Word. Each chapter focuses on a key individual from Scripture with God-centered exhortations focused on the theme of “real men” (e.g., Real Men Find Satisfaction in God: Lessons from the Life of Solomon by Rick Holland). Every chapter is written by a different pastor from the staff of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA with a forward by John MacArthur who is the long-time preaching pastor at GCC. There is also two helpful appendices. The first by Bill Shannon is entitled “Real Men Pursue Purity” which is a succinct and helpful guide to helping men fight the battle of sexual purity. I am already using this appendix as a hand-out for men in my church. The second appendix is an excellent study guide useful for personal study or small groups. It is this resource that makes this book ideal as a discipling tool for men in the local church. There is also a biblical reference guide at the end which could be used as a Scripture memory aid for personal or group studies. I highly recommend this book to any pastor, teacher, or man who wants to be challenged to grow as a man of God and be useful in the Lord’s mission.

A Guide to Biblical Manhood by Randy Stinson and Dan Dumas. This is a short, pithy, yet powerful little book. I received it yesterday but was able to read it in an evening, which may be good news for men in your congregation that are not motivated readers or who struggle with large tomes (109 half-cut pages). A Guide is presented in a style similar to that of the old “survival manuals” (see here) which visually caught my attention with clever illustrations and arrangement of section materials. There are three main categories addressed by Dumas and Stinson: a godly husband, a godly father, and a godly leader. The material is brief yet theologically sound and immensely practical.  This is a great little resource to put into the hands of your church’s men or “future men.” Highly recommended.

Pujols: More Than A Game** by Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth. The best player in the game of baseball is not wearing Yankee pinstripes nor, as it pains this life-long Braves fan to admit, is he playing in Atlanta. Albert Pujols is by any objective standard the best player in the game today. It’s also apparent that a case can be made for his being the greatest player ever. He has in some ways quietly achieved things that Ruth, Aaron, and Williams never accomplished (let’s not even mention a certain player recently on trial in the Bay Area). In an age where sports are riddled with cheating, doping, sexual misconduct, and giant egos . . . in walks a man who says, “I don’t play for people. I don’t live for people. I live to represent Jesus Christ” (pg. 228). The authors do an excellent job at getting beneath the surface of this towering figure and the result is that Pujols is the real deal. They ask the hard questions about steroids, scandals, and the demanding home life of a modern baseball player. Baseball fan or not, any sports fan will enjoy this well-researched and insightful biography. Well done and highly recommended.

[**Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”]

Relevant preaching….

Relevant preaching must be biblical preaching or it’s not really edifying.

Pastor Jerry Wragg explains:  This kind of “extrapolating” has become the most popular technique of today’s preachers who claim to do Bible exposition. They assert principles from a passage which are then nuanced in clever “hipster-speak” so as to avoid anything “old” sounding. The net result, more often than not, is an imprecise explanation of the meaning of texts, and very little attention given to the ancient context before its present implications are preached. To be sure, all effective preaching exhorts the will of present-day hearers, bringing out the timeless spiritual implications God intends for His people. What is disturbing, however, about today’s trend is that those who most frequently do this seem largely unaware of just how illegitimate their “extrapolations” are at times, and they don’t seem able to discern what led to the interpretive errors. Hermeneutics of this sort are nothing more than looking at a passage in English, finding a familiar theme, drawing out a truth-claim related to contemporary life (usually surrounding some troubling, irritating, depressing, or rewarding part of earthly life), ignoring the cultural, geographical, language, and historical elements of the ancient context, and re-teaching the significance of the passage in the most attention-grabbing, pithy, in-your-face terminology possible.

A recent example may help:

On Paul’s preaching in Athens, one pastor asserted, “Even Paul quoted the two most popular rock stars of the day” (stated as a justification for beginning a worship service with provocative music from a secular band) – Now, Paul didn’t actually quote “rock stars,” but rather the popular poets of the day. Is it wrong to “extrapolate” that the famous poets of 1st century Athens were the equivalent of today’s popular music celebrities? Not necessarily. In fact, if public fame in the artistic arena today is similar to ancient times, no preacher is at fault for illustrating that fact as a way of bringing a more vivid understanding to the context of Scripture. But here’s the problem:

(1) Listeners sometimes miss the crucial distinction between drawing a general parallel for vividness and setting forth the historical and cultural facts of a text. It’s quite probable that without clarification, some listeners would be left with the impression that Acts 17 tells us Paul enjoyed, as a missionary, a steady diet of the secular music of his pop-culture (an unlikely notion wholly without warrant anywhere in Paul’s writings) –

(2) The more serious problem is that this particular pastor was using this “extrapolation” as a descriptive example of how Paul’s personal familiarity with secular pop-culture was used to attract unbelievers to the gospel. The pastor then used this alleged “Pauline technique” to justify playing highly controversial and morally questionable secular music at the beginning of a Sunday service where God’s people gather to worship Him.

So here we have an example of what some, at first glance, may assume is simply a helpful way of communicating the context of the Bible in clever contemporary lingo. When used, however, to justify the intrusion of morally questionable elements into the worship of God’s people it subtly undermines the proper interpretation and legitimate implications of the text being studied. I have no problem using today’s normal vocabulary to teach the truths of Scripture, and every effective preacher works hard to bring fresh, clear, and vivid articulations of all that God’s word reveals. The distinction must be made obvious, however, between using modern-day parallels of ancient things and the actual meaning and implications intended by the author and discovered by careful exegesis. The latter must always govern the former, never the other way around! Preachers today who are quick to pull contemporary rabbits out of ancient hats offer only the illusion of bible exposition. The real truth is found in the intent of the original!

Trembling at His Word,

Pastor Jerry Wragg

The Bipolar Nature of the Pulpit Ministry

Upon finishing my Sunday morning exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:23-28 I received two very different responses from persons within the congregation.  You brother-pastors know all about this experience.  One elderly man lectured me on how I really need to calm down when preaching in the pulpit.  My passion for the truth apparently distracts and even upsets this longtime member.  He said he wished his high school speech teacher were still alive so she could instruct me on how to give a more effective presentation.  He also told me that if I continue to preach as long as I have the past two Sundays that I’ll lose all of our members.

The second person I chatted with after the service had a different perspective on the sermon.  The brother followed up this brief Sunday conversation with a gracious email on Monday which you can read below.

Pastor:

I thank God for answered prayer. I have been seeking to see God’s hand move in a way only God could do in my life. I recognize this can be a “dangerous” prayer, but my desire is not just the normal, ordinary or mundane life. I seek not to be special, just to be part of something special.

The distractions of business and the world seems to rob one of the joy of life in Christ. I am seeking a re-focus so Christ remains the focus. The message from 1 Corinthians 15 this Sunday was just that.  I found myself being drawn into the message. It started out as a great information source with answers to questions I have been working with, but then a strange phenomenon began. Amidst the flood of information and knowledge most usable for everyday life, Christ as God became real. I wanted to “Amen”, but the voice wouldn’t respond. (I was ashamed that there wasn’t more response to the truth spoken, but I have to assume that others were sensing a similar condition.)

Then the final song came to mind, “Hallelujah, What A Savior!” I went into a near panic mode. How could such a song be sung from one so unworthy? I put the thoughts out of my mind and refocused on the message. I found myself trembling the more I listened. You continued to speak of the 3 distinct offices of the Trinity, yet equal as God. You spoke of all the enemies being conquered and Christ submitting Himself to the Father that God may be all in all. The scene was over-powering! I could hardly concentrate on the words.

I sensed, like Moses for a moment in time, I was given a glimpse of our great Savior and God. I don’t have a shine about my countenance like Moses, but seemed to sense the true Almighty God. Any more than that and the human mind, body and spirit could not handle it.  I do not believe in out-of-the-body experiences that one hears about in magazines and other articles, but I do think that God presents Himself in unique ways to people at different times. This may have been one of those times. The fact you waived the singing of the last song may have been God’s protection and mercy upon myself at that moment. I truly did not know what or how I was going to respond once on the platform.  I do not want to dwell on the experience of the day, but would rather consider the gracious work of God’s Spirit as He saw fit.  Thank you for preaching the Truth as the Spirit of God gives leading.

To the praise of His glory,

XXX

In some regards we pastors preach each and every sermon before an audience of One.  As Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1f,  I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:  preach the word;  If the Judge isn’t pleased with my exposition it would not matter if the entire flock gave me a standing ovation after each and every sermon.  If the Judge is pleased with our humble efforts (2 Tim 2:15) then it should not matter if the entire church wants to throw us out after our exposition of Scripture.  If the goal of our preaching is Romans 11:36 & Ephesians 4:11-15 then we do not need to be bipolar pastors even if we minister in bipolar congregations.

2 Timothy 4:2, Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 

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