How to Decide

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How to decide what? Which parts of Scripture to try to adhere to and which parts to blatantly ignore or explain away. No, this is not just clickbait; it is a serious question. It is probably one of the most serious questions facing the church and the way we answer it underlies most of our divisions, controversies, and heresies. If you don’t see the weight of the question, I would direct you to The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture by Christian Smith. In it he lays out the problem of “pervasive interpretive pluralism,” or in other words, if the Bible is so clear, why are there so many disagreements on so many issues all citing the same text?

One of the problems with Biblical interpretation is that the method we use to prove, defend, or support one doctrine, may give us a result we don’t want when applied to another issue. This may reveal our own biases — which are significant and should not be overlooked — but it often reveals that we have failed to find a unified interpretive framework to use for any issue.

The question is a rabbit hole because once we start chasing it, we find we must also tackle questions of the origin and inspiration of the Canon, the origin and teaching of the church, and other deep and, at times, murky issues. The question is fraught with paradox and areas where circular arguments seem to be the best we can accomplish. On top of that, there is the very real possibility that we cannot attain certainty, which tends to disturb us as post-enlightenment, scientific thinkers. Even the possibility that certainty isn’t possible is not a satisfactory answer, for how do we know it isn’t? If we cannot find certainty, how do we know what we are to do or think at all in relation to God?

Every group seems to have certain commands or precedents from Scripture they uphold and others they dismiss or ignore. While this seems problematic, the greater issue is that there is not a consistent means they use to decide what to uphold and what to ignore. For example, a fundamentalist may uphold a literal six-day creation, stating that Genesis one says “six days,” but then insist on grape juice for communion, even though the Gospels say “wine” every bit as clearly as Genesis says “day.” Others will point to Scripture to prohibit polygamy and slavery, yet for hundreds of years, the Scripture has been used by various groups to support both. In fact, one can be hard-pressed to find a Biblical injunction against slavery. A case can be made for monogamy, though plenty of counter-examples exist, without rebuke, in the Old Testament.

It seems that our answer must encompass more than the Bible. It must include prayer, tradition, and probably other factors as well. It should probably include patience. There is a helpful precedent in the historic councils of the church, many of them stretched across years. I don’t know that we can arrive at the way to interpret all Scripture and answer all theological debates. If we could, surely the church would have found it by now. This should give us humility in our proclamation and hesitancy to overturn tradition and traditional understanding of the Bible’s teaching.

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Filed under Authority, Bible, Doctrine, Fundamentalism, Hermeneutics, Questions, Theology

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