Everyone seems to have their own lens or filter used to interpret the Bible. Post-modern, red-letter, social justice, emerging, and so on. However, many of these miss rule zero of Bible interpretation, and if you read pages of their ideas you might buy the manure they’re shoveling … until you realize it violates rule zero.
Example — Christ Centered
A good example of something which sounds good, but eventually leads astray, comes from blogger Rachel Evans’ review of Christian Smith’s book “The Bible Made Impossible”.
Smith begins his exploration of a Christcentric hermeneutic in Chapter 5 by arguing that a truly evangelical reading of Scripture always filters Scripture “through the single lens of the gospel of Christ.”
In fact, according to Smith, “the purpose, center, and interpretive key to scripture is Jesus Christ. … It is not the words of the Bible that are ‘the way, the truth, and the life,” he writes, “It is the person of Christ, to whom the Bible witnesses.” (p. 99)
Sounds good, right? We don’t worship the Bible, but the God revealed in the Bible.
Like most strange ideas, it has some truth to it — but mix 98% Kool-aid with 2% cyanide and you’re still dead.
The Bible reveals Jesus to be sure — from genealogies in Genesis 5 to the cities of refuge, the whole Bible involves Him. But when you abandon the clear written Word for a concept like “through the single lens of the gospel of Christ” you create at least two problems.
- What do you do with people using false substitute gospels?
- How do you define the gospel?
This creates a chicken-and-egg problem — you can’t interpret the Bible until you define the Gospel, but you can’t do that until you define your interpretation method. It’s a circular argument.
Hey, why don’t we just let the Bible speak for itself? Nah, that’ll never work — doesn’t sound “scholarly”.
Let’s let the Bible speak for itself:
The Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God — if your philosophy disagrees with the Bible the philosophy is wrong, not the Bible.
Everyone should agree with that, but many don’t apply it.
Of course, some things (baptism, Calvinism, pre-trib/post-trib) the church has fought over for centuries (and people think are unclear). But if you’re replacing what Paul defined as the Gospel, you’ve got problems because Paul wrote abundantly clearly — so clear I’ve never heard anyone say Paul wasn’t obvious, only their alternative gospel (social justice, good works, etc) should be used anyway, an old problem CS Lewis noted.
On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. … I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that “only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and new civilizations.” You see the little rift? “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason”. That’s the game. (“The Screwtape Letters” page 119–120)
Deception Creeps In
In the scholarly-sounding “Christcentric hermeneutic”, how does it stack up to rule zero? If you recall we’ve discussed this before in the trouble with scholarship; this theory leads this person to conclude the Bible is:
- Not authoritative.
- Error-prone and inconsistent.
- Not applicable.
Does that conclusion sound good?
Forgetting the Bible exists as the ultimate authority leads to all kinds of mistakes
Ignoring rule zero (or using tactics of rebellion) causes these errors as people desperately try to cram the square peg of their personal ideology into the round hole of Biblical truth.
If someone tries to sell you an idea which contradicts the Bible, you’ve got to choose: either the Bible is right, or philosophy — but they can’t both be right (we’d suggest sticking with the Bible, but many popular fads blowing through the church happily discard Biblical truth).