D.A. Carson on the Pros and Cons of the Postmodern Hermeneutic

I was finishing up D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies this afternoon (I’m writing this on 2.1.16); and I came across a section in which Carson evaluates what he calls “The New Hermeneutic.” It reminded me of another place in Carson’s writings where he tackles the same issue. And I decided these were worth sharing here.

I appreciate Carson’s even-handed approach, noting both the cons as well as the pros. I find this refreshing because, while there are obvious issues with the postmodern hermeneutic (or “The New Hermeneutic,” or deconstructionism, or whatever else you want to call it) that we, as evangelical Christians, should find troublesome when taken to an extreme, postmodernity is not all bad. (I mean, we’re a bit naive if we want to reject all that postmodernity has brought to our attention in favor of clinging to modernity as if its ideas were pristinely Christian!)

But I digress. Let me share the two excerpts.


None of us interprets anything from an entirely neutral stance. One would have to enjoy the attribute of omniscience to be entirely objective. Insofar as it reminds us that we are finite, and that our findings, at some level, must always be qualified by our limitations, postmodernism has been a salutary advance. It has been especially useful in checking the arrogance of modernist claims. The problem is that in the hands of many interpreters, postmodernism demands a nasty antithesis: either we claim we can know objective truth exhaustively, or we insist that our finitude means we cannot know objective truth and therefore cannot truly “know” reality. Since finite human beings can never know anything omnisciently, only the second alternative is defensible. In that case, all our “knowledge” is a social or a personal construct; the only “reality” we can know is the one we construct.

There is a sense, of course, in which this latter claim is transparently obvious: the only “reality” we can know is the one we construct. But the crucial issue is this: Can this “reality” that we ourselves “know” be tightly aligned with objective reality? In other words, even though we finite human beings can never enjoy omniscient knowledge, can we not legitimately claim to know some objective things truly, even if we do not know them perfectly, exhaustively?

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Redemptive-Historical, Biblical-Theological Hermeneutics (LDBC Recap 2/14/16 Pt. 1)

Explanation

logo-lake-drive-baptist-churchOn Sunday, January 24th, 2016, I began a Core Seminar on Redemptive History & Biblical Theology at my church, Lake Drive Baptist Church. During the course of this series I’ll be sending out emails recapping lessons and directing recipients to resources for further study.

Rather than just share these recaps with my church family, I’ve decided to share them here on the blog for anyone else who might be interested. I will be posting them occasionally over the next couple of months on a weekly basis or so.

See previous posts:

Recap/review

Introduction

This past week we did two things:

  • First, we finished up our section on foundational matters by laying out some principles of interpretation (hermeneutics) that are particularly relevant for studying and understanding redemptive history and Biblical theology.
  • Second, we began our survey of redemptive history itself.

I’ve decided to break up our recap/review this week into two segments. The first one (this one), will cover the principles of interpretation we discussed. The second one will review our initial embark into redemptive history.

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The Use of Scripture in Politics: A Comparison and Analysis of Jim Wallis and Wayne Grudem

The following is a paper submitted to Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course ST 7505 Use of Scripture and Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in December 2015 in Deerfield, Illinois.

The full title of the paper is The Use of Scripture in Evangelical Political Proposals – A Case Study: Comparing, Contrasting, and Analyzing Jim Wallis and Wayne Grudem’s Use Of Scripture to Authorize Their Distinct Approaches to Economics.

Note: I’m not the proudest of this paper. Due to time restraints I was forced to write it in the timespan of merely two days. Nonetheless, I share it in case anyone may benefit from it by its prompting critical reflection. I only ask they you read with an extra dose of grace on this one. Thank you.


Introduction

“Our guys won!” Those were the words of one of my fellow church members after Republican candidates largely swept their Democrat counterparts in the 2014 midterm elections. A neither small nor insignificant assumption was present in her statement: the Republican candidates were the evangelicals’ candidates; a victory for the Republicans meant a victory for Christendom.

Such a wedding of the religious right with the political right is not uncommon in the American evangelical consciousness, and, by extension, the perception of the popular culture at large. For example, if one listens consistently enough to Albert Mohler’s daily broadcast The Briefing,[1] one will be repeatedly “informed” that the ultimate difference between the political right and political left is one of worldview: progressive policies are spawned out of what is an unqualifiedly non-Christian worldview (either that or political liberalism is equated with theological liberalism) while political conservatism is described in such terms (and without nuance) so as to lead one to believe it is essentially a Christian (evangelical) worldview gone political.

One can trace this formalized “hypostatic union” of evangelicalism and republicanism—deeming theological conservatism and political conservatism “equally yoked,” and “deifying” the political right in the process—back to (at least) the emergence of the Moral Majority movement beginning in the 1980s with Christian leaders such as Jerry Falwell. However, authors such as Carl Trueman in his work Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative challenge this “sacramental union” as “accident” not “essence.” As Michael Horton writes in his recommendation to Trueman’s work,

Carl Trueman points out in his witty, provocative, and deeply well-informed way [that] the alliance of conservative Christianity with conservative (neoliberal) politics is a circumstance of our own context in U.S. politics—neither historically nor logically necessary.[2]

“Amen, amen!” says fellow Brit N.T. Wright:

The combinations of issues [i.e., the bundling up of certain political issues as “conservative” and others as “liberal” and binding evangelicalism to the former] seem to make sense in America, but they don’t make sense to many people elsewhere in the world. . . .[3]

[T]he political spectrum in the United Kingdom, and indeed in Europe, is quite different from the spectrum in the United States. In Britain, issues are bundled up in different ways than in America. What’s more, over the last forty years, those in the United Kingdom who have tried to integrate faith and public life have mostly been on the left of the spectrum, while those who have done the same in the United States have tended to be on the right.[4]

“The British are coming! The British are coming!” and they are challenging our American political-religious bundlings in the process.

But lest we think these Brits are just off their rockers, interestingly a 2007 study by Baylor Religion Survey found that the more frequently one reads the Bible the more likely one is to lean politically liberal on certain issues. And, statistically, those who read their Bible’s most were found to be evangelicals—the stereotypical political conservatives. Expectedly, frequent Bible reading correlates with opposition to abortion and gay marriage. But it also surprisingly (at least given the contemporary stereotype of evangelicals) has the effect of making readers more prone to agree with political liberals on issues like criminal justice, the death penalty, environmental conservation, and, most interestingly for the purposes of this paper’s case study, social and economic justice. These results hold true “even when accounting for factors such as political beliefs, education level, income level, gender, race, and religious measures (like which religious tradition one affiliates with, and one’s views of biblical literalism).”[5]

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Ten Principles for the Use of Scripture in Theology

Using Scripture

The following is minor paper completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course ST 7505 Use of Scripture and Theology taught by Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL in December, 2015. Please note that the focus of this paper (and the class) is not hermeneutics, but the use of scripture in making dogmatic and moral theological proposals.


  1. One’s use of scripture for dogmatic and moral theology must be in keeping with the nature (ontology) and purpose (teleology) of scripture itself.[1]
  1. One’s use of scripture for dogmatic and ethical theology must share the very aims of scripture itself (and, by extension, theology), lest it distort and subvert the very nature of theology. This means that a proper use of scripture—in line with the very equipping-aims of scripture itself—must be, for example:
    • Theological (directed towards knowledge of and relationship with God), answering, “How does this text enhance knowledge of God and foster appropriate relationship with God?”
    • Doxological (directed towards the worship of God), answering, “How does this text fuel the worship of God?”
    • Mathetesical (directed towards Christian living), answering, “How does this text form disciples (mathetes)?”
    • Ecclesiological (directed towards the life of the church), answering, “How does this text shape God’s people to realize its calling?”
    • Missiological (directed towards equipping for mission), answering, “How does this text equip God’s people for mission?”
  1. If one’s use of scripture to authorize theological proposals is actually going to authorize those proposals with the authority of scripture itself (a derivative authority), one’s use must be born out of the very claims—which, one must remember, are communicated in a variety of ways through a variety of discourse forms[2]—of scripture itself (the locus of authority). Consequently, one’s appropriation of scripture for dogmatic and moral theological proposals must be based on the purpose, intent, or underlying reasoning of Biblical content, not its accidental, attendant, or purely descriptive features.[3]

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What not to say about interpreting the Bible literally – Gregory of Nyssa

The following is taken and modified from a outline on Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses I will be presenting for a class.

In this work, Gregory of Nyssa presents a spiritual-moral-contemplative-allegorical interpretation of Moses’ life with the theme of virtue as its driving paradigm for his interpretive ‘insights.’ To say the least, most of his interpretations are rather outlandish. His goal is that “by transferring to your own life what is contemplated through spiritual interpretation of things spoken literally” (II.320) “those who have been striving toward virtue may find aid in living the virtuous life” (II.49, 148).

Below I’ll present something like a critique of his interpretive method that I’ll offer in my class presentation. My critique is stated as such: “Inappropriate use of allegorical interpretation.”


  • Allegorical interpretation of literature is legitimate if the literature is meant to be interpreted allegorically (e.g., Pilgrim’s Progress). The Pentateuch is not such literature.
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