On or Under the Bible?

It is amazing how quickly we can take a good thing and turn it into a bad thing.

Like perhaps, take someone saying they submit to Scripture.

It doesn’t get much better than that. I meet a person who says they believe what the Bible says wholeheartedly and want to put it into practice and I want to stand up and cheer.

At the same time, saying you submit to Scripture and actually submitting to Scripture are two different things. And you know while submission to Scripture is a great thing, saying you submit to Scripture when in fact you are not really willing to, is a pretty dangerous thing.

Because you see what happens is that all the sudden you’ve given your view and your opinion a divine mandate. The old I believe this because the Scripture says it is a lot different than this is an opinion I have.

That’s why I think it’s important to understand the process you come to your perspective is important. I am so big on this, to the point where most of the time, I would take the wrong view with the right process over the right view with the wrong process.

That sounds funny.

I don’t want wrong view over the long haul. And there are obviously certain wrong views that just are completely unacceptable.

But given the choice between someone whose method of interpretation is basically taking their theological system and imposing it on whatever text they are studying until they force it to say what they want it to say and someone whose method of interpretation is humbly submitting to the Scripture and wrestling with the text and asking questions and trying as hard as they can to let the text say what it actually says, I think most of the time, honestly the second guy is going to be easier to work with even if our views are slightly different.

I think sometimes teaching theology, this is what gets missed on the church level at least. Maybe because we so want people to have the right theology, which is great, we try to get it to them quick in easy snippets or something and again that’s fine, but I am pretty convinced they don’t just need the theology they also need to understand the process. It’s not just like this view is right and this view is wrong, but we’ve struggled with the texts and I can show from this passage why it means this, using context, using all the basic principles of hermeneutics.

Anyway I am rambling here.

Maybe this is one of those fuzzy in the pulpit a cloud in the pew kind of days, but perhaps it will help if I throw out a couple quotes that are spurring on these thoughts.

Daniel Doriani, I am reading his book Putting the Truth to Work, and he describes the attitude of some conservatives like this,

“I believe whatever the Bible says.
Whatever the Bible says I believe.
I know what the Bible says.
Therefore, what I believe is what the Bible says.
Therefore, if the Bible seems to say something I don’t believe it must not really mean that.”

I am sure this kind of attitude can creep in with anybody. And again, it is a little bit like that good thing becoming a bad thing again. A theological system or set of beliefs can be really helpful, we need it, it acts like a fence and keeps out a lot of pretty terrible stuff but at the same time it can be a problem when put padlocks on it because it can also if it is not quite right, keep some of the good stuff from coming in too.

If we are going to benefit from the Scripture we need a humbler syllogism, Doriana says.

“I probably do not believe this passage as purely, as radically, as I should.
I probably do not understand this passage as fully as I should.
Therefore, I probably need this text to correct my understanding and deepen my faith.”

I like that.

It’s not pretending you don’t anything at all. But it is admitting you probably need to learn more. And it seems it kind of obvious to me at least, if you are going to understand a passage you have to go in willing to actually learn.

To “prevent further deception” Doriana goes on to note, and I love this, “conservatives should distinguish between standing on the Bible and standing under the Bible, a distinction made by the evangelical German scholar Adolf Schattler during a theological examination. A churchman asked Schlatter if he stood on the Bible. ‘No’ he replied, ‘I stand under the Bible.’ That is, he would not use the Bible as a platform to build his theology. He would observe the data of Scripture and allow them to determine his views.”

6 thoughts on “On or Under the Bible?

  1. The contrast he is making in his book is with the neo-orthodox and liberal approach to Scripture as opposed to the “conservative.” I think he’s using the word conservative to describe people like us – a person who believes that God has revealed Himself in Scripture and who accepts in principle what it says. A person who expresses a willingness to submit to Scripture.

  2. Thanks! Sometimes I wish I would have gone to college 🙂
    What’s “neo-orthodox”? (I think I understand “liberal”)
    And when’s Steve Hailstone going to WRITE something????

    Also, can you give a concrete example of what this looks like in the church? I hear this criticism often but I’m not sure I recognize it in practce…

    p.s. I don’t mind if you answer this privately if you think it’s less than edifying to do it here.

  3. Sorry! I forgot to insert this quote from your post!
    This is the criticism I am referring to:

    “…someone whose method of interpretation is basically taking their theological system and imposing it on whatever text they are studying until they force it to say what they want it to say…”

  4. Hey Mac(k) man,

    I haven’t looked at Doriani’s book in a couple years, so I hope I’m remembering him right. But I took him to basically be borrowing Van Til’s epistemology and trying to apply it to hermeneutics and application.

    That is to say, everyone of us comes to a text with a certain set of ‘presuppositions’ if you will. A system of interpretation! But any system must be willing to not simply rest on Scripture (“The Bible says it, ergo I must believe it!”) but rather under Scripture (“Here’s what I understand the Bible to mean; but I’m willing to subject that grid to Scriptures, and if need be, change to be more faithful to the Scriptures!”).

    Systems aren’t inherently a bad thing. In fact, I would go so far as to say they are unavoidable, if you really want to take the Bible seriously. Why? Because we believe that all 66 books cohere into a unified whole that is internally consistent. And the moment you grant that, the moment you start asking questions like, “What does the whole Bible teach about propitiation?”, “What does the whole Bible teach about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?” Any attempts to answer these questions is a ‘system’ (of sorts).

    The answer out of the ‘hermeneutical spiral’ is that we have to always subject any system (stated or unstated) to the Word of God.

    And that’s where humility comes in…because our whole life is going to be filled with ‘subjecting all our knowledge to the knowledge of God’, thinking God’s thoughts after (and under!) Him.

  5. Thanks for leaving a comment Matt! I agree. I still can’t wait to hear where you are and what you are up to.

    Jack thanks for your comments too. I love your questions and I’ll try to get to them when I get a little more time. Hope you guys have a great day!

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