The question that wanted answering at the open-house was: “What sort of hermeneutic are you recommending to the churches of the CBOQ?”
So here is my contribution to the conversation at this point. (I hope you will agree with me, I think you should, but if you don’t, feel free to add your voice to the conversation in the comments below.)
In order of importance, the materials necessary for good hermeneutics (the first three are sort of like the trinity, impossible to separate but distinct at the same time).
1) The Holy Spirit. Don’t try to do hermeneutics with those who aren’t born again – they are lacking the key component to understanding the Word of God (You’ll end up reliving the Jesus Seminars and casting votes about whether the Word of God is the word of God).
2) The Bible. This is the perpetual trump card. If the answer you came up with at the end doesn’t agree with this – you got the wrong answer.
3) Prayer. The Holy Spirit and scripture are sufficient, prayer goes hand in hand with these two and sets us in submission and humility before God. You might try some version of this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven...’ That invites the Holy Spirit to lead us rather than to simply follow us around blessing and endorsing whatever we decide to believe.
4) Your brain. God made it, sin has twisted it, but the Holy Spirit can renew it as long as you’re willing to submit humbly to the Bible, to believe it and obey it even when the rest of the world suggests that it sounds like foolishness. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
5) Your personal experience. You can never escape your personal experience, and it holds some validity, but it is also treacherously connected to the old flesh. (Example: So you felt a burning in your bosom at campfire when you were 15… there might be something to that, but I wouldn’t base your entire call to ministry on some experience until you have submitted it to the Word of God.)
6) The writings and thoughts of others. This is really an optional element, if you are about to board a tiny space craft and are only allowed to bring one book, leave the Augustine’s Confessions, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary and the CBOQ Blue Book behind and take your Bible. Remember two things about these writers: A) If they don’t have the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t matter how many letters come before or after their name, they are disqualified from saying anything worthwhile about scripture; B) The Bible is the perpetual trump card. It doesn’t matter if all the puritans agree in the same direction, if the Bible contradicts them, they’re wrong. If the Bible commands it: obey it. If the Bible forbids it: abandon it.
I think that list is sufficient (and even a little superfluous), maybe you want to suggest a couple of other things we might bring along? With these tools – especially the first three, we are ready for biblical hermeneutics. You can do it on your own, like most pastors do week by week in sermon preparation; You can get together for Bible Study with a bunch of other people and do ‘hermeneutics’ together; Hey we could even do this with a bunch of CBOQ pastors (forget the latest fad that is on the front page of Christian Book Distributors, choose a topic and open our Bibles in search of understanding).
Biblical Hermeneutic stated simply: We must read the Bible as a whole. No one passage can be torn from its context and used to prop up some pet doctrine; it must all be brought to bear. You don’t need a theological education in order to read and understand your Bible (it was written in the common language of the people for a reason). There is no passage that does not matter, if it is recorded within the 66 books it is there for a purpose. Examine the word prayerfully and humbly. What does it tell you? Your experience may be admissible, we can never escape experience, but realize that your experience is the lowest point on the totem; what you feel, what you like, what you think, what you love, and what you hate are all things that may find more influence in your flesh than in your renewed spirit. Pray that the Holy Spirit might lead you into all truth, and then begin to read ‘all-truth’.
I often say to my congregation, “The Lord has given you a pastor for a purpose. I am here to lead you and feed you, to guard you and protect you, and to open the Word of God to you. But the Lord has also given you a Bible and a brain. Please don’t arrive at the final judgment shrugging your shoulders and saying, ‘….well my pastor said.’ Get into the Word of God! Read it, meditate upon it, study it, memorize it!”
Biblical hermeneutics is not some mysterious ‘Urim and Thummim’ that we cannot use. Hermeneutics is the agreed upon means by which we read and understand the Word of God. It controls what we preach and teach and how we live, even who we are.
We are not surprised that from time to time someone will come to the church with some ‘new hermeneutic’ and try to explain the casuistry behind how they have justified some new practice or belief. But we must come to the church with our hand upon the page of the Word of God and the words, ‘Thus says the Lord.’ That, my friends, should settle the matter.