Interpretation Weak

Image Tom’s Doubts #14

I was sent a Twitter thread by my friend and occasional contributor D.W. Syme, that he felt was a good example of the trend of, “Lots of, ”Bible believing” Christians currently being “liberated” from conservative positions because, hey, that was just an interpretation, and we are human after all so maybe we got it wrong.” 

“There’s a huge difference between the authority of the Bible & the authority of my interpretation of the Bible. Why this distinction is so difficult for some Christians to grasp is a mystery to me. It’s no more controversial than admitting God is perfect and I am not.” – Skye Jethani from the Twitter-verse

You can find the rest of the thread here: 

Syme wondered what my apologetic approach would be to this line of thinking, and I figured I would give that in this post.

My first step would be to find out what sin the person in question wants to commit. If I had to guess 90% of the time this is what motivates people to explain away those passages that Doug Wilson calls, angular texts with sharp edges. Rarely is a person actually doing the hard work of understanding a difficult text. Usually it is explaining away a perfectly clear one they don’t like. 

But let us assume, good faith, that the person is genuinely thinking that what they have been taught is more a result of Regan Era political thinking and not rigorous methods of interpretation. Well then, I have good news. We have over two thousand years of Christian History to survey on this text. And even taking into account that early Church fathers are harder to read, and that Puritans are right out thanks to Hawthorne and Miller,* there is still a few hundred years to play with showing a consistent stream of protestant interpretation. Christians stand athwart history and repeat the same things, over and over again. The idea that suddenly something new has been discovered is always heresy. It is arrogance to assume that out of the blue sky a new understanding has been born. It is chronological snobbery to say that previous generations were rubes who got it all wrong and today you have figured out the true truth. 

With these two thoughts in mind I think the last thing to do is take down the false humility that coats these kinds of things like an inch thick layer of varnish on a 1970’s coffee table. And again this is usually pretty simply done. The person in question usually feigns humility with a phrase like the one above, “It’s no more controversial than admitting God is perfect and I am not.” You simply keep a laser focus on the clear text, that again is usually what is trying to be explained away, and ask, “When God wrote this did he mean it or was it for kicks and giggles?” Any answer other than, “He meant it” or, “He didn’t mean it” is equivocation and weasel words. They proposition they played out was God is perfect we are not, was he incapable of perfectly transmitting a clear message? Is he incapable of perfectly preserving that message? Is he incapable of perfectly maintaining the interpretation through His Spirit over the generations? It is an arrogant position to take that down through the centuries God let people get it wrong until you popped up.** 

At the base the objection that interpretation and modern understanding is wrong is an ignorant one. The ignorance is on display in the assumption that conservative Christians are not standing on the shoulders of giants. The ignorance may be genuine, lazy, or willful. But it is still ignorance. And it is pride to boast in your ignorance: There is no mystery here, there is a desire for sin, and a cover up by saying that the side with clear Scripture, and thousands of years of consistent interpretation behind them is wrong. 

 A final note, what I have laid out above are principals and examples of reason. These are given as an assurance and edification to christians who are meeting these arguments. However, what is conspicuously absent from this post are primary sources. These arguments are of no use to anyone who is equally ignorant or lazy as the person picking the fight. The work of study and knowing the facts must be done, there are no substitutes. As well it is of equal little use to rigidly hold to the argument Daily Wire style. As Chief Justice Joh Roberts told a clerk once, “facts and reason matter less than a good story.” Someone who is arrogant is clamped down, they have to be pried open for the facts and reason to get in. That is done by humility and winsomeness. So blasting them on Twitter will only further entrench them. But if you come across someone like this in the wild. Then how you engage matters. Humility and winsomeness do not mean being a pushover. it’s the difference between a bottle opener and a lead pipe. Both are capable of getting to the ale, but only one does so in a productive way…

*Debunking myths about the Puritans, while fun, would be, in an apologetic context, a red herring.

**Anyone with a minimal internet informed opinion will probably leap to Luther and the reformation. “Didn’t you protestants discover something new?” No, Luther rediscovered what was always there and many people still held to, and the Papists were suppressing. Seekers don’t play the role of expert, they find experts to help them. Arrogant people pretend to have questions when they have already made up their minds about the answer. 

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