Don't you think we need new methods to interpret the Bible?

Question:

I think the reason that churches don't grow is because they are stuck in the past using outdated methods to interpret the Bible.  What we need are some new methods.  What do you think?


Answer:

Well, I don't have anything new – just some very old observations.  In fact, it would be hard to find these listed in any book of theology – possibly because they are "obvious" or because they wouldn't sell on the bookshelves.  It is also possible that when they are used correctly, they don't immediately get to a conclusion.  In other words, it does not fit our microwave and litigious society.   We ultimately want a clean methodology that results in an indisputable answer – and then, of course, we will sit around and dispute the conclusions.  Well here are some methodologies that are often used, rarely talked about and result in clear theology.

God Does Not Change

"For I the Lord do not change ..." (Malachi 3:6).

If you have a doctrine that requires that the God of the Old Testament be a different God than the God of the New Testament, then there is something wrong.  Many doctrines require that the God of Moses be a condemning God while the God of Jesus is a loving God.  That sets up a view of the Bible that pits the Old against the New.  Whereas, when you hold them to both be about the same God, you find out a lot more about what is required.  The consequence of this is that you have to study the Old almost as much as the New in order to appreciate who God is.

God Is a Spirit

"God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). 

Many people think that the purpose of religion is to bring comfort in our physical life.  They will even point to a passage like Romans 8:31-36 and see that "all good things" are supposed to come to them. They fail to read a few more verses to discover that one of the great "good" things was having Jesus die.  Jesus dying is only a "good" thing in the spirit world.  I was a terrible thing to happen as far as physical things go. People wonder why they did not get rich or why their child got sick or died – all things that are physically "not good".  Ultimately, the Bible needs to be seen through the lens of a spiritual endeavor.  Certainly, God has to use the physical to help us who are physically bound understand the spiritual, but we should never lose sight that the goal is spiritual.

The Bible Is Consistent  

The Bible was written over a 2000-year period with more than 40 authors.  Their writings never disagree, but getting to a point of understanding the real meaning sometimes gives the appearance that the Bible is inconsistent.   It is we who are at fault, though.  Don't overlook the passages that seem to contradict a doctrine that you love.  It could be that you are following a doctrine that has not been fully balanced against the Word. 

The Word Is Timeless

"Beloved, … I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). 

If you have a doctrine that results in a segment of history where no one had an opportunity to be saved, then is it wrong.  This hits hard at those who believe in new revelations.  When one claims that the final doctrine was revealed only in 1925 (or whatever date), they are essentially saying that everyone from Jesus' death until that time is lost with no opportunity for salvation.  That would make God a respecter of some people and not others.

The Word Crosses All National Cultures

"So Peter … said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality" (Acts 10:34).

A corollary to the previous point is that the Word crosses all national cultures and can be applied consistently to all people   There are huge controversies on what is meant in I Corinthians 11 about head coverings.  However you look at that passage, if you conclude that some women can't be saved because their hair will not grow long, then you have to go back and look at it again. God made those women and He doesn't put anyone in a place where they can't be saved.

God Deals in Principles

This one is the hardest for those with a limited outlook on what God wants from us.  Take for example, "love".  It is commanded – which makes it sound like it is being coerced.  If you think of it as only a command, then the next step is to determine a boundary for enough love because you will want to know when you can check it off of your list of accomplishments.  If we cannot achieve infinite love, we will see ourselves as failures – which would motivate us to do less and not more.  However, if you realize that love is a principle, you also realize that it is a goal to grow to.  You celebrate when you love more than before.   There is no remorse just because you cannot attain what really is unattainable.   A command can be given because we are of a limited understanding of the Spirit and that if He used any word other than "command," we would interpret it as optional.  The commands are not optional, but at the same time you cannot justify yourself because you were just following a command. A command as a principle requires you to think.  That was the Pharisees' problem.  They saw the commands of God as the end goal.  Righteousness is the goal.  Righteousness is following all of the principles.

Darrell Hamilton