Five Dangers of Neglecting Exegesis in the Field

I was looking over my notes from a “Biblical Theology-NT” class I took something like 13 years ago, taught by Dr. Kevin Daugherty.  I will be teaching this same course at a different school as a 1-week module. In my notes there was several reasons why it is dangerous to neglect exegesis, or at least not take it seriously. They are worth sharing I think (I added the 5th one):

The dangers of neglecting exegesis are:

  1.  The danger of assumption:   “I don’t need to do proper exegesis because the Holy Spirit will reveal all things to me.” Is that true? Perhaps, perhaps not. Is it a good assumption? Absolutely not. God rarely rewards laziness. And, in fact, laziness is often the unspoken reason behind doing poor research.  A second assumption made in this case is the assumption that the individual is able to discern what the Spirit declares a passage to mean, over what the individual wants the passage to mean. Essentially, we are making assumptions about God’s actions that may not be justified, and making assumptions about our own discernment that is absolutely not justified.
  2. The danger of eisegesis: There is a great danger that one will force upon the text a meaning that is not there. Without attention to the context of the text, the tendency is to interpret Scripture in accordance with our own contexts. The result is that the text is forced to say things it does not really say. It should not be surprising if this kind of “eisegesis” results in interpretations that are pleasing to the reader or confirm him or her own prior beliefs.
  3. The danger of missed meaning: As a direct result of #2, the real meaning of the text is missed. It may not always mean a wrong theology. In some cases it can be the right theology from the wrong text. The real meaning, further, is then lost– a double loss. For example, Revelation 3:20 is commonly used for evangelism. It sounds right, but almost certainly that is not the meaning of the verse. So good theology (regarding Jesus seeking the lost) is applied to the wrong verse (the first loss), and the real meaning (about God seeking to restore communion with errant churches) is missed (the second loss).
  4. The danger of lost credibility: We live in a time when alternative interpretations of the Scriptures abound. The Philippines, for example, is flooded by religious groups. Some fit the classic definition of cults, while others are Christian although horribly sloppy in their theology.  These groups commonly practice very poor exegesis (and often rely on Christians not having the competence to know better). While it is true that even Christians who practice poor exegesis can be “orthodox” in their theology (“the right theology from the wrong text”), when we practice uncontextual reading, we lose our right to criticize cults when they do the same thing.
  5. The danger of dependency: In the mission field, it is the responsibility of ministers, layleaders, and missionaries to train up the next generation. This training is not simply in learning the articles of faith, or the catechism, of their denomination. It is to help them study well and to contextualize well. Failure to do this can lead to syncretism or schisms. But it can also lead to dependency, where Christians are unable to study for themselves and so rely on others to study for them. It is scary how many people I come across who explain their beliefs by quoting people on “Christian” television. What a horrible horrible HORRIBLE place to seek godly wisdom. We need to take exegesis seriously so that we can model that and train others to do it for themselves rather than become dependent on others (regardless of whether the “others” are good or bad).

Do you have any thoughts on any other dangers to add?

But is it Biblical?

Here few vignettes:

1.  Prosperity. I was in chapel at seminary, when an outside pastor spoke… he was talking about how God wanted all His children to be (financially) rich. He then added, “Some of you may not like me saying that, but it is what the Bible teaches.” Well, I am not sure I would “not like him saying that” if the Bible actually taught that– I don’t really want to be rich, but I suppose that if God felt compelled to try to make me rich, I am sure I could give enough of it to others so that I could be comfortable financially without the unpleasant problems associated with being rich. big-bible

(I have heard pastors say that “You can’t out give God,” but I wonder whether they have empirical evidence to support this.)

My problem was that it did not seem to me to be Biblical at all… “what the Bible teaches.” This preacher, and others from his church appeared to have a special affinity to Deuteronomy as well as the Book of Proverbs. Perhaps if those were the only two books in the Bible, his point might stand. But one must also deal with some uncomfortable books as well, such as Job, Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, James, Hebrews, I Peter, and much of the Gospels and the Minor Prophets.  If one read those books alone, one might conclude, along with Liberation Theologians that God specially favors the poor and oppressed— rather than the rich and powerful. Additionally, one could pick numerous passages in the Bible, and make as compelling of an argument that suffering is the reward of righteousness, as money. In the end, we need the whole of Scripture, and the integration of the whole of Scripture is a theological process.

2.  Calvinism/Arminianism. I was reading an article by a Calvinist (or Neo-Calvinist or whatever term you choose). He was speaking of Calvinist Theology, and then said that another term for this type of theology is “Biblical Theology.” The implication is that if one takes the Bible seriously in developing one’s theology, one would be a Calvinist. Now personally, I am neither Calvinist nor Arminian. There are too many verses that show God’s prominent and prior work in our salvation for me to wholeheartedly embrace Arminian Theology— but there are too many verses that point to human responsibility and the requirement of Man to make a salvific choice for me to be comfortable with Calvinism either. The truth appears to lie in the tension between these extremes. I just do think that those who embrace the extremes have been intellectually honest with the whole of Scripture.

I recall with some amusement a blog conversation of Calvinists discussing how best to interpret John 3:16 in line with Reformed Theology. Some appeared to intelligently engage the verse. Some got into some seemingly (to me at least) irrelevant arguments about the difference between “whosoever believeth” and “whosoever already believes.” But there were a few that threw aside any pretext of good hermeneutics and essentially promoted rewriting the verse to be consistent with TULIP. None of this is “Biblical”… at its worst, it is trying to containerize the Bible within a (quite old) theological box.

3.  Counseling. I serve as Administrator of a pastoral care/counseling center in Baguio City, Philippines. We seek to integrate a theologically informed historical pastoral care with a psychologically/sociologically informed clinical pastoral care. However, some argue vehemently against this strategy. Some of them are part of what is called the Biblical Counseling Movement. Now, there are a lot of different counseling methods within that broad movement… some I find quite commendable. However, others are far less so. For example, within the Biblical Counseling Movement, there is the classic Nouthetic Counseling methodology. I would argue that it (especially in its early forms from the 1970s and 1980s) were not only not particularly Biblical, but arguably quite sub-Biblical. It tended to ignore some of the most common sources of human psychoemotional and spiritual miseries- limiting mostly to behavioral sins of the counselee. This minimizes the consequences of beliefs or  heart attitude, of being sinned against, and of living out the consequences of residing in a fallen… broken… world.

4. Family. There has been a lot of talk about “Biblical Manhood,” “Biblical Womanhood,” and the “Biblical Family.” Some supporting these issues have good things to say that correctly challenge common trends today. However, some take very doubtful theological positions, I would argue much worse than simply doubtful, such as unilateral submission, eternal submission within the Godhead, and an essentiallist view of gender temperaments or personalities. The result, in its more extreme forms, seems to tend toward 19th century American culture or even 19th century Arab culture, than 1st Century Greco-Roman church culture, or 5th century BC Hebrew culture. Of course the goal should be none of those four dead cultures, but a proper understanding of family (nuclear and extended) with range of roles that are God-honoring and culturally beneficial for the 21st century.

5.  Politics.  I got an invite to follow a twitter account that supports “Biblical Politics.” Some of the stuff I disagree with (Is it really “Biblical” to support a large military budget— I could pull quite a few verses to challenge that point, if I wanted to). But even the ones that I agreed with, I still felt shouldn’t be called “biblical” positions. Even if I am sympathetic to the idea of strong property rights, individual freedoms, and low taxes… are these positions really more biblical than, a strong communitarian view of property and rights, as well as care of the needy through taxation of the rich?  I really felt that these views that were called Biblical were little more than views that sub-culturally made sense to the individual, and then was justified by cherry-picking Bible verses.

I would argue that there are good reasons NOT to ask the question “Is it Biblical?” or to say that one’s pet beliefs are “Biblical.” Rather, one should ask if it is Theologically sound.

  • The Bible is NOT a legal document but a historical document. As such, it has precepts, principles, and historical examples. From these, one can integrate them to come up with a perspective of God’s will on a particular subject. Such integration is a theological process, so it would be more correct to say that a particular opinion is theological sound (or unsound) than it is to say that it is “Biblical.” Not to say that this solves the problem… but it is a start. Commonly, “Biblical” means that a person has found one or two verses that can be used to agree with his/her own prejudged views. But if you are bored, come up with a few ridiculous beliefs and then after some reflection see if you can come up with at least one verse that could appear to support that view. If you know your Bible, and are a bit creative, I bet you can. This is a problem with “proof-texting.”
    • Try Cannibalism. can you come up25f7d8d05eb111f17df410aebad2069d with verses in the Bible that support cannibalism? Cannibalism is mentioned a few times in the Bible. one could start there. One could go to Jesus’ metaphoric description of His disciples eating His flesh.  Then go to the Jerusalem Council where the only food constraint mentioned was against eating (living?) blood. I do NOT support cannibalism. But if one can come up with a “biblical” argument supporting cannibalism, don’t be surprised if others manage to find verses supporting all sorts of foolishness.
  • Saying something is Biblical is a way to short-circuit discussion. It is much like a preacher or ‘prophet’ who says, “God spoke to me, and He said, ‘_________________.'” You are kind of forced to believe this person or call him a liar. Returning to the Biblical issue, if one says that a “Biblical family” is “man and woman, and children” there is on a certain level truth to this. But there were families in the Bible that were childless, ones without a father, ones with multiple wives, or having concubines. By saying one was “Biblical,” a person is simply trying to avoid awkward conversations. But awkward conversations don’t necessarily go away… they just get delayed. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young attempted to argue that polygynous marriages were Biblical… and in fact Biblically mandated. I have seen nothing in the Old Testament to argue that polygynous marriages were more than tolerated (except in the case of providing an heir to a dead brother, and even that is uncertain), and nothing to suggest that it was even tolerated in the New Testament church. Still, by circumventing the discussion by declaring one family as “Biblical” people are ill-prepared to understand the issues properly.
  • Saying something is Biblical, generally, is a way to hide laziness. As soon as someone questions whether something is indeed Biblical, the supporter of the view will throw a proof-text, as if that answers the question of what the Bible teaches. After the shooting in Orlando, a few (I hope only a few) pastors quoted Leviticus about homosexual behavior as a capital offense in ancient Israel. This is far short of a full understanding of the issue.  If we are “not under the Law” and Jesus said that the Great Commandment was the greatest commandment found in the Pentateuch, are these pastors doing a thoughtful Biblical analysis of the issue, or just grabbing a verse improperly? What is the appropriate response of a civil government in a pluralistic society to homosexual behavior. What is the appropriate response of the church. What is the appropriate response of a Christian. What is the appropriate Christian response to vigilantism.  What is the appropriate response of a Christian to one who is not following Jesus.

Theology is the reflection on Divine Revelation through a cultural perspective. To say it is Biblical tends to mean that one found a verse in the Bible that sounds supportive of one’s position. To say it is theological, means (hopefully) that one reflected on the situation within context, in a Biblically thoughtful manner.

Fact Checker: Do Faithful Christians Take the Bible Literally?

<Reblog of post by Glenn T. Stanton.  Click on the link below for the rest. Nice readable article about Bible Interpretation.>

One of the things I enjoy most in my work at Focus on the Family is the opportunity to speak at secular university campuses and to organizations that are indifferent or opposed to orthodox Christianity. Most of my colleagues are sane enough to avoid such invitations, but I relish them because they allow me to mix with folks who see the world very differently and it’s intellectually and rhetorically stimulating to interact with them in a meaningful way. I also get the opportunity to correct lots of misunderstandings about what Christians actually believe.

One of these common misunderstandings is not even presented as a question, but an assumption. It typically goes something like this: “So Mr. Stanton, taking a literal view of the Bible as you do, please explain to me . . .”

I usually answer my questioner, to their great surprise:  “Well no, I don’t take the Bible literally.” I then pause for effect, both for the sake of the non-faithful as well as for the Christians in the audience.

Fact Checker: Do Faithful Christians Take the Bible Literally?.