Pragmatism: A Faulty Hermeneutic

sushi
Faulty hermeneutics plagues modern Christianity and stands as one of the most corrupting influences to God honoring faith. The Apostle Paul urged young timothy to “rightly handle the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) In doing so we prove to be workers without shame. No matter how hard we pound the pulpit insisting that the Bible stands as the Word of God, if we treat its content flippantly, we belie our own words and bring reproach upon the cause of Christ. Faulty hermeneutics weakens our preaching like termites eating away at our pulpits. We must diligently seek to exegete (extract meaning from the text) not eisegete (inject our meaning into the text) scripture and then boldly proclaim God’s word.

A while back I had an email discussion with a good friend of mine over this issue. Mike serves as pastor of a sister church in a neighboring city. We both claim to have a high view of scripture, call ourselves inerrantists, and associate with the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention. Like iron sharpening iron, friends ought to reprove, rebuke, and exhort one another for the building up of the body of Christ. Mike and I do that. Sometimes I’m probably a little harsher than I ought to be when discussing via email. I’m much more of a wimp face to face, especially when Mike picks up the lunch tab. I’m treating for sushi next time. Mike gave me permission to post a couple of our most heated discussions.

A 21 year old named Malachi raised an issue about something that happened in their TeamKid. He said the teacher read Revelation 3:20 to the kids, and urged them to invite Jesus into their hearts. To make it more kid friendly, they set up a baseball diamond. Kid’s with questions were told to stand on first base and work their way around the bases. Home plate was asking Jesus into your heart and salvation. Malachi was rightly troubled with this and asked us what we thought. That topic kicked things off, but very quickly changed to a discussion over our right to make a text mean something that it never meant. Here is my original response, followed by our dialogue.

Malachi,

That sounds very troubling to me on multiple levels. Let me just give a brief responce.

First, its an inappropriate use of Revelation 3:20. The passage is not about Jesus knocking at a sinners heart door begging to come in. Its a picture of the church. The self-sufficient pride of the Church has edged Christ out of its fellowship.

Second, I am beginning to loath, more and more, manipulative evangelistic tactics, especially when used with children.

Third, I do not know what to think about the whole first base, second base, third base business. It makes me think of Billy Sunday shouting, “Come make a home run for Jesus!”

Fourth, Tactics such as this seem to endorse the false doctrine of decisional regeneration. Even if we went with your analogy of stealing bases, that makes the picture of free-Grace even more skewed.

Well, I better stop there before someone starts accusing me of just being cranky. 🙂

by grace alone,

Don A. Elbourne Jr.

Don,

Not “Cranky” but definitely tending to fall into the trap of thinking God cannot use those who do things in differently. While Rev. 3:20 definitely speaks first to the church, I think we might also see Christ knocking at our heart’s door.

Are we to think that all of us who came to Christ through the use of that verse were not actually saved? Other than John 3:16, that is probably the verse which stands out most in my memory of my salvation. God seemed to say He wanted me. Am I wrong? Was that Baptist Pastor wrong for sharing that verse with me at time when my heart was tender, and I was under conviction? I shall always appreciate the use of that verse.

I also understand that 1 John 1:9 speaks primarily to the church, but it also speaks to the unbeliever. Let’s not get so intellectually accurate that we miss the supernatural intervention of God.

I’m told that some men repented when George Whitfield just said “Mesopotamia”. People confessed their sin and repented when George W. Truett walked into the room.

While I want to be “true” to the text, I think we need be careful lest we think that God doesn’t use those things which are not as exegetically accurate as we would like. Dr. Leroy Benefield, my preaching professor at BBI, loved to tell how he was saved when a man preached on tithing. He said the man gave an invitation designed to get Christians to tithe, and really didn’t issue a salvation invitation, but he was convicted of his lostness and came to Christ.

Folks, so many of the New Testament interpretations of OT Scripture seem to have little to do with the context of the message, but I believe the NT writers were using it in accordance with God’s leadership.

Mike

Mike,

You are actually condoning the misuse of scripture? How in the world can you say you believe in the authority of scripture and yet treat it so flippantly? Unbelievable.

I agree, God is gracious and sometimes works through our imperfections, but to use that as an excuse for our mishandling of the Word of God is disgraceful.

Think about what you just wrote. If the text meant one thing, we can not rip it from its context and use it to preach something else. Achieving desirable results do not justify eisegesis. If we hold a high view of scripture, we can not use pragmatism as our governing hermeneutical methodology.

Unless you are ready to side with Anthony Sizemore when he said, “the Bible is just a book,” then you may want to reconsider your position.

by grace alone,

Don A. Elbourne Jr.

Don, I believe the Bible to be the inerrant and infallible Word of God. However, I don’t accept the idea that you or any professor I’ve ever met has the last Word on God’s Word. I’ve never met a professor who would have used the Joel passage in the way Peter did. Yes, we must be true to Scripture, but while there is only one primary teaching, there are many ancillary teachings.

I listen to learned men who try to strain and explain passages, but they are simply trying reconcile New Testament commentary on OT passages where they don’t really see the connection.

I have read a particular passage and upon re-reading, I’ve found something entirely new to my understanding.

It is like the passage in Isaiah about the King of Tyre. Many exegete that passage to say it refers to Satan, and gives a description of him and his being expelled from heaven. Now, I agree that one might see that in the passage. But it is a direct warning to the people of that day, and addressed to a particular king.

I personally take the most literal view possible, but I know that it is easy to miss something.

I believe the Bible. I trust the KJV. I really don’t trust these latter day “syntax scholars”. I think much learning hath made many dumb. I don’t oppose learning. I advocate it. However, intellectual acumen, substituted for spiritual insight is a poor trade off.

Call me what you will!!!! But I really find myself asking just how much some professors trust God, rather than their own intellectual prowess.

Mike

Mike,

Your contradictory affirmations defy logical sense. On the one hand you give lip service to the authority of scripture. Yet at the same time you insist on giving yourself the freedom to inject your own alien meaning into the text. That hermeneutical methodology places you right at home with the extreme left wing of the CBF. You can not make the Bible mean whatever you want it to mean.

The Bible uses words. Those words have meaning. The context gives us interpretive boundaries to understand that meaning. Any “ancillary teachings” (as you call them) must flow from the text itself. Eisegesis, even when labeled “spiritual insight” is still eisegesis. When we start injecting scripture with our own meaning, we are doing violence to God’s Word and have, in practice, denied the authority of scripture.

Every time we deal with a passage of scripture you demean my seminary education as if a passion to “rightly divide the word of truth” is a bad thing. I’ll be the first to admit that I do not have a corner on correct interpretation of difficult passages. I never said I had the last word on God’s word. I agree that while scripture stands infallible, there are no infallible interpreters. But that is not the issue. You seem to be rejecting the existence of correct interpretation all together. In doing so, you have drifted into post-modernism. If there is no correct interpretation, then there is no incorrect interpretation and absolute truth goes out the window.

In the past you have pooh-poohed any attempt at correctly interpreting a difficult passage. This time we are not dealing with a difficult passage. It does not take a seminary graduate, bible scholar or syntactic expert to read the plain meaning of scripture in Revelation 3:14-22. My 7th grade daughter could tell you that it is addressed to the church and not to a lost individual. All she would have to do is read the text.

14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write…

22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

I do not have any secret knowledge hidden away in the seminary library that no one else has access to. It is right there in your KJV. To paint Jesus as a poor pitiful homeless person standing at the sinners heart door begging to come in is a clear twisting of scripture. The distorted image may move people down the sawdust trail, but it doesn’t justify pragmatic eisegetical hermeneutics and the mishandling of God’s word.

by grace alone,

Don A. Elbourne Jr.

3 Comments

I still tink you over analyze what I say. If I were posting these on my site, I’d surely have the advantage, but since you have trouble seeing, I’ll challenge you to a game of ping pong. If you can see that clearly, we’ll make it tennis. 🙂

Has it never occurred to you that the Almighty God has the ability to put compound meaning into a single sentence? He does not limit himself as you seem to be limiting Him.

While the primary meaning of the verse is towards the church, I have no problem seeing that it can also apply to the heart of man.

I think your response goes way beyond cranky.

Actually the reason that I came to this page was that it is only one of six sites on the entire internet that uses the phrase “eisegetical hermeneutics” so your obviously way too deep for me.