I recently read an article critiquing one of the so-called ‘hypergrace’ preachers. It doesn’t really matter who it was. I don’t really want to get involved in defending or attacking the particular guy. The comment thread below the critique article was about a mile long as often happens when someone attacks a big name preacher – it all gets quite emotive. So I’ll call the preacher ‘X’ below. What I was interested in was the arguments of the article writer. He makes about 7 points and I thought it might be worth interacting with them in a few blog posts as they raise lots of important issues:
1. X Makes Blanket Statements and Tries to Fit All Scripture Within His System
‘Blanket statements’ is a bit misleading – as the article writer explains it, P is not really coming up with his own blanket statements so much as privileging one part of Scripture (Paul’s letters) over against another (John’s letters). This is a fair criticism in the sense that we should be very careful to look at the whole testimony of Scripture and not teach one part so that it contradicts another part. But at the same time we’ve got to be honest that we all privilege some parts of Scripture above others. We have our favourite verses which act as something of a control over how we look at the whole Bible. And maybe that is a good thing so long as the verses that we think are key really are key.
- So for example, when there are ‘whoever’/‘no one’/‘every’/‘no’/‘never’ statements like John 3:16; 10:29; 14:6; Romans 8:1, particularly when they come at key points in the argument of the book or letter in question and when the genre and context indicates this is not hyperbole or just a proverbial general truth or just for that point in the storyline or qualified in some way, then they are ‘blanket statements’. Everything else you read in the Bible has to be in harmony with them.
- In particular there are a number of places where the Bible seems to be giving us pretty ‘blanket statements’ about the Bible itself. We’ve surely got to pay special attention to those bits. I’m thinking of Luke 24, John 5, 2 Tim. 3 and 1 Peter 1. They are going to affect the way we approach the whole Bible – looking for Christ crucified and how we can have life in him.
- While all Scripture is God breathed it is quite obvious that it is uneven in importance and significance. So for example, Isaiah 53 is one of the highest summits in the mountain range of Scripture. (1) It has a key role in the book of Isaiah itself – just contrast it with chapter 1 (the deep problem of sin (v2-4), the metaphor of the bruised and battered man (v5-6), the question of how sins will be made white as snow (v18) ; (2) it has a key role in the OT, as the answer to Gen. 3:15 and the great hanging question of how God can be just (Gen. 18:25) and the justifier of the ungodly (Gen. 15:6) and in bringing together the rich themes of sacrifice, messiah, innocent suffering and peace; (3) in the NT, Isaiah 53 is quoted or alluded to than any other OT passage.
- Of course if I just a rip a verse (e.g. 2 Sam. 22:26 NIV) out of context and forget about Christ and make that my lens for the Bible and the Christian life then it’s going to be a disaster. But if it really is a key verse then fair enough.
What about the idea of a ‘system’ though? “X Tries to Fit All Scripture Within His System”. X is not just privileging some Scripture he has got a System. This pits ‘good Scripture’ against ‘nasty System’. But again, we’ve got to be honest, we all come to the Bible with a theology or ‘framework’ or ‘system’ more or less clearly in our heads. If we come to the Bible as ‘God’s Word’ rather than a random collection of ancient writings, if we know that Jesus is God and that the Three are One etc. that is a theological system. And that’s not a bad thing in itself. In a very helpful article, ‘Theology & Bible Reading’ J.I. Packer argues that theology, among other things, a) shows us how to approach the Bible; b) sets out the substance and heart of the Bible; c) forearms us against heretical understandings of the Bible. The key thing is whether your theology has come from the Bible and is constantly being reshaped and reformed by the Bible.
theology as an activity, properly understood, is Bible reading as it ought to be, and Bible reading, properly understood, is theology as it out to be. (Packer, ‘Theology & Bible Reading’, p. 74)
If we pretend we have no system and just ‘read the Bible as it is’ we are deceiving ourselves. If I say, ‘I just open the Bible, read a verse, and the Spirit applies it to me’ – that is a system and one that can get you into a whole lot of trouble and leave you open to all manner of crazy interpretation. Furthermore, if I’m not aware I have a system I inevitably pour it into every text I read. In contrast, if you know you have a system that self-awareness means you can catch yourself pouring your framework into a text and say to yourself, hang on a minute maybe this text needs to challenge my framework.
Let’s be honest about where we’re coming from, let’s read through big chunks of the Bible, let’s listen to one another (the Spirit is given to the church not just me personally) and let’s think carefully how to read the Bible as Jesus would have us read it.