We begin with the axiom that all things are interpreted. We interpret the world around us according to our personal framework — our world view and our presumed method(s) for arriving at an accurate conclusion. We may learn these frameworks from others and subsequently tailor them as needed to satisfy a variety of motivations.
One’s personal framework may vary in completeness. That is, when one begins a discipline one always begins with a less-than-complete understanding of the subject. As one develops an understanding of the discipline then the assumptions that one brought initially into the subject suffer the disgrace of rejection or modification. And then one’s assumptions are also added to as one’s depth of understanding increases.
Ok, that’s pretty broad. Now let’s get more specific.
Ever hear someone tout that the Bible supports slavery? Ever hear someone spout out that the laws of the OT would necessarily be applied to secular society today were the church to (re)gain control, or even influence, in the political sphere? Ever hear someone say that Christian morality amounts to the equivalent of hate and death threats against homosexuals? Ever hear someone speak of religious liberty as though it ought be the property of the state, to serve state purposes? Of course you have. But are these things true? Do these complaints have any credibility? Maybe. Partly. It all depends upon the interpretive framework of the theology set forth on the subject and the interpretive framework of the critic. But I’m not going to delve into each of those topics. Instead, let’s just cover the problem, or should I say, the situation, that creates these varying interpretive frameworks.
First, the lack of a framework contributes to a misunderstanding of the teachings of the Bible. People will often see creation in Genesis and presume that anyone who holds to “inerrancy” will automatically accept the 6-day and 6,000-year understanding of the account. (Never mind for now that the literalness — how the text is interpreted — is not a matter of inerrancy. Those are two different subjects.) Then they will conveniently skip ahead to Leviticus and see stonings for all sorts of seemingly benign behaviors. On to the Psalms and God there may seem quite comforting. That is, until arriving at the prophets where God is quite harsh.
On to the NT and Jesus seems to be doing away with all that law stuff. Then his followers start spreading Jesus’ new and quite liberal tolerance message. Then there’s a few letters to stop some fighting in some churches — like anything has really changed in this regard. And finally it ends with the prophecy that the world is going to end in a ball of fire and God will make all things right.
Well, that’s what we get from people. For some, it is their own fault as scholars for not getting a grip on the various theologies which they intend to criticize. For others, though, I think it is quite fair to fault the churches that do not teach how to read and interpret the Word. Knowledge, after all, needs a starting point.
For the evangelical, the Bible stands as the inspired Word of God and is the rule for faith and practice. (This differs from Rome & Friends where the Bible is the product of the church, and where church authority is the effective for faith and practice.) The way to understand the Bible is through the grammatical-historical method of interpretation. That is, words, phrases, and even blocks of material, are generally taken in their plain meanings unless they are obvious figures of speech. For instance, God does not have wings. And the hornets appears more like a figurative description of something unknown than of actual hornets.
But then, what do we do with this? How do we collect this information and make sense out of it? Answering this question has caused a number of changes in church theology through the past millennia. For instance, are we now living in the time when the church is preparing the world for the kingdom, or are we actually living in the establishment of the kingdom, or is the church preparing for the future establishment of the kingdom? These three possibilities have divided orthodox Christians for centuries. The first represents the classic protestant “amillennial” position; the second, Rome and some protestants of similar “post-millennial” persuasion; and the third being the more recent premillennial (including dispensational) position.
One’s view of the kingdom, as you may have noticed, affects one’s view of the end times. So, if you are tempted to think that those who do not accept the Rapture might be liberal — think again. A good quantity of born-again believers do not. Men like VanTil, D James Kennedy, and R. C. Sproul would be in that camp. As it stands, even among those who are born again there is a good deal of difference on a variety of matters.
Another matter that falls directly in line with this is the definition of “church”. For those of us who are Dispensational, the church began at the Pentecost events of Acts 2. But the others see the OT saints as part of the church. What difference does this make? Well, it comes down to the place of the church in the OT and its relationship to law, including national law. For the dispensationalist, it means that the church operates completely separate from the establishment of the old Hebrew national law. But for the other persuasions it means that the church continues the work of (believing) Israel and inherits both its promises and its efforts. That’s the reason for political dominance.
So after all this, what’s the point? The point is to be an intelligent student — know the Bible and know how to understand it fully. Develop your fuller theology. Let the full scope of the Word make complete sense. Then you will be able to deal with the critic who has no idea why Paul dealt with homosexuality as a moral matter and not as a legal one in the beginning of Romans. Or why gentiles were not required to be circumcised. Or why Romans 11:28-29 makes a specific appeal to the fathers of Israel. And so much more. You be the one who understands hermeneutics — the art and science of interpretation. Because so many critics do not appear to complete their theological homework. A fuller faith is a stronger faith.