Spirit & Word – Hermeneutics Part 1

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Simon Smailus sent me a copy of a paper Bob had written on the topic of Spirit & Word Hermeneutics. It is still a great read. As it is quite long we shall post it here in five parts. [Richard]

SPIRIT AND WORD – the challenge of Interpretation

The subject of the interpretation of the Scriptures is properly called hermeneutics which comes from the Greek word hermeneuo, ‘to interpret’. I like the description given in the Covenant College Training Manual on Scripture which tells us that;

“Hermeneutics is the filter through which we put Scripture, enabling us to understand its message and apply it to our everyday living.”

Covenant College 1992 Modular Training Programme.

In the Introduction to their worthwhile handbook “Interpreting The Scriptures”, Kevin Connor and Ken Malmin highlight the significance of the question for our own time:

“It is recognised by Christians around the world that God has spoken in His Word; the Sacred Scriptures. However, what is not so clear is what he meant by what he said. On this point the opinions are innumerable.”

AN ESSENTIAL CONCERN.

It is important, from a number of point s of view that this subject stays at the top of our agenda.

First, it demonstrates a concern that is rising on the part of many that we find some common and recognised ground of control over the many ideas and claims with which we are being bombarded. It highlights differences of emphasis or interpretation which are surfacing, and at the same time serves to introduce a lively and healthy interest in a subject that has become of vital importance every time there has been a vital move of God.

Second, I personally believe we are being moved by the Spirit into a fresh zone of spiritual interest and enterprise in which many of the mores of charismatic life and belief will be tested. After all, it is only within the crucible of history and experience that we will see whether our ideas are dross or gold.

When we look at the subject from a broad perspective, which in a brief outline is all we can do, we can see that there are at least five areas of tension which arise.

1) THE TENSION OF THE PRESENT

The question of hermeneutic seems in history to be a question of reformation rather than revival. Or more properly it may become a more urgent question after/between revival than during it. It is true that it became urgent for Philip the Evangelist with the Ethiopian eunuch when he asked whether the eunuch understood what he was reading. But then the question was not between two spiritually anointed men but between a Spirit-filled believer and a searcher after truth. The question presents itself to us today between men and women who claim to have the same or similar experience of God through His Spirit. It is this fact that makes it both more urgent and, perhaps, more confusing.

There are certain movements today which, by themselves, increase the urgency of the question.

a) The quest for rapprochement between charismatics and evangelicals

Is a charismatic hermeneutic identical with a classical evangelical hermeneutic or does it share important elements while differing in emphasis?

b) Tension between the prophetic and the scriptural the need to establish some balance between the ‘inner light’ and ‘objective revelation’.

c) The widespread recognition of the need for Spirit and Word to flow together which was evidenced by the attempt by R.T. Kendall and Paul Cain to get together in the public forum a couple of years ago at Wembley.

d) The novelty factor with regards to revelation. There is danger of a charismatic Gnosticism. Some would worry about possible trends towards heresy, imbalance or excess both in belief and ministry. The trend some have seen towards a charismatic Unitarianism with an over-emphasis on the Person and work of the Spirit, or ideas about an omega generation, or the resurgence of date theology in relation to the Second Coming especially with the advent of the year 2000.