Evangelical views (plural) on the Bible actually tolerate quite a wide range of hermeneutical practices - far more than evangelicals used to think. For instance, in the olden days if a scholar was an evangelical with a high view of Scripture then you could guess where s/he would come down on various historical-critical issues (e.g., Moses wrote most of the Pentateuch, Isaiah wrote Isaiah, biblical histories are historically accurate). No longer. Evangelicals do still incline towards conservative judgements (e.g., biblical histories are broadly reliable, the traditions behind the Pentateuch ultimately go back to Moses even if they have been added to and developed) but one can no longer say that if someone is an evangelical then they must affirm certain narrowly prescribed historical-critical judgements.
A high view of Scripture tolerates more than we often think. Robert Gundry infamously showed this when he argued (correctly) that even those who subscribe to inerrancy can affirm that a gospel could contain what we might call 'historical fiction' (this was in the context of Gundry arguing that Matthew's gospel was a Midrash).
Even more recent hermeneutical bogey men such as reader-response theory now have strident evangelical defenders (at least the more moderate versions of reader response theory do).
But how hermeneutically open is an evangelical view of the Bible? Will it tolerate anything in terms of interpretation? Clearly not! But I have something more specific in mind. Can it tolerate the kind of ideological criticism that may conclude that the message of a particular text is not something that a Christian can affirm?
If, for instance, Ezekiel 16 is felt to have a fundamentally objectionable view of husbands and wives at the heart of its metaphorical message (i.e., that if a wife is unfaithful a husband, he is within his rights to publically strip her and humiliate her - perhaps even to allow others to rape her) can the evangelical reject a specific text in the name of the God revealed in the canon as a whole?
Ideological hermeneutics of suspicion seem to strike at the very heart of the traditional Christian hermeneutic of trust and submission to the biblical message. At face value such hermeneutical approaches seem obviously incompatible with an evangelical view of the Bible.
Now this is a genuine question: to what extent can evangelical views of Scripture take on board ideological hermeneutical approaches which read counter to the grain of the biblical texts?
- Robin Parry
- Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).