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Why change the way we understand the Bible?

By Joseph D. Meador

religion, articles, christianity



Brother Meador, I have heard about a "New Hermeneutic" that some of our brethren are advocating. My family and I are members of a congregation in Tennessee that was established over one hundred years ago and the church here is trying to remain faithful to the "old paths." However, some preachers in our area are now teaching that we need to interpret the Bible differently than our fathers. Why are some now trying so hard to change the way we understand Scriptures?


The theory known as the "New Hermeneutic" is a false method of interpreting the Bible that has swept over our brotherhood. This is especially true in regions where this theory is heavily promoted by various universities. The too quickly converted students of the theory then return to their home congregations where a firestorm of digression spreads unchecked.

Currently accepted ideas such as: (1) there are Christians in all denominations; (2) approval of using instrumental music in worship; (3) acceptance of denominational baptism; (4) one cannot be certain of knowing the truth; (5) that we must always emphasize love over doctrine; and (6) the church must reach out to and spiritually fellowship denominations all result from the acceptance of a new way to understand the Bible.

Not only are some of "our" university lectureships to blame for this present "new hermeneutic" crisis, but the neo­orthodox liberalism allowed in the classrooms in some of "our" schools is also responsible for this departure from the old paths. A generation of preachers, elders and church leaders are compromised.

The new hermeneutic is not new, having been contrived by infidels such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Hans Georg Gadamer. It is the backbone of liberalism. Contemporary writers add coloring and dress to the view, but the theory remains virtually unchanged since it's first acceptance by such modernist theologians as Emilio Betti (1890­1968); by existentialists such as Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), Rudolf Bultmann (1884­1976); as well as those in the more moderate, but no­less dangerous neo­orthodox, camp like Emile Brunner (1889-1966), Karl Barth (1886­1968) and Paul Tillich (1886­1965). Some strident voices among faculty in some of "our" schools proclaim that they are "Barthians" - and proud of it!

The new hermeneutic is nothing more than the failed method of literary criticism and interpretation arising out of the Romanticist period where the assertion of personal feelings or experiences were considered all authoritative. Friedrich Schleiermacher applied Romantic philosophy to his task and claimed his goal as an interpreter was to reach behind the text to know the mind of the author. He thought this brought understanding of the "creative experience that called the text into being." He deemed the text, whether secular or biblical, as the sole product of creative human experience.

Among our brethren, the adherents of the new hermeneutic have falsely presupposed that the gospel is a message that changes to meet the needs of differing ages and cultures. Therefore, the rational and logical method of Bible interpretation, to which so many have for so long subscribed, is now looked upon by liberals as a curious relic. They assert that "you simply cannot look at the Bible as a pattern anymore, as this method is outdated and is no longer culturally relevant."

The principles of Bible interpretation, as rightly understood and expounded by faithful brethren over the years, are now seen as woefully outdated. This is so, we are told, because "such principles no longer provide a relevant paradigm for a church that is now wrestling with so many diverse cultural and doctrinal issues."

It is asserted that "the gospel was never designed to be interpreted in a factual or objective sense, but rather it must be interpreted symbolically, by an impulsive heart, and the gospel must stretch, adapt, and change to meet the needs of each generation."

Further, with the revival of the charismatic/pentecostal movement, some of our Bible professors and preachers are openly teaching that modern miraculous gifts-tongue speaking, and direct nudging of the Holy Spirit-are a genuine modern Christian phenomena. Still others, not so far gone, are pushing for a literal Holy Spirit indwelling which "enables" or directly operates on the individual Christian.

Those who promote the new hermeneutic to the brotherhood think the gospel is no longer relevant. These modernists within our ranks have taken it upon themselves to conclude that the gospel must be interpreted differently if it is to "be a vibrant and meaningful message for today's society."

Such pretentious brethren also contend that the gospel, as preached today in faithful congregations, is a contrived message which earlier generations of unlettered brethren devised (sincerely but unwittingly) from literary methods which were steeped in the rationalistic philosophy of John Locke. Such methods, they argue, have produced a gospel that cannot apply to the problems faced by the modern church. We are told to ignore correct reason and logic and simply trust in God beyond reason. One proponent of the new hermeneutic stated we must have the courage to step out beyond rationalism "to embrace a God who cannot be known!"

In the beginning of the church one gospel was preached in every culture and clime. The apostles did not fashion different gospels for different cultures. There was one faith for all the world. This shows that the gospel is not influenced by culture, but rather is designed to influence socially transmitted behavior patterns, or culture. If the gospel is molded by culture, we would have as many gospels as we have cultures. The gospel is the same in every generation because the spiritual needs of humans are the same in every generation.

A new hermeneutic will produce a new gospel. A new gospel is a different gospel. A different gospel is a false gospel.

I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema (Gal 1:6­8).

Published January 1997