God: Original Risk-Taker, or Sovereign, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Lord?
I love to read the writings and sermons, as well as biographies, of the Early Church Fathers. Often, they displayed valiant faith and incredible theological insight, but at other times, your left wondering how they missed the point, how they could get so far from Truth. The answer? Bad hermeneutics.
Good intentions, but dangerous hermeneutic
Looking at the first five or six centuries of early church literature, you’ll notice periods when certain doctrines, such as those regarding the nature of God, tended to have served as the hermeneutic filter for the interpretation of the whole of Scripture. This was primarily due to attacks on the biblical doctrine of God by heretics, and in response, certain Fathers attacked the heresies by appealing to relevant biblical passages, reason, and sometimes, biblical passages that were not really dealing with the nature of God, yet were treated as though they were. In dealing with the doctrine of the nature of God, the Fathers generally fell on the side of biblical truth. However, in their mishandling of Scripture, i.e., trying to prove a biblical truth by using Scriptural passages that do not speak to that truth, they may have led the way for others to do the same, but without having biblical truth as an end. As the allegorical and mystical approaches to the interpretation of Scripture began to take precedence in the later centuries of the Church, as can be seen in modern RCC dogma, doctrine began to truly suffer. However much this ancient hermeneutical issue may not seem to be a problem, in today’s sophisticated American expression of Christianity, it most certainly is.
How can we know Truth?
So, what is God really like? We can get a pretty good glimpse through the proper interpretation of Scripture. This means that we must ask the right questions of Scripture. The first question to ask of Scripture must be “What does it actually say?” Getting this wrong, is the first mistake our modern heretics make. If you want to know what God is like, you only need to look at Scripture to find out––what does the Bible say God is like? If you want to know what Man is like, you have two sources, the Bible and the newspaper; you’ll find that on the subject of the depravity of Man, these two will generally agree. If you want to know what Man Should be like, the Bible makes clear, we should be like Jesus.
The next question must be, “What does it mean?” On this question, we must look at the purpose of the human author (as best as can be understood), we must also consider the original hearer/reader, and what did it mean to them? This may sound obvious to you, but just look around, read a few “Christian” books, like Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, and you’ll see that it is not. Just like some of the Fathers, if we get so caught up disputing the heresy of the day, or proving, what we think to be, the most important concept missing in the Church today, we will, at best, miss other, equally relevant, scriptural truths, and at worst, we will miss the point of Scripture all together.
A challenge for the Christian as you read books such as Wild at Heart
Examine what you believe about God, and why you believe it. Read the Bible in its entirety, and allow your beliefs to be challenged by what you read. God’s word is not only true, it is Truth, and the Truth will set you free.