Monday, August 29, 2011

Why I am a Lutheran, reason 1a

I've discovered it will take a bit more than one post to elaborate on each of my 10 reasons for converting. Here is the first part of my first reason: The Law and Gospel hermeneutic.

Now concerning my reasons for converting to Lutheranism, the first is the Law and Gospel hermeneutic.
Briefly put, a hermeneutic is how you interpret the Bible. The "Law and Gospel" method of interpreting scripture turns the entirety of scripture into "good news," and makes so much sense that, after having learned it, it is actually difficult to listen to preachers who study without it because, in the end, they are often preaching nothing other than guilt and condemnation. Case in point: If the bulk of your sermon would necessarily be true whether or not Jesus Christ came and died, then you are probably preaching a message that is all law and devoid of gospel. The consequence of this is that the message becomes decisively un-Christ-ian, and could just as easily have been preached in a Jewish service (unless, of course, it used the New Testament).
So what is the Law and Gospel hermeneutic and how exactly does it differ from others? To illustrate its use I will compare it to the dominant hermeneutic used in the tradition I recently came out of: Southern Baptist. In Southern Baptist circles, as well as many others which emphasize things like Biblical inerrancy, family values, a strong intellectual approach to dogmatics, and a seminary educated pastorate (including many EV Free churches, evangelical Presbyterians, Bible church types, and to a much more simple extent the Calvary Chapel bunch), the dominant hermeneutic in use is called the historical-grammatical method. It is just what it sounds like: Analyzing the precise historical background of the writing as well as the grammatical structure of the sentences to determine both the exact literal meaning of the text plus its most likely intended meaning given its original audience. This method makes a lot of sense and therefore has strong appeal to those who care about sensibility (lamentably, not enough evangelicals).
The gist of the method is this: Hebrew and Greek are studied intensively. Sentences are literally diagrammed in their original languages so that absolute clarity is seen in the structure of the sentence. The result is that often this arrives at a very narrowly literal interpretation of practically everything. This method makes strong claims at being able to decipher the most exact meaning of every verse of the Bible, and it certainly makes an outstandingly thorough and diligent effort. Unfortunately, among the adherents to this technique there is such wide divergence of opinion over semi-crucial doctrines. Fortunately, that vast majority of proponents of this method deny none of the core doctrines of the faith, but there is strong diversity over issues of soteriology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, and eschatology. The problem with this divergence is that each exegete believes his conclusion to be THE clear teaching of scripture and that other opinions are necessarily wrong.
Another weakness (the most fatal one, imo) of this method is that it tends to be oblivious to biblical symbolism, to the point of explaining it away. Because of its extreme literalism, unless a passage explicitly defines its own imagery, users of this method will explain symbolism away by saying, "You might like to read that into the text, but the text doesn't say that anywhere."
The problem? This would disqualify that vast majority of scriptural interpretation that Jesus and the apostles did in the New Testament. Their exegesis would not pass the rules of this method.
The other major problem here is that the historical-grammattical method seems to boast almost complete objectivity, with literary "power-tools" strong enough to filter out any bias, tradition, or preformed theological conclusions. It might actually be able to do this, in a perfect world. But unfortunately, even the biggest names in exegetical study who rely on this method are inevitably flawed beyond the correction of this method. For example, John MacArthur, is a great expositor and teacher of the Bible. However, he holds to theology that is Baptistic on most counts. That means, that when Jesus says, "This is my body,", MacArthur would interpret it as, "This represents my body," because of the traditional Baptist view of the Lord's Supper. This is inconsistent, because there are no grammatical reasons to insert the word "represents" nor contextual indications. In fact, the only reason the passage gets interpreted this way at all, by anyone, is simply because of rationalistic epistemological presuppositions which subconsciously scream, "It HAS to be symbolism! Jesus couldn't possibly mean IS when he says IS, because that wouldn't make sense!" So in this case, reason circumvents the method. Because we could naturally think that if God became a man and spent some time teaching us "in person," everything he said would quite naturally make sense to us, right?
Enter Law and Gospel.
...continued in pt. 2


  1. Jesus + nothing = Everything

  2. You know, I keep hearing that all around the place, and I think it's a good line. But I can't manage to figure out who said if first. Might you know who the "coiner" of that phrase is?

  3. Jesus + Nothing = Everything
    By Tullian Tchividjian

  4. Jesus + Nothing = Everything
    By Tullian Tchividjian