“In deciding between unconditional election and conditional election, a biblical, systematic theologian must find what he considers to be irrefutable biblical proof of one position or the other. When, to his satisfaction, he has done this, his next responsibility is to show how he would interpret passages of Scripture that would be used by those who have chosen otherwise” (F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation. Nashville: Randall House, 2011, page 150).
This post is still discussing as its subject Classical Arminianism; however, this one will be less traditional than most posts I’ve done here at the Center for Theological Studies. It is my belief that, as one of my sections is titled, that “philosophy” is “theology’s handmaiden.” As did the early church fathers, I believe that philosophy is a tool God has given the church to aid in our understanding of the Scriptures. I believe that there is a right way and a wrong way to read the Scriptures. I operate under a philosophy that engages my theology: if Jesus is the only way to salvation (John 14:6), and He alone is “truth,” then there is one truth to the whole counsel of God. There is one interpretation for every verse, despite the fact that believers will often disagree on what the interpretation is.
In this post, I desire to deal with the idea behind “systematic theology”---that is, that the Bible as a whole can fit in one system, versus another. I realize that for most people who think that systematics is nothing more than “men trying to comprehend the incomprehensible,” this post will probably bore you and disinterest you. But if you would just stay in the post and hear me out, you might end up agreeing with me by the end. At least that’s a prayer of mine...
I desire to talk about “the hermeneutics of God.” According to F. Leroy Forlines, there is a need to reconcile verses that appear to contradict with one’s own system, when one decides on where he or she stands in the Calvinism/Arminianism debate. For example, one of the clearest texts for me was Acts 7:51, where Stephen tells the Jewish audience that they were “resisting the grace of God,” just like their ancestors. I took that verse and immediately knew that “resistible grace” would form one of the five tenets of my soteriological system (that is, a system based on how God and man work in salvation). From that point on, I could, with the aid of Scripture, find my way to the other four points. For me, the “unconditional eternal security” that four-point Arminians hold to was something that was truly out of place in my five-point system: if God foreknows all things, and grace is resistible, then God foreknows that some believers will endure to the end, while others will only believe/endure “for a while” (Matt. 13; Mark 4:17; Luke 8:13). Eternal security may work for some, as God foreknows they will endure to the end and be saved; however, if grace is resistible, and some can believe for a time, then there is no guarantee that every believer will endure to the end and be saved. That being said, let me say that there is an eternal security “for those who eternally endure to the end” and for the saints of God who are now in eternity. But for some, security will only be conditional because, as Hebrews 6 tells us, they can learn many things about God, have the Holy Spirit, experience the powers of the coming age, and then fall away (Heb. 6:4-6). As a result, security for the believer is present...but it is conditional, based upon the believer’s persevering in faith (with divine aid) until the end. God provides a way of escape for every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13), but He does not make us choose it.
I’ve said it here at the blog before, but I’ll tell it again: within the past week, I’ve had a friend tell me via text message that “there are some verses that seem to argue one thing, and some verses that seem to contradict that one thing.” In other words, there are two sets of verses in the Scriptures that “contradict.” I explained to her that hermeneutics would solve much of the problem with that. Her response? “You have to admit though...there are some things we will not know until we see Jesus face to face!”
Yes, there are many things we will not know in this life (I did a post on mystery recently); nevertheless, what does that have to do with practicing sound hermeneutics and the reconciliation of verses? Nothing. What the comment was intended to do was say, “Basically, we can’t resolve these verses, so let’s stop wasting our time trying to resolve verses we cannot resolve.” If the early church took that approach to hermeneutics, Arianism, Marcionism, and Gnosticism would still be rampant, heterodox teachings in the church today. Thank God for believers and theologians of old who took a stand against these teachings, simply because the Word of God compelled them to do so!!!
What do I mean by the title of the post, “the hermeneutics of God”? What I mean is that we can perform sound hermeneutics by taking the nature and character of God into account. For instance, how many people interpret a text one way, then go back and interpret the same text another way? Very few if any. Why? Because we believe that the text does not change. Now, here’s where the character and nature of God comes in: the text doesn’t change, because God doesn’t change! His nature and character are unchanging. If this is true of God, then it’s true of His Word, His revelation to mankind. I’ll set up a syllogism:
Premise #1: The Bible reveals God’s nature and character and is His revelation.
Premise #2: God’s nature and character are unchanging.
Premise #3: The Bible reveals God’s unchanging nature and character.
Conclusion: By being ever faithful to proclaim accurately who God is (at all times), the text itself becomes unchanging in its nature (both divine and human) as well as its character (holiness).
This is what I call “the hermeneutics of God”: using the character and nature of God as the prooftext by which to assess a right view of the Scriptures. Jesus connected Himself and the Word of God in John’s Gospel when He proclaimed that He was “the truth” (Jn. 14:6) and when, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He stated “Your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). In other words, since the Scriptures reveal God, and God is truth, then the Scriptures reveal truth, and are truth themselves. The Scriptures are true not just because of what they reveal; they are also true because of who they reveal---that being Christ Himself.
So the question then becomes, “Why do systematic theology?” One does systematic theology because the Scriptures themselves reflect the character of God. In Scripture itself, do we not see Jesus using logic to refute the Pharisees (Matthew 12:22-28)? Does Jesus not proclaim consistency of character in the very same chapter (Matt. 12:33-35)? These are but two of many passages I could present showing that Jesus was logical and pointed people to a logical God, who created a logical world for humans, made in His image after His likeness (Gen. 1:26-28), to live and work in. If God is logical, and the Scriptures reveal God, then, do they not also reveal logic, as Matthew 12:22-28, 33-35 demonstrate? The Scriptures can do no other than reveal the One whom they are about. After all, is Scripture itself not “God-breathed,” the Greek translation for our English translation “inspired”(2 Tim. 3:16)?
I point all this out to say that we need to begin to look at hermeneutics as not just “something man-made,” but as a tool from the Lord to better and more aptly discern His Word. God is a consistent, logical God, so when one does systematic theology, he or she is doing that which is consistent with the Creator, Lord, and Savior who created mankind in His image, after His likeness. If we possess the likeness of God, then we should use our rational faculties when interpreting Scripture. This is what I call “the hermeneutics of God.”