Tuesday, February 12, 2008

These aren't the doctrines you're looking for

Whether done in sincere ignorance, that shows itself willing to be corrected, or out of perverted sincerity that counts what is heterodox as the very truth of God, wrong doctrines can be read out of the text of Scripture. The guilt, when this happens, to quote Hilary of Poitiers, is that of the expositor not of the text.

This can happen when we see the right doctrine in the wrong text. It also happens, with graver consequences and indicating troublesome presuppositons, when we see the wrong doctrine in the text altogether. This problem is exacerbated when the hermenutical method being employed forces Scripture to say, or to say in a certain way, what we are looking for.

A predetermined approach, built on the foundation of certain non-negotiable beliefs that are not derived from special revelation, will always force specific conclusions to be drawn from the data of Scripture. John Wesley's approach to the Bible's teaching on predestination was, strangely, predetermined to reach definite restricted outcomes. Whatever the Bible taught, he thought, it could not teach this. No amount of evidence then would make any difference. To quote, in a modified way, Obi Wan Kenobi "these are not the orthodox doctrines that you are looking for."

William Cunningham made this insightful observation on the matter:
...it is very common for men, even when professing to be simply investigating the meaning of Scriptural statements, to be greatly, if not chiefly, influenced by certain previous notion of a general kind, which whether upon good grounds or not, they have been led to form, as to what Scripture does say, or should say; and is thus fitted to impress upon us the important lesson, that if we would escape the guilt of distorting and perverting the whole word of God, and of misunderstanding the whole scheme of salvation, we must be very careful to derive all our views, upon matters of religious doctrine, from the sacred Scripture, in place of getting them from some other source, and then bringing them to it, and virtually employing them, more or less openly and palpably, to overrule its authority, and to pervert its meaning.
William Cunningham, Historical Theology, p. 240-1

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