Developing a 2020 Vision for the Church:
Bible Interpretation

by Dr. Bob Young
Thanksgiving 2017

Note: On the first Sunday of January 2000, I presented in a combined adult Bible class a list of items to be thoughtfully addressed if the church were to be a viable voice in the new millennium. I was asked to expand the list from that Bible class presentation into a series of bulletin articles. Those articles are still available on this website: Foundations Series.
Almost 20 years later, it is definitely time for a rewrite. The question is still valid: how can the church be a viable voice in the contemporary world? What questions must we address? What understandings are essential for Christianity to survive and thrive in the world we know today? This new series is again being written as articles, but it is expected that the articles will also be useful as outlines for sermon series or seminar presentations.
In this new series, I write to set forth a 20/20 vision, so that we might see more clearly, and to set a goal to be accomplished by the year 2020. The next two years will fly by quickly. Will the church learn anything from what it has experienced? Can the apparent decline in Christianity be reversed? Will the church find renewed strength and resolve to present God's truth with boldness, daring, and sensitivity so that a new generations of Christians learn to live in the world without becoming worldly, to understand the call to unity and diversity, to renew the mission so the primary message is always one of eternal hope? Now is the time to begin working toward the reality God desires for his people.


| Introduction | #1: Truth | #2: Bible Inspiration | #3: Bible Interpretation | #4: Church | #5: Unity | #6: Worldliness | #7: Christian Experience | #8: Mission | #9: Hope | #10: Human Nature | #11: Christian Living |


Time for a brief review. Three areas are basic--Bible knowledge focused on truth, Bible inspiration, Bible interpretation. The church, indeed every individual Christian, must understand the Bible. We Christians must continually seek to increase our Bible knowledge. In our post-modern world, we must not only know what the Bible says, we must be ready to ask questions, study, learn, and defend the nature of truth, the nature of Scripture, and the relationship of Scripture to human thought. Second, the church must understand biblical inspiration.

Then, a third challenge related to how the church should understand and use the Bible concerns biblical interpretation. As noted in the previous studies, extremes exist at either end of a polarity. The tendency is either to overemphasize what the text meant in the first century with virtually no application in the contemporary world, or to overemphasize what the text means today to that the original intent and message of the author is all but lost.
Some are afraid of the word interpretation, thinking that any interpretation becomes a merely human endeavor. When Jesus used a word, for instance rabbi, and said that the word being interpreted is teacher, he was merely translating. In fact, the Greek word hermeneuo can be translated as to translate. My point in this brief detour is to show that the process of literary and grammatical analysis of a text so that it is understood may be a human process, but that does mean that it is an impossible process. Literature can be understood precisely because there are interpretive (hermeneutical) rules, and the Bible can likewise be interpreted and understood. Let us not let a small quantity of difficult texts cloud our thinking so that God's truth no longer exists, or that God's truth can never be understood by human beings.

The temptation of our Restoration heritage has generally been to suppose that we can apply the biblical text directly to our lives and our situations as if it had been written primarily for us. Such too easily ignores the cultural chasm between the biblical world and the contemporary world. How does one reconcile "what it meant" with "what it means"? How and where do the "then" and "now" meet? How does one honor the intent, purpose, and message of the original author with appropriate applications in the contemporary world? We must continually struggle with the task of cultural transposition, identifying the essential message of the text, detaching it from its original cultural context while retaining the essential elements of the message, then applying it in our own present situation.

In this process, the church must understand the history of the hermeneutic struggle--literal interpretation vs. allegorical interpretation. The church must understand that the "New Hermeneutic" as originally conceived is now almost 100 years old. With an old phrase experiencing constant revivification so that it is applied to a wide variety of interpretive models, one must avoid pointing fingers and tossing accusations carelessly. In fact, some use the phrase "new hermeneutic" to apply to any interpretive model they do not understand or accept. Some, for lack of understanding, would even call Paul's model a "new hermeneutic." The church must also insure that Scripture stands over and evaluates culture, not the reverse. Culture never takes precedence over Scripture. In the process of interpreting and applying Scripture, the first consideration is not what the culture wants, demands, or needs, but what is the essence of the message from God.

The church must renew its efforts to read and know the Scriptures so that we can more easily read, interpret, understand, and apply the message of Scripture accurately in our world.

Go to Articles Index

Return to Home Page
Last updated November 23, 2017