Frequently Asked Questions:
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I. Defining Redemptive Historical Interpretation
Redemptive History* as a hermeneutic* focuses on the progressive self-revelation of God to His covenant* people through the vehicle of history. God is the sovereign Beginning and End of all things both in this world below and in heaven above. All things have a direction toward the consummation of God's good purposes. The culmination of the ages is the manifestation of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, first in humiliation to accomplish God's eternal redemption and finally in glory to consummate the Kingdom of God. To these fullnesses of time God orchestrates all of history leading up. He foreshadows and alludes the consolation of Israel throughout the Old Testament. Redemption accomplished in history, heaven having intruded the lower regions of the earth, Jesus Christ reigns having fulfilled the Old Testament types and shadows. The church in the kingdom age like the nation of Israel before, is the nation of choice through which God has delighted to bless all the nations of the world. He has invested her with the means of grace, and they can be found no where else. She is a light to the nations. She is the heir and seat of the covenant promises and blessings. She is the new covenant historical manifestation of God's righteous kingdom. As redemptive historians we attempt to approach the Scriptures as the progressive self-disclosure of God. All of the Scriptures point to the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, become flesh. And all of the Scriptures need to be interpreted in light of His historical work, death, resurrection, and ascension.
Does RH hold to the absolute authority of the Scriptures and their authors?
1. Scripture is not a matter of subjective interpretation, but of Divine authorship and intention.
The Bible is not a simplistic document. It was written by God Himself and is as perfect, transcendent, and immediate as it's Author. Scripture is a living, powerful sword, and as a living book it is relevant to every generation. Scripture interprets Scripture. It is the history of God's self-revelation to His covenant people, and as such is progressive. Each new revelation sheds light on the old, and reveals the unity of God's purpose for His creation, the redemption of His eternally beloved and chosen people in His Christ. As such we believe that the Bible is the story of Christ and His covenant redemption from beginning to end. In each passage we find ourselves by design of the Author in our historical context in the ends of the ages. Therefore when we approach Scripture we look for God's authoritative word for us, through understanding His word to the immediate audience in light of subsequent revelaiton. Because God is sovereign we recognize the consistency of His workings in history graciously foreshadowing and anticipating or looking back and building upon the accomplished redemption in Christ Jesus in order to direct our attention and affections to Him and His kingdom. We who have the Holy Spirit, who searches the deep things of God, those things which angels and saints have longed to look into, can discern the authoritative message of salvation contained in the Old and New Testaments, having the light of Christ shined upon our hearts.
We read the Bible for its meaning as we would read any other book. We recognize God's mastery of language with all of its literary schemes, tropes, and devices. We do this out of honor for the Author, in order to get at His authorial intent for us His readers. When we recognize in a passage the intricate patterns and types, we are to test them against the rest of Scripture. The study of God's word demands every ounce of our mind, soul, heart, and strength. And we endeavor such a task with humility and reliance on the Holy Spirit in order to search out the unsearchable riches of Christ Jesus. We take confidence that in doing we can and will discover the intended truth of God's self-revelation in the text, knowing that God is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him.
2. What is the relationship between the historical human authors' intended meaning and their own understanding and eternal God's intention?
What's the difference between OT authors and the NT authors?
Because revelation is progressive, NT authors have "more to go on." Revelation is also organic in nature, which means that while NT authors can understand more fully the revelations of prior ages, that the substance is uniform and comprehensive in all stages, though not fully developed. NT authors pick up on the themes of the OT and expound upon them in light of Christ, for Christ Himself said, "The Scriptures testified of Me." After His resurrection Christ's own preaching was distictly redemptive historical, "opening the disciples' minds to understand all that the Scriptures," from Moses to the psalms to the prophets, "all the things concerning Himself, demonstrating that it was necessary for the Christ to die and the gospel of repentance to be preached to all nations." This fuller understanding in the new is only half the picture. The fuller understanding of the facts of God's redemptive purposes for history is a product of a fuller personal knowledge of God Himself. This fuller knowledge of God is communicated in the events of redemptive history themselves. God did not send a mere ambassador to teach the concepts of His transcendent kingdom, He Himself came, in the person of the eternal Son, bringing the kingdom of God which He announced. To know Christ is to know God. And to know God and Jesus Christ whom He sent is eternal life.
1. With respect to the advent of the Messiah?
What the OT authors beheld dimly as through a mirror, the NT authors beheld face to face in their incarnate and risen Lord. The OT revelation was comprised of forms and shadows, types and prophetic symbols, and event-parables pointing to the reality in God. Thus Christ could say to the Pharisees, "Had you believed Moses, you would have believed Me: for he wrote concerning Me." Yet the nature of prophesy is to be a stumbling block, just as Christ spoke in parables saying, "To them it is not given to understand the mysteries of the kingdom." The coming of Jesus Christ we are told was "the revelation of a mystery." God in the OT provided clues, and makes those clues evident to those whom He wills by His Spirit while leaving the veil of hard-heartedness over other's eyes, "lest they should see and believe and turn from their sins."
2. With respect to their understanding of God's promises?
All of God's promises, Paul tells us, are "yes" in Christ and "amen" in us through Him. What the OT faithful looked forward to in anticipation and shadowy worship we in the NT age look back upon with recognition and face-to-face worship. For them the promises of God were reasons for hope, the consolation of Israel, the fullness of time, and the coming of the kingdom. For us they are causes for assurance of God's sovereignty and good will toward men upon whom His favor rests. In the NT, though, we have further promises, whose fulfillment we, too, anticipate in our worship, the resurrection of the body, the last judgment, and the end of the world. The OT faithful who were favored by God were given special wisdom to recognize the fulfillment of the prophesies in the types and shadows, and they trusted in the living and true God who foreshadowed His redemption in precedential mighty acts of deliverance and restoration. Nevertheless, they died without receiving the promise, but having seen them afar off, were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth, the writer to the Hebrews tells us. They sought a better country, that is a heavenly one, wherefore God was not ashamed to be called their God. For He has prepared for them a city. The new covenant of which we are members in Christ is based on better promises even as Christ our Mediator is a better mediator than Moses, and we have a greater Surety.
3. With respect to service to the church?
The human authors of both the Old and New Testaments worshipped the same God, were saved by faith in the same Christ, and were part of the same organic covenant body. The worship of God in the OT was reserved for the particular nation of Israel. Israel was the OT church. God's covenant revelation was given to them as an exclusive possession. In that way Israel was a type of the NT church. The service of the children of Israel to the OT church was centralized theocratically and physically around the tabernacle and later the temple. God's covenant law dictated the intricate sacrificial system of Israel's service which was to be a witness to them of the provisional character of their covenant. The writers of the OT were inspired by the Holy Spirit the same as the NT writers, serving as God's mouthpieces or emisaries to His people, both in covenant lawsuits and in covenant favors. They were instruments of God's progressive self-revelation.
4. With respect to the context of revelation?
The context of special revelation and the context of history cannot be separated, because history is the vehicle of God's choice by which He has revealed Himself to His people. This developmental nature of revelation unfolds in epochs defined by the giving of progressive and increasingly exclusive covenants to historical human figures who served as types and covenant-heads. Each covenant revealed some further aspects of Christ's historical covenant work and mediation, and each provided a further revelation of the eternal purpose of God and the covenant of redemption within the Godhead. Thus the events themselves became not only landmarks and sign-markers, but prophesies in themselves. By recognizing our own redemptive historical context paralleled in revealed covenant-history, we are enabled to hear the warnings and promises of God for ourselves as we find ourselves more and more in the text of God's word.
What's the difference between the "absolutistic" and "theologistic" positions?
1. absolutistic (Apostles as divinely
instituted authorities, official heralds of the King of Kings):
"because the Apostle says so. End of story"
2. theologistic (Apostles as theologians): Apostles interpret event and word in light of the gospel event and its completion, the end of the world.
There are aspects of both in our approach to NT revelation. The revelation of Scripture preserved for us from the mouths of the apostles is inerrant; not because they were apostles, but because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Even the apostles were fallible and needed correction from the other apostles from time to time. The danger of taking #1 alone is that it leads us into a position on the inspiration of Scripture that engages the human authors merely in secretarial dictation mechanically driven. Thus, it tends to downplay the continuity of the Holy Spirit's work in opening the Scriptures to believers according to the same mind in which Apostles understood the scriptures. The danger of taking #2 alone is that it can be used as an excuse to do our own theologizing which might contradict with the apostles' inerrant theology.
As redemptive-historians we believe that the apostles were inspired theologians who interpreted the OT christologically and eschatologically, in light of the finished and accomplished work of Jesus. They set forth a pattern of interpretation which is to govern how the church subsequently approaches all of Scripture. Paul commands us to build has he built, which leads us to understand that the Holy Spirit expects us to recognize and pattern our own theologizing after the apostles' as they patterned their own after Christ's. While no human authors after the apostles are inerrant in their theology, the Holy Spirit does indeed participates His church in the steady growth and realization of the established canon of doctrine according to the fullness and maturity we have in Christ our Head (Eph 2:20-22, 4:11-16).
What is interpretive maximalism and how does it relate to Biblical theology?
Interpretive maximalism is a label which has been attached to many modern exegetes, some of whom we do not desire to have ourselves associated with. In literary terms, maximalism means that the author has invested the overall plot-line into each character, chapter, section, and image of his book. In this technical sense, we consider ourselves interpretive maximalists, and that God is the primary Author. Because we believe that revelation is organic, we maintain that the history of redemption is intentionally revealed in every passage and faithful figure of Scripture, often both positively and negatively, and often necessarily with overlap; though in the earlier characters and sections, it is less distiguishable in all of its multiformity. For example, in Genesis three when God clothes Adam with the skin of a sacrificed animal to cover his shame, we recognize God's foreshadowing of the redemption to be accomplished by Christ. Even in Genesis one, on the first day, when God calls the light out of the darkness and separates them, the last day of history is foreshadowed. Subsequent revelation including NT authors and Jesus Himself solidify these interpretations in 1 Pet 2:9, 1 Thes 5:5; 2 Cor 5:2-3; Rev 16:15.
II. History of Redemptive Historical Hermeneutic
For information on the history of redemptive historical biblical theology, listen to the following insightful lectures from the 1999 Kerux conference:
|Scott Sanborn||Biblical Theology and the Reformed Tradition|
|William Dennison||Biblical Theology and the Enlightenment|
III. Speculative Nature of Redemptive Historical Hermeneutics
Does the redemptive-historical method lack methodology?
No. One of our favorite redemptive-historical exegete and pastor described his exegetical methodology thusly:
Broadly speaking, the covenant governs my approach to Scriptures when writing a sermon. Covenantally, God has redeemed to Himself a people in and through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ, that one who stands at the center of the Scripture as the Lord an d Servant of the Covenant who has come in time to save His people from their sins. As I preach Christ, my goal from the text itself is to proclaim to the congregation what Christ has done for them in the history of redemption so that their life is found in Him, and then what that means for them in terms of their obedience to Him a their Lord. Concerning the governing principles of writing a sermon, if I am preaching through a book, I try to establish the relationship of the text to its immediate context in the particular book in view. Expanding from the immediat e context, I next try to place it within the context of other canonical books by the same author. Lastly, I attempt to place it within the context of the testament in which it is found and then to the Bible as a whole.
Having established the context, my desire is to dig into the text to see its particular redemptive significance to the people of God. As the entire Bible speaks of Christ, each text brings an uniqueness to that witness of God's redemptive activity in history. It is my goal, then, to preach Christ and Him crucified to the people as He is revealed for our salvation from Genesis to Revelation.
Did Jesus and the Apostles interpret Scripture redemptive-historically?
Yes. They interpreted previous revelation with peculiar sensitivity to the organic progress of covenant revelation, aware of their role in it and conscious of their own redemptive-historical context as those upon whom the ends of the aeons had come.
Has God given us a license and ability to interpret Scripture in this manner?
Yes. God has commanded us to read His word responsibly, and the method with which the apostles, the heads of the church, interpreted Scripture is our divinely appointed model. God has given us more than a license to interpret Scripture in this manner; He has given us the precedent and pattern, and through His servants the command.
Is the redemptive historical method falsifiable? Can it be tested? maximalism?
Yes, and it often has been. There are
liberals in the redemptive-historical camp just as in any other.
Yes, by Scripture itself alone.
Yes, it is often misapplied and misinterpreted.
Can a verse have multiple meanings?
Trick question. A passage can have multiple lights in which it must be read in order to understand its meaning, but it has only the rich meaning with which God Himself has invested it. A passage might be like a wheel with many spokes, but they cannot be separated from the hub which is Christ, around which they rotate, and in contact with, they are to be appreciated.
Is creativity an allowable faculty for interpretation?
Yes. God has given us creative faculties with the intent that we use them when interpreting His word. We are made in the image of the Creator, and we need our creativity to understand His revelation. Creativity must be in submission to God's word.
IV. Progress in Theology
What is God's plan and purpose for theology?
"Theology is taught by God, teaches God, and leads to God." God's purpose for theology is the gathering of His elect people from every tongue tribe and nation into one new man in Christ by the resurrection of the dead to share uniterrupted and uncompromisable fellowship with Him for all eternity in perfect and perpetual worship and fullness of joy. In short the purpose of theology is the knowledge of God by His people, even as they are known by Him.
Is it possible for us to understand revelation, more completely than:
2. The Apostles?
3. The early church?
4. The OT saints?
5. The OT prophets?
Yes and no. The OT prophets had direct revelation given to them. In that sense we are not given to know like they knew. But we are to endeavor in our study of the prophets to try to discover the meaning of their oracles. In another sense, however, we are told that the prophets made earnest search into the things which would happen in the future. What they saw, they saw dimly, and thus they reported cryptically. But we know these things better than they. Not only that but even the least of the kingdom of God is greater than the greatest of the OT prophets, John the Baptist.
V. Systematic Questions
1. What is the relationship between Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology?
2. What is the relationship between Biblical Theology and Practical Theology?
Indicative And/Or Imperative?
The Cultural Mandate And/Or Christian obligation in creation-spheres?
(w/ Common Grace and interaction with Unbelievers)
3. What place does Wisdom literature have in Redemptive History?
VI. Hermeneutical Systems
Hermeneutics is a technical term derived from the Greek nrmeneu=ti/koj (hermeneutikos) meaning "the science of interpretation," and "especially the branch of theology dealing with the principles of exegesis." (Webster's New World Dictionary) A hermeneutical system refers to the tools we employ for interpreting text, especially Biblical text.
Define other systems and list their pros and cons.
There are many many hermeneutical systems for approaching Scripture even within the reformed sola scriptura camp. At the heart is the question, "How does God intend for us to read His word?" How we answer this question will determine how we approach Scripture. Most hermeneutical system attempts to align all of Scripture under one central theme: i.e. the covenant, God's eternal character, Jesus Christ, ethics, etc. And each system of interpretation has its unique justification of the relation between the Old and New Testaments. Below are a list of a few hermeneutical systems:
1. Fundamentalistic dispensationalism claims that there is basically no continuity between OT Israel and NT Church. The way God deals with people completely changes with every subsequent age. Because of this there is a radical distinction between the uniform wisdom of God's historical events/covenants and the ordo salutis.
Pros: Sensitive to differences in the
covenants. Typically stresses biblical inerrancy.
Cons: 1) Holds the naive (and ultimately subjective) hermeneutic that "the bible means what it says." (eg. insensitive to rhetorical forms and literary devices in Scripture.) 2) Man's covenant failures are seen to frustrate God's plan(s) and redemptive programme(s) (with no genetic relationship between faith and God's grace in Jesus since Gen 3:15). 3) Truncates gramatico-historical considernations with a literalism which becomes the ultimate interpreter of God's promises. (ie. doesn't allow new revelation to interpret everything in a new light, and implies OT faith only desired earthly glory). 4) The ancient text applies by means of application of 'eternal principles' stripped from the concrete covenant events of God in history.
2. The grammatico-historical approach claims that what the human author's intended for their original audience is what God was saying to all readers in every age. (i. e. put yourself in their shoes)
Pros: Emphasis on the original texts and
Cons: 1) De-emphasizes Christ's accomplised work and the progressive nature of revelation. 2) Becomes a virtual invitation to autonomy when the original cultural setting is unfamiliar to the modern reader.
3. The covenant-historical approach is based on the presupposition that God works through progressive covenants which reflect His eternal covenant nature and purpose of redemption.
Pros: Provides for continuity /
discontinuity well in administrations of history
Cons: 1) proper understanding of the covenant pre-requisite (can be misapplied), 2) often lacks in eschatological glory, leading to an impoverished eschatological hope, and 3) therefore a bankrupt (non-heavenly) theology of ethics.
4. The redemptive-historical approach maintains that history is the vehicle by which God progressively reveals his sovereign purpose of redemption. Redemption in Jesus Christ and His eschatological kingdom is the hauptthema of all of God's word.
Pros: Incorporates the good stuff from
covenant-redemptive and grammatico-historical plus an emphasis on
the prophetic (or eschatological) aspects of the events of sacred
history and the Christological nature of revelation.
Cons: Often appealed to in an excuse for antinomianism
5. The "analytical" approach is what we call the "pick-and-choose-what-applies-today" approach. i.e. some of it is still imperative, some of it is merely worth while, and some of it is passe.
Pros: It all depends on what is taken and
what is left.
Cons: Autonymous reason usurps Sola Scriptura as authority
6. Finally, then there's the strict mono-dispensational view which is reactionary against the dispensational view and maintains that because there is one eternal deity that nothing He says is tempered by historical context, because for Him there is no such thing as historical context.
Pros: Strong emphasis on the character of
Cons: 1) Weak emphasis on redemptive and covenant contexts. 2) Thus the character of God is seldom redemptive, and that leads to 3) moralism and legalism (and often antagonism).
VII. Theories of Reading the Text
1. Major critical approaches to Scripture
2. Major literary approaches to Scripture
3. Inerrancy and Harmonization Issues
4. "In the Text"?
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