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Theology > Jesus > Introductory Considerations > Basic Methodology 


The Enlightenment effectively challenged and converted the prevailing mindset that had dominated western culture from the early Christian centuries through the Reformation: reason replaced Revelation, science replaced the supernatural, the present replaced the future, and the focus upon God was transformed into a focus upon man. Deism supplanted Theism, and God in the historic Christian sense, along with His Revelation, was rejected. A modern mentality developed:

The modern consciousness starts out—does it not?—with the absolute causal categories of nature, categories by which the possibility of supernatural entities or of miracles is excluded (G. C. Berkouwer, The Person of Christ, 12).

Coupled with the above and as an outgrowth of the same, a new hermeneutic, the historical-critical method, appeared in the writings of professed believers, with its accompanying literary criticism. The Scriptures were no longer treated as a supernatural book but as a document on the order of any other compilation that has come down from early man.

With such an intellectual transformation the stage was set for the demotion of the Scriptures to the status of a commonplace ancient manuscript. Lost was the authority of the Scriptures with their Divine Revelation, and in its place was enthroned human reason as the final and sole arbiter of knowledge. And this made possible the many subjective reformulations of the person and work of Jesus Christ that began to appear and multiply.

Initially Christian writers totally rejected the new perspective with its secular assumptions and its rejection of the principles of orthodoxy. The premises were deemed to be incompatible with the Christian faith, and the entire movement was judged to be antithetical to Christianity. But slowly this was to change.

Over time and in varying degrees conservative scholars incorporated the tenets and implications of this new thinking. The very principles that had been rejected became the vehicle by which the Christian faith was investigated and interpreted. In the ensuing process the Christian Faith was eviscerated and left with hardly a skeleton, revealing that presuppositions determine methodology and methodology impacts the consequent results.

Such direct and indirect attacks on the Scriptures were advanced by scholars under the guise of a so-called objectivity, with no deliberate viciousness toward the Scriptures intended, especially by Christian scholars, but simply, as they claimed, it was an attempt to understand the origin of the Scriptures and thus enhance their significance to modern man. But the entire process was and is predicated on a false assumption.

Objectivity in the study of Scripture is an impossibility; each student comes with a view, a worldview, a determined set of presuppositions. And this perspective affects and determines the approach to the Scriptures, as well as the interpretation give to the Scriptures. To think otherwise is to be self-deceived. Objectivity is an elusive ideal.

It should be brought our clearly that in scientific analysis Christ cannot be made the “object” of a neutral interest (G. C. Berkouwer, The Person of Christ, 11).

If objectivity is a figment of human imagination, then what should be the appropriate and self-confessed bias one brings to the study of Scripture? It can be argued that the approach in the study of Scripture should be the approach called for in Scripture—and that approach is faith.

The student does not come with a so-called objectivity seeking to establish something of normative value by using his reason to determine accuracy and therefore value in the Scriptures, but opens Scripture with a bias, a pre-disposition, a belief that accepts the entire content of Scripture as normative.

If one’s view of history is such that one cannot acknowledge divine intervention in history through deed and word, then one is unable to deal adequately and properly with the testimony of Scripture. We are, therefore, led to conclude that the crisis respecting history in the OT and NT theology does not result from the scientific study of the evidences, but stems from the historical-critical method’s own crisis and its inadequacy to deal with the role of transcendence in history due to philosophical premises about the nature of history. If the reality of the Biblical text testifies to a supra-historical dimension which transcends the self-imposed limitations of the historical-critical method, then one must employ a method that can account for this dimension and can probe into all the layers of depth of historical experience and deal adequately and properly with the Scripture’s claim to truth (G Hasel, NT Theology: Basic Issues, 211).

The words of Adolf Schlatter are correct:

The word with which the New Testament confronts us intends to be believed, and so rules out once and for all any sort of neutral treatment. As soon as the historian sets aside or brackets the question of faith, he is making his concern with the New Testament and his presentation of it into a radical and total polemic against it (quote is in G Hasel, NT Theology: Basic Issues, 41-42).

Following is a statement of the perspective that should characterizes the study of the New Testament:

To understand the words and deeds of Christ the individual must be a believer.

To understand the words and deeds of Christ the reader must approach the Text with confidence. Doubt does not open the Scriptures to the reader. The record of the words and deeds of Christ is accurate and literal in the sense that it is true history, the words were spoken and the deeds were performed. This must be accepted.

To understand the New Testament the reader must have enlightenment from the Holy Spirit, who initiates and maintains faith.

To understand Truth one must be embraced by Truth and this is the work of the Spirit.

The New Testament must be read from a Christological and Eschatological perspective.

The New Testament must be interpreted in terms of the Old Testament.

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