Leadership’s Hermeutics Quiz: Why I don’t like being a liberal

At Out of Ur yesterday, they have a post on a hermeneutics quiz crafted by Scot McKnight. Scot devised a “hermeneutics quiz” for Leadership that aimed at teasing out the hermeneutical stance of the person taking the quiz. With typical Scot McKnight genius (and I mean that), he takes some very sophisticated isues and makes them palatable for us practicioners. Several were asked to take the quiz and respond to their scores. I scored a 67 which placed me into the progressive (liberal?) category (just barely). My response reads as follows (you can read more here).


I find myself unhappy with my score on the quiz because it labels me a “progressive” (but just barely). I am unhappy because a progressive is described as a person who doesn’t believe in the plain and literal meaning of the text. Yet I certainly do. I just don’t believe the plain meaning is always immediately evident to each individual reading the text all by him/herself (and this includes even the most brilliant historical critical exegetes among us). Indeed that plain meaning is best preserved through the ongoing community of the church carrying out its apostolic task to faithfully transmit the gospel both in the community’s preaching and its living. If that makes me a progressive, so be it.

I also must protest that seeing the Bible as “historically shaped and culturally conditioned” somehow makes me a progressive. For there is no more conservative view than believing in the incarnational nature of the gospel that has come in the particular person of Jesus Christ. This means that Truth necessarily comes via history and culture. The fact that I believe this should make me a raving lunatic conservative in these times where everyone wants to find God in the universal. All in all, I enjoyed taking this quiz and I say thanks to Scot. But I still wonder, how can this quiz help evangelicals escape the hermeneutical categories (of modernity) that individualize and dehistoricize the ways we seek to interpret Scripture?

After thinking further about this, I think this quiz might reveal how much we need different categories for understanding hermeneutics for the days that lie ahead. Scot describes how “conservative” means holding to a literal, plain reading of the text. “If the Bible says it, that settles it.” He then describes how “progressive” refers to those who see the Bible “as historically shaped and culturally conditioned” …”one must interpret what the Bible said in its day and discern its pattern for revelation in order to apply it to our world.” Scot is not trying to be exhaustive nor could he be exhaustive. Yet one should still notice that there is no real positioning for someone who believes in both of the above as they are worked out in a community (an ongoing tradition). And both positions seemingly ignore the ways the text, the living Word, shapes the reader/hearer and how indeed our meanings are changed in the reading/hearing? Hans Frei famously advocated a plain literal reading of the text within the ongong community (Theology and Narrative ch.4.). Ricoeur advocated the unfolding of the reality in front of the text (Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences ch.4). I might be wrong here, but both Frei and Ricoeur in many ways cannot be put into either of the two McKnight categories.

This may be short changing McKnight and really what he has accomplished in this provocative quiz of his. I am sure no one could devise a quiz where Frei and Ricoeur could find their place. The quiz is meant to be heuristic. It certainly is causing me to reflect again on this subject. As I reflect, it seems to me that the orthodox gospel truth we bear is best preserved by the church’s living tradition (Narrative) as inextricably linked to the canon in carrying on the truth of God revealed in Christ for all the ages. It is not best preserved and carried on by individuals relying on individual skills of interpretation, for here it is more often distorted. It is not best preserved and carried on by individuals wielding historical critical exegesis although this has its place. For this often promotes interminable conflict in the churches because we have not learned to read Scripture together in courage and humility. We need further categories that evangelicals haven’t acquired yet. And this is why we need to thank Scot McKnight for writing this quiz and raising these questions. Thanks Scot!

What do you think about the categories of progressive (liberal) versus conservative in the evangelical church when it comes to interpreting the Bible? Where do they fall short? Did you take the quiz? Do your score fit?

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