Who you calling a Liberal?

Getting into a passionate debate with a fellow MB who happens to be a pastor, the issue has come up where I’m reminded that many Christians throw around the term “liberal” in the same sense that they would throw around a generic insult.  When one uses a theological term, or categorical language in general, one should be clear to understand their terms and attempt to utilize them with a clear sense of definition.

I wish people would stop using theological language inaccurately, like in this recent MB Herald article where the author suggests that in MB circles, there is a tension between Calvinism and Anabaptism.  This isn’t to pick on this author, who is a man I appreciate, but only to suggest that he seems to misuse at least one term (unless I misunderstand him, which is quite possible).  Historically speaking, the beliefs of Calvinism and Anabaptism don’t come into tension because they don’t address the same issues.  Anabaptists simply were never known for a system of soteriology.  The 5 points of Calvinism were historically a response to the 5 points of Arminianism, but not any of the beliefs of Anabaptism.  It’s true that the followers of Calvin, Luther and Zwingli opposed and even killed Anabaptists, but that historic struggle was never between the belief systems.  One can be a committed Calvinist and Anabaptist with no inconsistency, and when I read that article I re-read it several times trying to figure out what the author was meaning.  I’m still fuzzy…

…Which brings us back to where I was going with the word “liberal”.

“Liberal”, in the proper sense of the term (as I understand it), is the outworking of philosophical naturalism that:

a. Considers God’s love as his principal and dominant virtue (and tends to ignore other attributes, like his justice).

b. Considers sinners as diseased, not depraved (i.e. sick people needing to be healed, not dead people needing to be resurrected).

c. Considers Christ as the model of the ideal man (but not Yahweh).

d. Denies the penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement (and prefers the moral influence or Christus Victor theories).

e. Considers the “kingdom of God” to be a present social possibility (and hence promotes a social gospel of cultural and economic renewal).

f. Considers the Bible to be inspirational, not inspired (i.e. doubting its authority).

g. Considers the Bible to be infallible, not inerrant (i.e. doubting its truthfulness).

So, what I’m getting at is:

– People who don’t like hymns aren’t Liberals.

– People who don’t like a specific bible translation aren’t Liberals.

– People who wear jeans to church aren’t Liberals.

– People who don’t spank their kids aren’t Liberals.

– People who are dispentationalists, covenant theologians, ammillenialists, premillenialists, supersessionists, etc. aren’t Liberals.

– People who deny the existence of the rapture, or eternal suffering in hell, aren’t Liberals.

– People who deny the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, the inspiration of scripture,  and original sin are, by a proper understanding of the term, Liberals.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not Christians either, though I don’t know how you can get the gospel right if you deny its key doctrines.  If you don’t have the biblical gospel, you don’t have any gospel.  Galatians 1:6-9 is pretty clear on that:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

There’s only one true gospel, and if you don’t have it, I don’t see how you can believe it.  Maybe someone can help me out on this.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “The Armchair Gospel Pedlar” Unger


***UPDATE as of Oct. 18th*** – The author of the article I mentioned has appeared in the comment section and clarified the comments made.  Without changing the original post, I wanted to publically state that the issue is clarified and the misunderstanding was on my part.  Please refer to the comment section to properly understand the “Calvinism vs. Anabaptism” confusion.


24 thoughts on “Who you calling a Liberal?

  1. My wife was just reading that article to me, and I asked her what James meant by the tension between Calvinism and Anabaptism. I, too, have an issue with people throwing about theological terms without properly clarifying what they are meaning by them, and the longer I hang around our MB Church the more unclear these terms seem to be. Even the use of the term ‘gospel’ has become unclear. I agree with your assessment that unless you have the true gospel, you don’t really have anything at all. Myself not being a historical Mennonite, perhaps you can help me clarify something. Does the historical Anabaptist position see man as inherently good (which I think is the traditional Arminian view), or inherently bad (which I think is more Calvinistic)?
    I appreciate your time and the thought you put into your blog. Keep up the good work.

    • Well, here’s some quotes from one of the original Anabaptists, and our man (Menno Simon), that might add give you an answer:

      As Adam and Eve, then, were bitten and poisoned by the infernal serpent, and became of sinful nature, and would have been subject to eternal death if God had not again accepted them in grace through Christ Jesus, so we, their descendants, are also born of sinful nature of them, poisoned by the serpent, inclined to evil, and by inherent sin, children of hell, of the devil and everlasting death; and cannot be delivered therefrom (we speak of those who have come to years of understanding, and hence to sinful works) unless we accept Christ Jesus the only and eternal means of grace, by true and imfeigned faith, and thus conscientiously look upon the brazen serpent which is erected by God, our heavenly Father, as a sign of salvation; for without him there is no help for our souls, no reconciliation nor peace; but disgrace, wrath and eternal death can only be expected, as was said before.

      (Simon, Menno. “A Fundamental and Clear Confession of the Poor, Afflicted Christians”, The Works of Menno Simon, Volume 2, page 261).

      O Lord, thou that bearest rule, “I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me,” I am of sinful flesh; Adam’s corrupt seed has been sown in my heart, from whence so much misery has grown up. I, a miserable sinner, did not know my infirmities, so long as they were not manifested to me by the Spirit. I thought I was a christian; but when I saw rightly, I found myself, without thy word, altogether earthly, and carnal; my light was darkness, my truth was lies, my righteousness sin, my worship open idolatry, and my life, certain death.

      O dear Lord, I knew myself not till I viewed myself in thy word; then I learned to know, with Paul, my blindness, nakedness, uncleanness, depraved nature, and that nothing good dwelt in my flesh. I was full of wounds, and bruises and putrifying sores from the sole of the foot even to the head. Ah, alas! my gold was dross; my wheat, chaft: all my services were deceit and lies. I walked before thee in the flesh; my thoughts were carnal, my words and works without the fear of God: my watching and sleeping were unclean; my prayer hypocrisy. In short, I did nothing without sin.

      O Lord, remember not the sins of my youth, so often committed knowingly and unknowingly, nor my daily transgressions, of which I am guilty in my great weakness, but remember me according to I thy great goodness, I am blind, enlighten thou me; naked I am, clothe thou me; I am wounded, heal thou me; dead I am, raise me up.

      (Simon, Menno. “The Twenty-Fifth Psalm Explained by Wat of Supplication”, The Works of Menno Simon, Volume 1, page 217).

      I’d suggest that it was safe to say that he thought he was inherently sinful to the core!

      Man, I love reading Menno Simon! I wish more Mennonites had even a remote clue what he taught and believed.

      Oh, and here’s a quote that seems to deal with this completely bizarre piece of writing…and listening prayer and our general penchant for contemplative spirituality:

      Brethren, I tell you the truth and lie not. I am no Enoch, no Elias, I have no visions, am no prophet, who can teach and prophesy differently from what it is written in the word of God and whosoever tries to teach something else will soon miss the right way and be deceived in his learning. I trust that the merciful Father will keep me in his word so til at I shall write or speak nothing but that which I can prove by Moses, the prophets, the evangelists or by other apostolic Scriptures and doctrines, explained in their true sense, Spirit and intent of Christ.

      Judge ye that are spiritually minded. Again, I have no visions nor angelic inspirations, neither do I desire such, lest I be thereby deceived. The word of Christ, alone, is sufficient for me. If I do not follow his testimony, then, verily, all that I do is useless. And even if I had such visions and inspirations, which is not the case, even then it would have to be conformable to the word and Spirit of Christ, or else it would be mere fantasy, deceit and Satanic temptation.

      (Simon, Menno. “The Reason why Menno Simon Does Not Cease Teaching and Writing”, The Works of Menno Simon, Volume 2, page 248).

  2. Sorry. New to the blog thing. I guess I should keep bantering here. Don’t really know when to stop. I’m sure there are differences between Calvinism and Anabaptism in some points, so the only way to know what James was alluding to was to either have been there, or to ask for clarification.
    Based on your response from Menno Simon, his thoughts fall on neither side of the Calvinist/Arminianist debate. I guess the giveaway here may come from the second article in the debate. What was Simons’ view on the atonement, was it limited in its scope in that God selects only some (Calvinist view) or limited in its effective application in that Christ’s atonement is only potential for everyone, but selected by some (Arminian view).

    • 1. “Based on your response from Menno Simon, his thoughts fall on neither side of the Calvinist/Arminianist debate.”

      Oh? You asked “Does the historical Anabaptist position see man as inherently good (which I think is the traditional Arminian view), or inherently bad (which I think is more Calvinistic)?” and I responded by attempting to show that Menno Simon was explicit in thinking that mankind was inherently bad.

      I’m not sure why you think Menno Simon is unclear on the question you asked.

      2. In order to seriously answer the atonement question about the specific nature of the atonement, one would have to realize that the 5 articles of Remonstrance (1610) and the response of Canons of Dort (1618-1619) came a while after the death of Menno Simons (1561). Menno Simons (1496-1561) was a contemporary of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564), not Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), so to expect him to specifically address the issues of the 5 articles of Remonstrance or the 5 points of Calvinism is unrealistic.

      Early Anabaptism was unconcerned with the issues related to the particular nature of the atonement, as seen in the Schleitheim Confession. Their concerns were over baptism, church discipline, communion, holiness (manifest in separation from the world), biblically qualified ministers, pacifism, and oaths. Issues regarding the particular nature of the atonement weren’t pinging high on their radar.

      That being said, here’s some quotes from Menno that one can likely interpret any way they want:

      “Behold, beloved sirs, friends and brethren, all who believe the Gospel are those of whom the Scriptures say: To them he gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name ; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh nor of the will of man, but of God, John 1 :12, 13. They are those who by faith are justified and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God, Rom. 5:1,2. This all is of grace and love, as Paul teaches and says. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood. Rom. 3:23-25. There is none that of himself can rejoice in his faith; it is the gift of God, Eph. 2 :8.

      All who receive faith from God, receive a tree full of all manner of good and delicious fruit; happy are they who receive this gift of God, for it is more precious than gold, silver or precious stones; it is incomparable, he that obtains it, obtains Christ Jesus, forgiveness of sins, a new mind and eternal life, for the true faith, which is acceptable to God, cannot be dead; it must bring forth
      fruit, and thus manifest its nature ; it works continually in love; walks willingly in righteousness ; mortifies flesh and blood; crucifies the lusts and desires; rejoices in the cross of Christ; renews and regenerates, quickeneth, makes free and gives peace in Christ Jesus.”

      (Simon, Menno. “A Foundation and Plain Instruction of the Saving Doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ”, The Works of Menno Simon, Volume 1, page 21).

      Menno clearly believed that salvation was a sovereign and unilateral work of God, and he was quite vocal about justification being by faith alone.

      As far as predestination, he did disagree with Zwingli when he said:

      “Zuinglius formerly taught that the will of God actuated a thief to steal, a murderer to kill, and that their punishment was also brought about by the will of God; which, in my opinion, is an abomination of abominations.”

      (Simon, Menno. “A Reply to a Publication of Gellius Faber”, The Works of Menno Simon, Volume 2, page 94).

      Now, one might say that since Simon disagreed with Zwingli, he’s obviously an Arminian. I’d respond that this statement only shows a misunderstanding of Calvinism, since no Calvinist with any significant level of understanding would actually argue that God actuates sinners to sin. God permits and foreordains sin, but foreordination is not the same as actuation.

      As to whether or not Menno believed in particular redemption, I simply haven’t found sufficient information to have a strong opinion one way or another, though I imagine that he may have leaned toward Arminianism simply due to the fact that Anabaptists were murdered by Calvinist Paedobaptists. Due to that, I have a hard time imagining that Menno would have ever given any Calvinist a fair hearing.

      If you’re interested in learning more about the doctrine of particular redemption (otherwise known as limited atonement), I’d refer you to these heavyweights:

      Phil Johnson
      Francis Turretin
      J.I. Packer’s concise treatment and thorough treatment
      D.A. Carson
      Wayne Mack

  3. It is always with some chagrin that a writer discovers that he has left out a critical piece of information and thus been unclear. The missing piece in my article was specifying that the referred to debate is between the advocates Gospel Coalition [Reformed] and the MB CoF [Anabaptist]. The GC team wants orthodoxy tested by the GC Statement of Faith. Traditional MBs claim that our test is our MB CoF. This current debate is taking place in the public forum but I realize that even so, not everyone is aware of its particulars.
    I said nothing about the historic relationship between Anabaptism and Calvinism. Sorry to confuse you.

    • Wow! James Toews! I have a celebrity commenter!

      Thanks for the update on the whole confusion James. That does help clarify things a lot.

      From what you said, I’d guess that some want to promote a reformed soteriology in the MB conference. Is that close?

      I’ve always taken a reformed interpretation of the Canadian MB CoF since the document is ambiguous on issues like soteriology…it doesn’t even contain the terms “justification” or “election”.

      I’m wondering, where exactly is the percieved tension between those two statements?

      Can you possibly refer me and my readers to a place where we can learn more about this debate?

  4. Celebrity, eh? I’d better tell my mom 🙂
    So here’s my take on the BC tension- it’s less about theology than the current “hot” status of the Driscoll style New Calvinists. When push comes to show there are actually very few controversies but a great deal of bluster. As Anabaptists our control is “What do the Scriptures say?” Nothing more- nothing less. If Reformed theology can stand that test- bless it. If can not dispense with it. I suspect you would agree. The Anabaptist stream in us is extremely suspicious of systematic theology hence the normal Reformed categories can sit uncomfortably. Doesn’t mean they aren’t useful, of course. They just feel kind of platonic.
    I’m sure you are aware that MBs are a profound hybrid with all kinds of theological streams- including reformed. In other words, Reformed is not a dirty word in our denomination. There are very few clear articulations of the current tension. The BCMBs have a study conference upcoming Nov 3 which may possibly clarify things a little- but I am only moderately hopeful. So far, I am not aware that any of the papers are or will be published.
    The most articulate Reformed MB writer I am aware of is Dr John Redekop. He was a Professor of Political Scientist but is extremely well read and self identifies as Reformed Anabaptist. He was the voice of the MBH for more than 20 years.
    Hope that helps.

    • Thanks James!

      The only other commenter I’ve ever had on here who was more well known than you (possibly, though I’m not sure) was John Loftus. You’re MUCH more welcome here than him! HA!

      I appreciate the comments. I do agree that the Biblical support, as determined by the exegesis of the actual text of scripture, should determine our theology. I would definitely lean toward Reformed theology in some places (soteriology, bibliology) and not others (eschatology, covenant theology). I believe that I’ve done so out of careful examination of the text of scripture, but I’m always open to dialogue with people who want to critique my exegesis.

      I also agree that MB theology pulls from a variety of wells, and as long as there is unflinching biblical fidelity, I definitely don’t have a problem with not being fully on board one cart or another.

      Thanks for the heads up on the November study conference. I’d love to hear or read whatever is being thrown around there. I do remember reading John Redekop, but that was long enough ago that I wasn’t paying attention much to these issues.

      Any chance you’ll be at the study conference?

      • Well, “Reformed Anabaptists” shouldn’t be a strange idea since the anabaptists grew out of the reformation movement.

        Leonard Verduin calls the Anabaptists the “Radical Reformers”, who brought more social implication to the soteriological understandings of the reformers. Menno Simons fully embraced the 5 solas of the reformation, and he was very vocally against the Catholic church, though not nearly as aggressively as Martin Luther.

        Historically speaking, the Anabaptist movement was much more concerned with orthopraxy than orthodoxy, but they did emerge from the same stream as the guys who we would find at the White Horse Inn.

    • Wait…is the November 3 gathering about reformed theology (i.e. Calvinism), or the atonement?

      Now I’m really confused!

      I’ve looked on the BCMB page and it seems to suggest that there’s going to be a gathering at GracePoint Community Church to discuss the atonement. If that’s true, what does penal substitution have to do with Calvinism?

      Unless I’m mistaken, those two ideas don’t really step on each others’ toes too much. I’ve gotta be missing something here.

      • Mennoknight:

        From what I understand, it’s specifically about the Atonement.

        You’re quite right that PSA and Calvinism are two completely different animals. The very first MB confession of faith–first published in Russian in 1902–sets out the penal substitionary doctrine of the Atonement, in Article 2, Section 11 (that’s a copy of the 1917 English translation).

  5. I think the list of characteristics you provided do describe a large number of Christians with liberal theology. I went to a far left seminary of the PCUSA where only radical theology was acceptable and many of the students there seemed to have the characteristics or beliefs you have listed. They also happened to be almost entirely former evangelicals or self-described fundamentalists.

    I think of liberal theology as beginning with human experience rather than with the Bible which is what I think is the general starting point for conservative protestant theology.

    So, when I look at my theology I think I reflectively start with human experience. When one does that the Bible looks like writings created by ancient people who believed in God rather than as writings that have a more direct divine origin. At the same time, to the extent that I do believe in God, I think I do believe or sense that the words in the Bible have a divine origin or that they have a divine presence in them, that they are not just inspirational but are indeed inspired. I think it is fair to say that I read, and have always read, the Bible as myth and have always regarded myth not as fiction but as something that is divine, or connects us with God, if anything at all is divine or if there is a God.

    This make its hard to say whether my faith, what little I have, begins with scripture or with my experience of it. It is made harder for me to tell by my experience of God in nature. Again, am I beginning with my experience or with what seems to be revealed to me in nature or the creation.

    I don’t imagine that my theology is correct. I only mean to describe what it is, for better or worse.

    How do my words here sound to you?

    • Thanks for coming by Ken. You’re most welcome here!

      It’s relatively rare that I find, at least in the circles in which I travel, someone who is actually self-aware of their own theological orientation like yourself. It’s even less rare to find someone who is relatively consistently so, which it sounds like you are.

      I definitely respect the efforts to be honest and consistent. I wish many of the people who pretend to be conservative would be as honest and consistent as you are. I know more than a few people who are in an almost comical denial of where they sit, at least on the conservative-liberal spectrum.

      I guess that if what I described is what you’ve experienced in PCUSA circles, I’d say that we agree on what *proper* Liberalism is. I’d agree with you that Liberals begin their theological enterprise at the starting point of human experience, where as conservatives being their theological enterprise at the starting point of the scriptures as the word of God; divine in both origin and authorship.

      I imagine you’re likely wary of someone attacking or slandering you, but I don’t really have any interest there. If you’re wanting to throw any questions back and forth, feel free to toss some my way. I’d welcome some interaction and I’ll be as honest as I know how!

      • Yes, I think your description of liberal theology is accurate.

        Christians who have conservative theology have almost always been quite kind to me.

        When I have read the Bible with Christians who have a conservative theology I mainly notice a difference in emphasis on application of what we read to our lives. When I read the Bible, I suspend disbelief (something like Coleridge meant) and through doing that find my life in it. I think conservative Christians also find their lives in it (perhaps without the necessity of suspending so much disbelief.) I think conservative Christians also find in it, more readily perhaps than I, something like instructions for living a holy life, moral and pious instructions for life today. I notice a great emphasis among theological conservatives on finding the application of a passage to their lives in practical and specific ways. Surely, the scripture has this effect on me too, although to a lesser degree – such things go with finding one’s own life in the Bible.

        Most liberal Christians I have known hardly ever read the Bible so very few become literate in it. I had the good fortune to study it and Hebrew at the University of California in a Judaic Studies program with an exceptional, leading scholar, David Noel Freedman. And so, I spend much time reading the book that few liberals ever come to know. I love the Bible and the God it reveals. I think this is my common ground with Biblical Christians, or Christians with conservative theology. It makes me somewhat different from many others whose theology is liberal.

        I don’t mean to defend or advocate liberal theology. It is all I have ever known really. I am only describing here, as best as I can, what my own experience has been. It is probably not representative of liberal Christianity. Just my own experience.

      • Thanks for letting me know that my take on Liberalism is accurate Ken.

        I know that there’s some lurkers here who think I’m WAY out in left field on this one, so it’s funny to me to hear you agree with me since you’re self admittedly coming from the left.

        Thanks for your description of how you read the scriptures too. That makes a lot of sense to me, and I’ve found myself sitting in classes where that was the case; where people “suspend disbelief” and read the text with a desire to find themselves somewhere in the text, connecting their narrative with the narrative of the scripture or the scriptural characters.

        And you studied the Tanakh with Freedman? Wow! Was that when he was at UCSD or U Michigan or somewhere else? (I was on campus at UCSD in 2007 and that’s a beautiful campus!) That must have been amazing! I wouldn’t be on the same theological page with him, but I definitely respect him as a scholar and would have loved to sit in a classroom setting with him! I mourned his passing in 2008; he made a lot of contributions to Hebraic and Biblical studies that I reap many benefits from.

        I’m glad to hear that you actually spend time reading the scriptures. I don’t know if you follow John Shelby Spong at all, but many years ago he debated a conservative fellow (James White from Alpha and Omega Ministries) on whether homosexuality is compatible with Christianity. That was one bizarre interaction. White was asking him questions about a scripture passage and Spong basically said that he “didn’t know that passage” and basically refused to comment.

        I definitely agree with you that the Bible is the common ground for all Christians.

        I guess the questions then become simple. If you claim to love the Bile and the God it reveals, I’d only ask you:

        1. Does the Bible speak propositionally?

        What I mean is that when the Bible makes propositional statements about anything (i.e. “Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach” in Mark 1:21), are they actual concrete propositional statements or simply metaphorical statements where the referent of the metaphor is *something else*, whatever that may be?

        If the Bible doesn’t speak propositionally, I’m guessing that you’re caught in a hopeless loop of subjectivism; you basically interpret the entire Bible to mean whatever you think they should mean, with no objective grounds for anything. It seems, at least to me, that if the Bible doesn’t communicate propositionally, then you have no objective basis for even claiming to believe in God; even broad theism/deism is wishful thinking at best.

        2. If the Bible does speak propositionally, then you need to take the propositions it contains and evaluate them at face value, allowing the scripture to at least speak in it’s own defense regarding it’s nature and content.

        Either the Bible, as a whole, needs to be considered for what it actually says, or it’s to be entirely disregarded.

        I would suggest that the conservatives, at least some, attempt to read the Bible for its entire message and take it as a whole.

        I’d suggest that atheists, at least some, attempt to entirely disregard the Bible for its entire message and also disregard it as a whole.

        I’d suggest that liberals, or at least many, face the tension of the inconsistency of the middle where they attempt to take some of the propositions of scripture (i.e. the historic existence of Jesus Christ, or the sheer existence of God) and disregard other propositions of scripture (i.e. the claims that Christ made about himself in the scripture).

        I know that this opens up colossal doors related to historicity and whatnot, but I’d suggest that conservatives eat the cake, atheists toss the cake, and liberals tend to try to only eat the frosting.

  6. I studied at UCSD with David Noel Freedman.

    I am not accustomed to the term “propositionally” but it sounds like the way I read the Bible. I don’t demythologize, or try not to. Neither did Noel. I try to understand what it is saying. I think I have a greater problem with determining how it applies to our lives than with determining what it says. If I demythologize, it happens when I get to applications. But mostly I think I just read the scripture in a lectio divina way and I don’t demythologize. In addition, I would say that I don’t spend much effort trying to determine the application (which I think is part of what you mean by “eating the cake.”

    I imagine that you do try to read the Bible for its entire message, as a whole. I don’t have that impression of all conservatives. I have met a few that might say pick and choose. For example, I have seen conservative Christians skip passages where they could not immediately discern an application. Do you notice that too?

    • Oh yeah. For sure. I notice that a ton. I see plenty of people looking doing that with around 98% of the Old Testament.

      In the circles in which I travel, I pretty much get a headache whenever I hear people citing 2 Chronicles 7:14 or Jeremiah 29:11 as a “This is what God is speaking to the Church”. There’s around 20-30 verses in the OT that continually get abused like that, with people ripping those verses out of their context and blindly applying them to whatever circumstance or organization they are currently involved with.

      In another comment thread on here, I was engaging a fellow on this very subject where he seemed to suggest that the Old Testament was good for learning some general things about God and gaining some moral direction. I asked him how he would apply a passage like Leviticus 19:19 to his life, and he didn’t have a response for me.

      So, how do I attempt to apply something?

      Well, here’s my general process:

      1. Read the text in all its circles of context (historical, grammatical, literary, etc.)

      2. Attempt to understand the single intended meaning of the passage; what the original audience would have understood the passage to mean in their specific context.

      3. From that singular meaning, extract the universal truth.

      4. Apply that universal truth to my life (in whatever way).

      So, I’ll pull one off the top of my head…(Not having done exegesis, this is simply a hypothetical example that I wouldn’t offer as anything beyond a general example)…Let’s try this with Leviticus 19:19.

      For Leviticus 19:19, I’d basically say that since Lev. 19:1 sets up that the chapter is talking about holiness, and I understand from the broader context of the chapter that Lev. 19 is outlining what holiness looks like in numerous ways, then 19:19 shows me that holiness means being “set apart” by obedience to God’s commands (clause 1) in specific ways including how you work (clauses 2-3) and how your dress (clause 4).

      The universal truth that I’d pull out of here is that believers need to be “set apart” in every area of their life; public and private, major and minor, specifically in the realms of work and appearance. Obedience to God doesn’t stop with simply “not murdering” or “not stealing” but moves far beyond that.

      The application to this would be to examine my work and appearance for where I’m not consciously living in obedience to the Lord, or where I’m not consciously making efforts to reflect God’s holiness.

      This would mean things like examining how I live in obedience to Colossians 3:22-24 and submit to my employer/supervisor.

      This would mean making efforts to reflect God’s holiness with how I am an exemplary employee and show up for work on time.

      Doh. I’ve got a lot of applications to make already.

  7. Yes, the Bible confronts us and teaches us how to live. It draws out.

    One scholar that has enhanced my appreciation of this is Mircea Eliade, although indirectly. Have you read him?

    A Bible scholar that has written about this is James Kugel (of Harvard) in How to Read the Bible.

    Both work from a liberal beginning, and yet their writings are compatible with others who work from a conservative beginning.

    • Mircea Eliade? No. I’m unfamiliar with him.

      James Kugel? I’ve heard of him, but I don’t remember him.

      I’ll do what I can to find “How to read the Bible” by Kugel.

      I’d lean toward something like Bernard Ramm’s “Protestant Biblical Interpretation”, Kaiser and Silva’s “Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics”, Robert L. Thomas’ “Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus the Old”, or Roy Zuck’s “Basic Bible Interpretation”.

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