Several weeks ago I posted on the National Baptist Fellowship which was being held in Brisbane at that time. Along with my rejoicing in some of the blessings of my distanced participation in the meetings (via live streaming), I also made a few critical comments.

I explained then that I was doing so in the spirit of trying to open up discussion and interaction on issues that affect Australian Independent Baptists and indeed all Australian Fundamentalists. I was pleased to see that happen at some level. However, the feedback I’ve received suggests that many did not understand the basis of my concerns.

In order to give a clearer picture of my concerns with “pre-applied messages” and “enculturation,” I wanted to briefly set out a framework for understanding the Christian Scriptures. My thinking it this area has been greatly benefited by the ministry of Dr. Tim Jordan, chancellor of Calvary Baptist Seminary.

Three elements

There are three separate elements in understanding the Scriptures: theology, philosophy, and methodology. For the purposes of this framework, theology has to do with the actual requirements of Scripture regarding faith and practice. Philosophy has to do with the reasoning behind the requirements of Scripture, and methodology has to do with the ways in which we carry out the requirements of Scripture. We could summarise it as below:

Theology  ..What we are to do

Philosophy  ..Why we are to do it

Methodology  ..How we are to do it

I would suggest that Scripture offers insight on all three of these elements at times, but at other times addresses only one or two of these elements. To illustrate the point, I’ll apply the framework to mission.

Applying the framework

The theology of mission is clearly set out in Matthew 28:18-20. We are to “make disciples of all nations.” This is the what. The why is addressed at varying levels throughout Scripture, but for the most part depends on systematic theology. Someone who leans toward Arminianism will have a different why than someone who leans toward Calvinism.

When it comes to the how, it starts to get interesting. Scripture doesn’t tell us how we are to make disciples of all nations. Of course many suggest that Scripture does tell us how when it tells us about the missionary journeys of Paul. The question arises then, are Paul’s journeys normative (how it should be done) or merely descriptive (how it was done)?

I think it’s safe to say that much Fundamentalist preaching rests on the assumption that (almost) all Scriptural narratives are normative. But I think a strong case can be mounted to suggest that at least most of the time, Scriptural narratives should be taken to be descriptive.

The point remains. While we are clearly given the theology. The philosophy and methodology are not as clearly outlined.

Drawing some conclusions

The natural result of our application to mission would be to conclude that we are to make disciples of all nations (the what), but that the why will be informed more by our systematic understanding of theology, and that the how is open to discussion.

We might, therefore, expect Fundamentalists to develop varying methods for accomplishing the task. Indeed we do see this. We see tent-making methods. We see corporate missionary methods. We see pure faith mission methods. We see student work methods. We see deputation/field type methods. In fact, the only method that is almost completely absent in the Independent Baptist movement is the method Paul used in Scripture.

Other considerations

Of course if Scripture did clearly lay out a normative methodology for mission, we would be obliged to follow that method. But, if we take the actions of the movement as an indication, the movement takes the narratives about Paul’s methods descriptively leaving room for various methods.

But before we consider it a free for all on methodology, we must first be sure that Scripture has not outlined a methodology or put boundaries in place for our methodology. For instance, Scripture gives significant guidance for the theology, the philosophy, and the methodology for the office of the elder. Scripture explicitly teaches that an elder must fit certain qualifications and that the office is exclusively to be held by men. In such areas of methodology, we do not have the liberty to be creative. We instead humbly submit to the guidelines that God has placed on the methodology.

Tying it into my NBF comments

I used two illustrations in the NBF post: modesty and testifying to the gospel. In the case of modesty, the what and why are addressed in Scripture, but the how is not. Setting dress standards is one method of pursuing modesty. It’s not the only method. Nor is it mandated in Scripture.

In the case of testifying to the gospel, the what and why are also addressed, but the how is not. My concern was that door-knocking (a method, the how of testifying) was being preached as if it was biblical. But Scripture does not address the how of testifying at that level of detail.

Hopefully this will give more clarity to my concluding statement in that post…

My concern is that these types of pre-applied messages tend to render the actual Scriptural truth indiscernible from the cultural application. In other words, I suspect many will leave the meetings feeling that Scripture teaches that we should set dress standards and that Scripture teaches that we should use the door-knocking methodology. But it doesn’t.

Grace to you.

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About Jason Harris

Jason loves to communicate God's word both in the local church and at conferences and retreats. Jason has been involved with Worship Music since 1996 and InFocus since 2005. Jason has degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research and is currently a PhD candidate and lecturer in the College of Business, Law, and Governance at James Cook University, Cairns. Jason is also a pastor at CrossPoint Church. You can contact Jason at jason@jasonharris.com.au.

5 Comments

  1. PJ 21 October, 2010 at 4:45 pm - Reply

    Many thanks Jason, this is an excellent piece.

    I think many of the arguments over “methodology”, particularly over what is “descriptive” and what is “normative” can and ought to be be resolved via the exercise of a sound hermeneutic. Perhaps many of the problems you identify with modern fundamentalism go back to just this – bad hermeneutics.

  2. Steve 21 October, 2010 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    Interesting. Just a couple of comments.

    I have not seen that framework for understanding the Bible before. My own understanding of Scripture is that theology or doctrine is followed by application of that doctrine.

    Methodology is Application. Many times in Scripture, the application comes via cultural vehicles, e.g. meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians. But the principle can be applied outside that cultural vehicle.

    I think this is what is happening in the book of Acts, particularly Paul’s missionary journeys. Most Fundamentalists I think would not generally take Acts to be normative, indeed the fact that it isn’t normative is one of our great arguments against the Charismatic movement. The same goes Old Testament narrative and the gospels.

    Also, our methodology or application is always limited by other doctrines. For instance, in evangelism, we are limited to evangelising the lost by using methods that don’t render our testimony void or cause weaker brethren to stumble. Therefore it is wrong to have a Christian dance party, with alcohol, in order to win the lost. So our methodology is always limited in some way.

    Given that most Independent Baptists are Dispensational in their theology, I have a hard time understanding how you can say that most Fundamentalist preaching assumes Biblical narrative to be normative.

    Thanks for posting that.

  3. Jason Harris 21 October, 2010 at 10:04 pm - Reply

    @PJ,

    I agree PJ. I would love to see hermeneutics become a standard Bible course at every Christian college (regardless of what degree the student is pursuing). I believe one major uni just recently put this practice in place.

    @Steve,

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    I agree that the theology/application framework is very helpful. John Vaughn outlined exegesis like this:

    1. What does it say?
    2. What does it mean?
    3. What do I need to do about it?

    Perhaps it could be summarised as:

    Translation What the Bible says

    Interpretation What the Bible means

    Application What we’re supposed to do with it

    Perhaps this warrants its own post to tie these two models together, but in the translation/interpretation/application model, the translation might be teaching in any one of the three levels I outlined in this post (theology, philosophy, methodology).

    I think the value of the model in this post is that it highlights the fact that each level needs to be treated differently.

    1) If the text is addressing theology, then we can use that to develop a philosophy and methodology.

    2) If the text is addressing philosophy, then we may need to try to discern the theology behind it. This may be crucial to making good methodological extension.

    3) If the text is addressing methodology (such as how to handle meat offered to idols or a command to be thankful), then we need to seek to understand the philosophy and theology behind that methodology if we’re going to properly understand and teach that portion of the text. I suspect this would help us to have a better understanding of why we do what we do, and ultimately to trace every portion of Scripture back to the Theos (God) of theology.

    The reason I suggested that IB preaching tends to take narratives as normative is because many IBs believe that the sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture tells us how to handle… well, just about everything. This reveals itself in preaching on Old Testament passages where a simple story about a prophet is expanded to give insight on everything and anything.

    Many IBs have a “biblical” reason for almost everything they do from budgeting and organising to dating and mental health. Of course at times Scripture does address elements of these issues, but often, the “biblical” support comes from some narrative text taken as normative.

  4. Steve 22 October, 2010 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    Some good stuff there Jason. I think you are addressing the process that begins at exegesis and ends in the delivery of the sermon. I believe this is where many preachers fall short, some can exegete wonderfully but have trouble communicating those truths to the congregation. Others can communicate very well but are poor exegetes.

    As well as hermeneutics, our Bible colleges should be teaching the skills required to properly study the word to those who will be responsible for feeding the flock. I think the problem with some Independent Baptist churches is that the preaching is not true expository preaching but just topical sermons loosely based on Scripture. If a preacher is preaching expositorially through a book, it is almost impossible to make the gross misinterpretations and misapplications that we sometimes see in topical sermons.

    I think your framework is great and a good place to start, especially in the context of good exegesis and expository preaching.

  5. Jason Harris 22 October, 2010 at 11:48 pm - Reply

    Some great points there Steve. Thanks for challenging my thinking on that.

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