Saturday, November 22, 2008

M. Köstenberger's Hermeneutical Posture

In early October, I posted a summary of Bruce Waltke's view of the various theological positions. In his An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Zondervan, 2007), Waltke presents the following outline (pp. 73-77):
  • Liberal Theologians Stand above the Bible
  • Neoorthodox Theologians Stand before the Bible
  • Traditionalists Place Traditions/Confessions alongside the Bible
  • Fundamentalists Stand on the Bible
  • Evangelicals Stand under the Bible
Having been reared and educated in Fundamentalist circles, I am a bit sensitive when I read non-Fundamentalists trying to describe and/or criticize Fundamentalists. What I am mostly concerned with, is clarity. As helpful as the above listed categories are, they are still very generalized. That Fundamentalists are described as standing on rather than under the Bible is true, especially when you consider the decidedly militant stance of historic fundamentalism. But, is it entirely fair to say that Fundamentalists, in general, do not also posture themselves as submitted learners under the Bible? Militancy has its place, but it never was in my blood. Rather, as a Fundamentalist, I saw myself in great need of learning.

In the same manner, we could ask if it is genuinely fair to say that Evangelicals are normally postured under the Bible. Well, in the case of Evangelical Feminism, Marny Köstenberger adequately shows that some Evangelicals have strayed from standing under the Bible. In some cases it is apparent that some Evangelicals have postured themselves above or selectively apart from the Bible. In a sense, Köstenberger, having sought to submit to the Bible's countercultural teaching, is here standing on the Bible's teaching as authoritative and corrective of erroneous doctrine.

Liberals call Evangelicals "Fundamentalists." Most Evangelicals do not want to be labeled "Fundamentalist." Some Fundamentalists decry some Evangelicals as "Liberals."
Some Fundamentalists avoid anything that smacks of Evangelicalism. Other Fundamentalists disdain the stereotype that is attached to their own label and seek to distinguish themselves from other Fundamentalists. And on, and on it goes. Surely, we all will agree that labels are reductionistic by nature; but, nevertheless, labels are useful. In general terms, I find Waltke's distinctions to be satisfying.

Margaret Elizabeth Köstenberger, Jesus and the Feminists: Who Do They Say That He Is? Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2008. Softcover, 253 pages. $19.99

[Crossway | WTS | Amazon | CBD]

In reading
Köstenberger's Jesus and the Feminists, I noticed that she also finds it necessary to make a distinct clarification along these lines. The concluding section of chapter 2 (What's At Stake: "It's Hermeneutics!") strikes a distinction between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism. She writes:
Some are dismissing an evangelical approach to Scripture out of hand for illegitimate reasons. For example, conservative evangelical Christians may at times find themselves confronted with the label "fundamentalist," and their conservative viewpoint on gender issues gets rejected without further discussion. But there is quite a difference between fundamentalism and a conservative evangelical reading of Scripture. Fundamentalism often tends toward a narrow-minded approach to Scripture. It at times may impose systematized doctrine onto the text and tend toward legalism. It is also often characterized by simplistic thinking. Some have even used the Bible in the past to justify such terrible things as slavery and racism. (35)
Let me repeat a part of the last quote from the previous post.
We must take our place in a stance of submission to God's Word, putting ourselves beneath it rather than sitting in critical judgment over it. (220)
My first reaction to this was: Ouch! These are stinging words. Granted, this is not true all of the time, nor necessarily most of the time. However, as
Köstenberger states the case, "Fundamentalism often tends toward" (emphasis mine) this erroneous posture. Sure, there is a place for militancy, but never without a sense of humility that keeps us submitted to the Scriptures.

Besides, Köstenberger is clearly bringing up this issue and these negative characterizations in order to argue that the position for which she is arguing is not the fruit of narrow-mindedness, the imposition of a particular system of theology, legalism, simplistic thinking, or an attempt to justify heinous abuses. Rather, she has written this book to show that the disunity of interpretations amongst the Feminists must cause them to realize that they, themselves, have interpreted the Scriptures too narrow-mindedly and have imposed upon the texts their own systematic agenda.