Biblical Authority in Matters of Faith and Practice
Methodology for the Encompassing View of Scripture
If the encompassing position of biblical application is correct, how, then, may a believer make accurate, authoritative applications of the Bible to contemporary circumstances? Such an endeavor is no easy task. Kaiser notes this problem when he asks, “Who has mapped out the route between these two points whereby we can move from the text of Scripture to where there is a proclamation of that text?”24 Certainly there is no foolproof method for correct biblical interpretation but it is, nonetheless, critical to right living. Indeed, all Christians, and especially pastors, must have a basic methodology for correctly applying the Bible to their lives. Ralston summarizes what is necessary in such an endeavor: “A good Bible student must be able to identify the differences between the world of the text and the world of the audience and then build a bridge between the two worlds so that the message heard by its original audience is heard by the new audience with all of the same authority and implications.”25
Since only the Bible carries the weight of supreme authority for a Christian, application may be authoritative only when it is done correctly.
The first step in discerning how a particular passage applies to contemporary situations is to principlize its content. Kaiser defines this step:
To “principlize” is to state an author’s propositions, arguments, narrations, and illustrations in timeless abiding truths with special focus on the application of those truths to the current needs of the Church. Contemporary applications will often be suggested by analogous applications made by the original writer of the Biblical text.26
In doing so, the Bible student is discerning what universal moral principles lie beneath the particular injunctions in the passage. This is especially necessary when the injunctions are rooted in the unique cultural circumstances of the original audience. When the believer determines the principles underneath the cultural injunctions, as Warren explains, “specific contextualizations are eliminated and specific behaviors generalized.”27
The goal of principlizing is the discovery of universal moral absolutes rooted in the nature of God and not connected to any particular cultural context. These may be discovered through what Tiessen describes as “the use of good hermeneutical and exegetical procedures.”28 He argues that the discovery of such “universal and supratemporal moral norms” is certain. First, “morality is based on the unchanging nature of God.” Second, “all people [are] alike in fundamental ways that are more significant than the cultural variations that differentiate them” because of the “shared human nature, created in God’s image.” Third, recipients of God’s moral instructions possessed sinful inclinations “that continue to be true of all human beings in whatever culture.”29
Tiessen then lists five general principles for finding universal moral absolutes: Universal norms are identifiable by (1) their basis in the moral nature of God, (2) their basis in the creation order, (3) transcendent factors in the situation of their promulgation and by the lack of situational limitation in their formulation, (4) their consistency throughout the progressive revelation of the divine will, and (5) their consistency with the progress of God’s redemptive program.30 Furthermore, Pettegrew lists five ways in which the Bible can give ethical direction: (1) prohibition, (2) permission, (3) commands, (4) precedent, and (5) example.31 These kinds of considerations should drive the expositor’s principlizing.
It is important to remember, however, that principlizing does not deny obedience to explicit commands as well. In other words, believers must obey explicit commands and apply the principles beneath them to contemporary situations. Proponents of the encyclopedic view limit application to the former, while some liberals limit application to the latter. But as McQuilkin and Mullen explain, to apply principles without obedience to the explicit commands is to deny the authority of Scripture.
Since the Bible is the only divinely authorized word we have from God, it must be treated as the final authority. If I accept only what I discern as the principle behind a teaching, or affirm the substance of a teaching while rejecting the form, or if I set aside as normative for contemporary obedience all teaching except what can be demonstrated to be based on the nature of God, the order of creation, a universally recognized cultural phenomenon, or my theological system, my judgment supersedes the authority of the written Word. Of course many of these ways of looking at Scripture are valuable. They are valuable positively but not negatively. They are valid to help determine the meaning the Author intended, valid to reinforce the truth expressed in the text, but not valid for setting it aside. If I evaluate by criteria not authorized in Scripture what to accept and what to reject, I become the authority superior to the text itself.32
Once a student of the Bible has determined the principles underlying a particular text, his next step in correctly applying the text to contemporary situations is to consider information relevant to the contemporary issue. As Osborne explains, “Before we can properly apply any biblical statement to our culture or another, we must seek a deeper understanding of the specific cultural environment.”33 Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard go so far as to say, “Faithful application of the Bible to new context requires that we become as earnest in our study of the contemporary world as we are of Scripture itself.”34 Since the expositor cannot be an expert in every discipline, he must often “interact at a serious level with those disciplines and thinkers that analyze the situations into which God’s Word speaks” to help him understand how universal moral principles may apply to the issue.35 Much of this book is an attempt to investigate the other information necessary to apply the Bible’s principles to music.
Those who favor the encyclopedic view and are afraid that such interaction with extrabiblical information endangers the doctrine of Sola Scriptura must remember that the doctrine refers to authority and not to information. Second Timothy 3:16-17 says that the Scripture is profitable for all of life, but it does not prohibit the use of additional information to understand the issue over which the believer is attempting to apply the Bible’s authority. Indeed, the skeptic who insists that nothing but the Bible be used in establishing moral norms must remember, as Maddox notes,
“The very use of language is by definition a first order [extrabiblical] critical skill necessary for interpreting [and applying] Scripture.”36
On the other hand, one must remember that even when using extrabiblical information in an attempt to understand contemporary situations, ultimately the Bible retains the right to reinterpret the information. Frame makes this point well:
It is important both to distinguish and to recognize the important relations between Scripture itself and the extrascriptural data to which we seek to apply biblical principles. Scripture is something different from extrabiblical data. But what we know of the extrabiblical data, we know by scriptural principles, scriptural norms, and the permission of Scripture. In one sense, then, all of our knowledge is scriptural knowledge. In everything we know, we know scripture. To confess anything as true is to acknowledge a biblical requirement upon us. In that sense, although there is extrabiblical data, there is no extrabiblical knowledge. All knowledge is knowledge of what Scripture requires of us.37
The final step toward correct application of biblical principles is the application itself. Since the Bible is sufficient as an authority for all of life, the believer must strive to apply its principles even to situations not directly addressed within the pages of Scripture. When studying any passage of Scripture, the believer must ask, “What would the original author say to contemporary situations?”38 He must correlate extrabiblical information about the contemporary issue and let the Bible’s universal moral principles determine his stance toward that issue. This will be my goal regarding music in this book.
Test Case: Abortion
One example of such a process that even proponents of the encyclopedic view practice is with the issue of abortion. Few, if any, conservative Christians would defend the practice of abortion. They insist that abortion is murder. But do they find explicit statements within Scripture condemning it as murder? They may reply that the killing of a human being is always murder. However, where does the Bible explicitly state that unborn infants are human beings? Furthermore, is all killing murder?
To arrive at the conclusion that abortion is morally wrong, conservative Christians—even those who hold strictly to an encyclopedic view of biblical application—must use implication, extrapolation, and consult extrabiblical information to arrive at their conclusion. The biblical principle is clear: Killing an innocent human being is sin (Ex. 20:13). But in order to bridge the gap between that principle and the conclusion that abortion is morally evil, one must employ the second step in correct application, which involves information other than explicit statements from the Bible. Grisanti lists such second-step implications from Scripture: “because [the Bible] does not distinguish between a person’s state before and after birth, because it indicates God ‘knew’ certain ones before birth, because it indicates King David was a sinner from conception, and because John the Baptist reacted while still in his mother’s womb.”39 Arriving at the conclusion that unborn infants are humans is certainly sound logic, but it is derived from extrabiblical inference rather than explicit statements. As Richard notes,
The use of Luke 1:44 as a verse against abortion is a case in point. The statement “the baby leaped in my womb for joy” has as its implication the messianic divine character of Christ. An extrapolation is that babies in wombs have already started living before birth. It is extremely difficult to prove that this was what the human author consciously intended as he penned those words. But since this extrapolation is not contrary to the statement in the verse, it may be valid as a theologicalethical [sic] extrapolate. Of course less prominent does not mean less important40 (emphasis original).
In other words, abortion, like music, is a contemporary moral issue about which the Bible has no explicit instruction. Using sound logic and possibly extrabiblical data, a believer should come to the conclusion that unborn infants are human beings. That information combined with the universal moral principle that murder is sin should drive him to an authoritative moral principle that killing unborn infants is sin. This is the process that should be employed with all contemporary moral issues, including what music is appropriate for Christians.
The Bible is sufficient as the supreme authority in all areas of the Christian life. Christians are required to obey its explicit commands and all applications drawn from implication and correctly applied to a contemporary situation. This assumes, of course, that the application is valid, and in this point there is room for debate and disagreement. Disagreement with regard to the process of application to contemporary life is a futile exercise for one who is ignorant of biblical pattern, but debate over the validity of particular applications is certainly warranted and necessary.
Levels of Authority
The respective level of authority in applications derived from implication or extrabiblical information depends upon three factors. First, those applications more closely connected to the original intent of a text carry more authority than others. Ralston notes, “Not all applications have equal textual justification and, therefore, equal authority.”41 Second, applications may be considered authoritative only when they come from implications soundly derived from a text. Third, an application may be considered authoritative only when extrabiblical information about that given issue has been correctly understood. An ethical standard is as authoritative as explicit biblical commands when that standard is rightly understood as a sound application of a biblical, universal moral principle to a contemporary situation.
Consistent Application of Sola Scriptura
With these conclusions in mind, a proper understanding and application of Sola Scriptura implies that there is actually no such thing as adiaphora. As Frame notes, “From a viewpoint governed by sola Scriptura, the ‘scope’ of Scripture, the range of subject matter to which it may be applied, is unlimited.”42 He correctly argues elsewhere,
This means that all human actions are ruled by divine commandments. There is no neutral area where God permits us to be our own lawgivers. There is no area of human life where God abdicates his rule, or where his word to us is silent. What law governs the buying of cabbage? Well, 1 Cor. 10:31 at least, not to mention narrower biblical principles requiring parents to nourish their children, to guard the health of themselves and others, etc. Actions in accord with these biblical principles are right, actions not in accord with them are wrong. It is not a matter of merely avoiding explicit prohibitions; rather it is a matter of keeping the commands of God.43
Indeed, anyone who claims to hold to the sufficiency of Scripture for faith and practice must be willing to apply the Bible’s principles to every situation whether or not that situation is explicitly addressed in the pages of the Bible. To fail to do so is to deny the profitability of the Word of God. As Ralston admonishes, “If the apostle Paul taught the universal profitability of the Scriptures for Christian ethics (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and the danger of information without action (1 Cor. 8:1), then those who ignore this final interpretive task encourage spiritual dysfunction. Ultimately, they have failed in the ministry of the Word.”44
That is the task of this book. It is my desire to search the Scriptures diligently and ascertain, in the words of the Westminster Confession, the “general rules of the Word” that might be applied “by the light of nature and Christian prudence” to a discussion of music and worship in the Christian life. I desire to gather pertinent information about music by which it can be judged worthy of such biblical principles and strive to come to God-pleasing conclusions. The Bible does not explicitly lay out instructions for Christians regarding their music. But since Scripture is indeed sufficient for all faith and practice, so it is sufficient to help Christians determine how they should view music in their lives.
1. Define Sola Scriptura.
2. Describe several situations in the Christian life that require sources of information other than the Bible to make wise decisions.
3. How important do you consider personal Bible study in your own development? In what ways can you improve in this area?
4. Discuss several moral issues about which you hold strong convictions based on implications from the Bible rather than explicit commands.
5. List principles from the Bible that may have bearing upon a believer’s understanding of what constitutes God-pleasing music.
24 Walter C. Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 18.
25 Timothy J. Ralston, “Showing the Relevance: Application, Ethics, and Preaching,” in Bock, Darrell L. and Buist M. Fanning, Interpreting the New Testament Text: Introduction to the Art and Science of Exegesis (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006), 295.
26 Kaiser, 152.
27 Timothy S. Warren, “The Theological Process in Sermon Preparation,” Bibliotheca Sacra 156, 623 (July 1999), 346.
28 Terrance Tiessen, “Toward a Hermeneutic for Discerning Universal Moral Absolutes,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36, 2 (June 1993), 191.
30 Ibid., 193–203.
31 Pettegrew, 151.
32 McQuilkin, J. Robertson and Bradford Mullen, “The Impact of Postmodern Thinking on Evangelical Hermeneutics,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40, 1 (March 1997), 78.
33 Osborne, 454.
34 Klein et al., 425.
35 Dennis E. Johnson, “Spiritual Antithesis: Common Grace, And Practical Theology,” Westminster Theological Journal 64, 1 (Spring 2002), 92.
36 T. D. F. Maddox, “Scripture, Perspicuity, and Postmodernity,” Review and Expositor 100, 4 (Fall 2003), 572.
37 John M. Frame, “In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism: Reflections On Sola Scriptura and History in Theological Method,” Westminster Theological Journal 59, 2 (Fall 1997), 273.
38 See Osborne, 441.
39 Michael A. Grisanti, “The Abortion Dilemma,” Master’s Theological Journal 11, 2 (Fall, 2000), 169.
40 Ramesh P. Richard, “Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance: Part 2: Levels of Biblical Meaning,” Bibliotheca Sacra 143, 570 (April 1986), 130.
41 Ralston, 298.
42 Frame, “Biblicism,” 274.
43 John M. Frame, “Some Questions about the Regulative Principle,” Westminster Theological Journal 54, 2 (Fall 1992), 362. While I do not agree with Frame’s conclusions regarding the regulative principle of worship in this essay, his argument in this statement is correct.
44 Ralston, 293.
|Scott Aniol received a bachelor’s degree in Church Music at Bob Jones University and a master’s degree in Musicology at Northern Illinois University. He has taken seminary classes at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and did graduate work in choral conducting and church music history at Concordia University in River Forest, Illinois. As the executive director of Religious Affections Ministries, Scott speaks on the subjects of music and worship at various churches and conferences. His most recent speaking engagements include the Great Lakes Conference on Theology, Central Seminary’s Foundations Conference, International Baptist College, and Bob Jones Seminary. Scott’s book, Worship in Song, was recently released by BMH Books. Check out his Web site at Religious Affections Ministries.|