Religious Trends

Sorting out the Players in the Certainty Debate

Republished with permission from Baptist Bulletin Nov/Dec 2010. All rights reserved.

by David Mappes

Imagine you are the quarterback in a bowl game, dropping back for a pass. As you look downfield, you notice that all the players on both teams are wearing jerseys in subtle shades of gray—and you can’t tell them apart. Confused, you call for a huddle and begin reading from the playbook strapped to your arm. Players interrupt and begin to argue, shouting “No, that’s not what the coach means by ‘screen pass!’” “Yes, it is!” and then, “That’s just your interpretation!”

This imaginary scene may seem chaotic, but it is a fitting description for current trends in hermeneutics and theology. Careful pastors and church members need to understand subtle but important differences in terminology that are being adopted by a new generation of scholars.

“Hermeneutics” comes from the Greek term hermeneuo, which carries the idea of explaining, interpreting, or translating the sense of one language to another. In a more technical sense, the term denotes the science and art of interpretation; thus various rules and norms of interpretation are employed to determine the author’s meaning in the text. These interpretive principles are not always fully agreed upon or consistently practiced, but until recently, literary scholars have agreed that the author’s intended meaning could be understood and correctly applied. And until recently, evangelical believers have contended that we can understand the Author’s intended meaning and apply it to our lives.

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