Two weeks ago, I addressed the question of why they think we’re dangerous (and why they might be right). My conclusion was that fundamentalism is not dangerous except in two cases:
- When we have an unholy book.
- When we interpret a holy book improperly.
Well, we can be sure that as Christian fundamentalists, we have a holy book. The Bible is the word of God Himself. The next point is a little harder though. Do we interpret Scripture properly?
Instead of getting into a complex discussion of the different types of interpretation, I’ll put it simply:
Proper interpretation is finding out what the author intended to say.
That’s the bottom line. The technical way of saying that is that we hold to a grammatical/historical hermeneutic. That means we interpret each passage in the context of the grammar used and the historical setting it was written in. In other words, we take the natural, plain, or literal interpretation.
Those rigid literalists
Unfortunately, many have ignorantly jumped on the word “literal” and acted as if we were irrationally literal (more on that in a moment). They call us “rigid literalists” and make us out to be scary or dangerous. Even more unfortunately, many of these people are professing Christians.
Several weeks ago, I was attending law class at uni. The professor gave three rules for interpreting statutes (laws):
- The literal rule – we use the plain sense of the word.
- The golden rule – we correct typographical mistakes.
- The mischief rule – we ask what they actually meant when they wrote it.
The world doesn’t ridicule this “strict literalist” hermeneutic when it comes to the law, so why does it bother them when we use these same rules of interpretation for God’s Word?
The answer is that if we interpret God’s Word to mean what it obviously means, then we’ll be confronted by absolutes and we’ll be uncomfortable in our sin.
Talking trees and singing stars
Most arguments against a literal interpretation are of the rejoicing tree (1 Chronicles 16:33) or singing star (Job 38:7) sort. But Scripture, like most natural language, uses metaphors and other figures of speech. In other words, this is a straw man argument.
Not only does this straw man argument make us look dangerous, but it makes us look irrational and it enforces the idea that the sacred text cannot be taken literally.
The majority of people in postmodern Australia today think it’s weird… ludicrous… to take the Bible literally.
The irony of the situation is that these same people take their parents and siblings and friends and employers literally every single day. They’re literalists! They believe words have real meaning. They get angry at insults. They understands orders and rejection and expressions of love.
We need to be proactive in explaining what we really believe so that the gospel and the God of the gospel is not slandered. We need to guard against the idea that God is irrational and expects his followers to be the same. We need to interpret Scripture carefully because God always says exactly what He means and what He says matters.