How to read the Bible is a huge question! Some people read it at face value, whilst some people look into it more in depth and try to find bits that ‘don’t quite fit’. There are thousands of people who die every year for their faith in Jesus that they see in Scripture. But there are thousands of scholars who spend their time denying central truths in Scripture.
If you’ve spent anytime in the realm of academic theology then you’ve come across this before, theories like the documentary hypothesis and the idea that Isaiah was written by numerous authors, such ideas come from an academic critical approach to Scripture. Whilst for many years people have read and believed certain things about Scripture.
Clash of Visions is a book that looks at these two contrasting approaching to interpreting the Bible. Here’s what Robert Yarbrough says his book is…
“an analysis of hermeneutical outlooks affecting how the New Testament is read and synthesized in two contrasting domains, conceptually and geographically: one in which the church tends to be stagnant or receding, the other in which the largest numeric increase of professing Christians in world history has been underway for several generations and is projected to continue”
This book is based on a series of lectures that Yarbrough gave at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky.
In the book the two exegetical approaches that Yarnbrough speaks about are called the ‘elitists’ and the ‘populists’.
He says that populists think…
“Jesus is Lord, risen from the grace and interceding at God’s right hand, from whence He will return to judge the living and the dead, and that biblical interpretation should factor that in, since Scripture was given by the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son”
But elitists on the other hand…
“Elite interpreters seem most often to deny the relevance of such conviction [as seen in the quote above] in the academic setting and either tacitly or overtly suppress the incursion of such embarrassing claims, even though they are glaringly prominent int he New Testament documents”
Because I study at seminary and because I enjoy reading and studying the academic side of theology and the Bible, I’ve come across the elitist approach a lot. We wouldn’t use the term elitist normally, but rather we’d define their type of interpretation of Scripture as critical or historical criticism.
Why is this an important topic? Because it is dealing with how we understand the truth of Scripture which God has given to us that we may know Him. The elitist approach to Scripture arose from the Enlightenment and it seeks to deny the supernatural. But if the supernatural is denied then God is rejected. The elitist approach to Scripture makes it more comfortable and often attacks the parts which we cannot explain without the supernatural, part of Scripture that make the culture of the day uncomfortable.
However, Scripture cannot be interpreted by the times and culture that we live in, it should be devoured by Christians and seen as the inerrant and inspired Word of God.
Yarbrough explored these two positions by speaking about a debate between two scholars, one elitist and one populist, who both teach at a university in Sweden. The debate gives a helpful insight into the to opposing views.
If you are a Christian who enjoys studying theology, if you are a seminary student, or if you are a preacher you will come across the elitist approach to Scripture and you should read this book! But even if you’re a Christian who wants to understand more about the reason why people have come to read the Bible in a certain way, this book will be a helpful place to go. You can buy the book here from Christian Focus.
Clash of Visions is part of the Mentor imprint form Christian Focus, the books with this imprint are written at a level suitable for Bible College and seminary students, pastors, and other serious readers. The imprint includes commentaries, doctrinal studies, examination of current issues, and church history.
Robert W. Yarbrough is Professor of New Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St Louis, Missouri.