Wednesday, March 12, 2014


The Christian view of our relation to scripture goes a little something like this. Because we are sinners, our faculties are corrupted and we by nature oppose the truth. Part of the sanctification process, whereby those who are born again are progressively transformed to maturity, conforming ever more into the image of Christ, is to have our mind set straight by God's word. We understand that God's word is true, and seek to understand what it truly says. Where we disagree with it, we know that we are wrong, and seek to change our minds, and ultimately our behaviors, to what scripture teaches. The truth of scripture molds what we think and guides what we feel, which determines how we will act. See Romans 12:2 or Colossians 1:9-10, for example.

The process of determining what scripture actually says is called exegesis, or drawing the meaning out of the text. What Christians strive to avoid is eisegesis, or reading presuppositions into the text. To name just one example, consider paedobaptists finding support in Acts 16:15; the idea that those baptized included unbelieving infants is supplied by the reader's theological system, not from the text itself. Examples abound and the temptation to slant a passage to meet your system is ever-present. The Christian must always fight this, and make every effort to let the text determine our thoughts and systems, not vice versa.

Lately I've been more aware of a special class of eisegesis. These presuppositions are not a result of coherent thought, but pure emoting, so I call it "emotegesis". When you emotegete, all scriptural interpretation is subject to how it makes you feel - and if the plain meaning makes you feel bad enough, the text is pretty much thrown out completely. There's really no limit to how far a passage can be twisted, or how utterly scripture can be ignored, in service of what you just want it to say.

A typical conversation with someone emotegeting goes something like this.
You: The Bible clearly says [clear teaching]
Emotegete: Yeah, but I want this, and I feel that, and it just can't be wrong.
You: Well, QED, I guess.

Some prominent examples of emotegesis include...

Female pastors. Sure, scripture may be perfectly clear on this. But I really wanna be a pastor, and I feel called to it, and I'd be really good at it, and it's just not fair, so... Then you might get something about kephale meaning "source" and not "head" (as though that makes it less convincing somehow??) and garbage about gender roles being a result of the Fall, or how we just know better now. But ultimately it will come back to "I really really want it, and I can't possibly be wrong".

Homosexuals. The next time you meet someone who thinks God is OK with homosexuality based on textual studies alone, and not because (a) he is subject to homosexual desires himself or (b) someone close to him is a homosexual and so it just can't be wrong, it will be the first time in human history.

Charismatics. Scripture says X about the revelatory/attesting gifts. Their experience is Y. At this point you can either say "Well, Y is not the actual gift", or just redefine scripture to make it include Y. Which do you think will win out, almost every time? (See for example the DA Carson quote here, and his laughable solution here - and note that this is often considered the best defense of modern tongues!)

We are much better off when our feelings are subject to God's Word, and we don't pretend it's the other way around.

1 comment:

Michael Coughlin said...

Your post makes me feel good. I must be on the right side of the fence.

April 12, Buckeyes VS OSU. Evangelism will be going on.

Do you want to try to come down?

The game is 1:30pm. Let me know! Right now I haven't planned a time because I want to know who can come and when they prefer.