Volume 5 - Issue 2


By Robert Norris

One criticism that I have heard voiced against Themelios is that it seems to lack daring and controversy in its pages. Having heard this in no way implies my agreement with it. However, in this issue there can be no doubt that we are dealing with one of the thorniest and, potentially, one of the most divisive subjects to be handled in the evangelical world. The problem of hermeneutics and its related question of contextualization has dominated conferences, has been responsible for dents in the reputations of a number of evangelical scholars, and has generated a dense and sometimes impenetrable barrier of theological jargon. It is however a subject that is not going to go away, and undoubtedly the questions that are raised by the study of these two problems will be with us well into the next decade. However, the problem is not a new one—though many of the terms now employed are new and sometimes very confusing.

Hermeneutics remains what it has always been, ‘the task of interpreting revelation without revelation’. It is the business of preachers, theologians and indeed, of all Christians, to struggle to understand and to interpret the scriptures. For those entrusted with the unravelling of the theology and proclamation of the church there is the double task—that of establishing the normative method or methods of finding out the meaning of the text, and then establishing the normative meaning of the scripture for today.

There is no question that our message can be different from that taught by the scripture, not if we seek to be biblical, and I cannot accept that our message is changed by the context in which it is preached. The Word of God must always be that which stands over and against the Christian, the Church, the world and culture and confronts and calls to renewal and repentance.

Nor can we be content with an intuitive approach as to the message of the scripture today. This implies that there is no normative tool or approach and, while it may sound spiritual to imagine that the internalized witness of the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth, the question of disagreement can never be faced on this assumption.

In this issue of Themelios all the major articles are centred upon the questions that are here outlined.

From Howard Marshall we have this succinct and timely contribution on how we must proceed as we interpret the scripture. For clergy and laity alike this is the most urgent question that we are faced with. It is an article that is clear and practical and yet carries the full weight of a profound scholar. As such it deals with issues that we are called to confront each day as we seek to be faithful in the task of preaching and understanding the gospel.

An article by Don Carson sets the scene for the present debates. It both reviews the predicament that we are in and sets out possible ways of going forward. Perhaps one of the points that he assumes and we would do well to recall, is that what we are facing today is no new problem, but one that has been faced by every period of the church’s history as Christian teachers have sought to make application of the gospel to their situations. The perspective that this article affords enables a much more balanced and historical evaluation of the issues at stake in the present time.

One of the major issues that we all face is how we interpret and understand individual texts of scripture in the light of the whole. And it is exactly this question that is faced by David Baker in a stimulating and perceptive contribution that provides helpful insights and a timely reminder as to the nature and the purpose of the scriptures.

In order that we should not lose sight of the practicalities of the questions, Kwame Bediako has given a personal reflection of the Willowbank Consultation. This was a meeting which raised and debated the issues that were raised by Lausanne concerning the inter-relation of the gospel and human culture. Kwame was intimately involved in the discussions and in the drawing up of the documents, and is ideal for giving to us a review both of the contents and the issues at stake in the debates.

It is one of the privileges of being editor that I may from time to time slip in recommendations and plug some things. Recently published by JSOT Press, University of Sheffield, is the Bibliographical Guide to New Testament Research. This guide is edited by R. T. France, Alan Millard and Graham Stanton and contains up-to-date information on New Testament studies for research students. It is designed primarily as an aid to research and is unlikely to be overly helpful to the undergraduate, but is indispensable for those engaged in research. It costs only £1.45 from the publishers. I have no doubt that we will review it in the journal in the future but I take pleasure and perhaps a liberty in commending it in this editorial.

Robert Norris

Robert Norris holds a BA degree from Kings College in London and dual doctorates in history and dogmatics from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He serves as pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland and has taught at Washington DC’s Reformed Theological Seminary, and in seminaries in Ukraine, Malta, Japan, and Sudan. He and his wife, Caren, have five children.