A Short Course in Brethren Hermeneutics -- By: Dale R. Stoffer

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 25:0 (NA 1993)
Article: A Short Course in Brethren Hermeneutics
Author: Dale R. Stoffer


A Short Course in Brethren Hermeneutics

Dale R. Stoffer

Dr. Stoffer (MDiv, ATS; Ph.D., Fuller Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at ATS.

Over the last fifteen to twenty years, the Brethren elders have dealt with such issues as baptism, ordination of women, and ordination of divorced people. In these discussions we have become increasingly aware that how we resolve such issues is dependent, to a great extent, on how we approach Scripture, that is, our hermeneutical foundation. Hermeneutics, or the way we interpret Scripture, is of crucial importance as we discuss these, or any other, Scriptural question.

Part of the frustration we feel at times as we deal with these questions is that we begin with slightly different presuppositions that predispose us to differing positions. In most cases, these differences have nothing to do with being liberal or conservative in our view of Scripture. In fact, elders in The Brethren Church today generally hold a high view of Scripture. This is as it should be, for respect for and obedience to Scripture are inherent in the Brethren heritage. Nevertheless, two people with an equally high view of Scripture may indeed differ on the above issues. Rather than labeling people because they do not hold the same view as we do, we need to take the time to understand why they approach the issue as they do. If we do this, if we seek to understand people’s hermeneutics, we develop a point of reference from which we can begin a profitable dialogue.

A person’s starting point in hermeneutics is crucial; it will color everything else. Brethren have started with Jesus Christ as God’s fullest and final revelation to humanity. J. Allen Miller described God’s revelation made in Jesus Christ and contained in the New Testament as perfect, complete, and final. We need to look for no other revelation. Because of this Christocentric approach, we see the New Testament as providing a more complete revelation than the Old Testament. Though they are equally inspired, and though there is a continuity of God’s work between the Old and New Testaments, yet we give priority to the New Testament; we are a New Testament church. We take seriously the concept of progressive revelation in Scripture, i.e. that God has progressively disclosed His will from Genesis to Revelation. This approach differs from the Reformed view which tends to emphasize

continuity between the Old and New Testaments. Thus they would see a parallel between circumcision and infant baptism; they would support, historically, a state church, the close tie between state and church.

The Christocentric view of Scripture has also led the Brethren to give precedence to the Gosp...

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