Leland Ryken’s Literary Approach To Biblical Interpretation: An Evangelical Model -- By: Robert A. Weathers

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 37:1 (Mar 1994)
Article: Leland Ryken’s Literary Approach To Biblical Interpretation: An Evangelical Model
Author: Robert A. Weathers


Leland Ryken’s Literary Approach To Biblical Interpretation:
An Evangelical Model

Robert A. Weathers*

*Robert Weathers is director of ministry at Dudley Shoals Baptist Church, 3146 Bowman Road, Granite Falls, NC 28630.

The increasing use of literary approaches in Biblical interpretation has left many evangelicals baffled. They usually take a stand either in opposition to this shift in interpretation, seeing it as another liberal intrusion, or they search for an acceptable way to integrate a literary perspective into a grammatico-historical methodology without surrendering an evangelical view of inspiration. Actually no extreme is necessary for an evangelical model or acquisition of a literary approach.

Literary approaches emphasize literary portions of the Bible and often insist that literary artifice is the Bible’s primary characteristic. The popularity of literary approaches has arisen in part from the disillusionment that interpreters feel with the historical-critical method. Whereas historical methodology divides and subdivides texts for study, a literary approach seeks the unity of the text, trying to make connections with the literary nature of the canon, the book, and the immediate context.

Advocates of a literary approach to Biblical interpretation conceive of the shift away from the historical-critical method as a paradigm shift in hermeneutics. The shift in hermeneutical emphasis accompanies the current shift in western thought from the modern to the postmodern era. Cartesian dualism characterized the modern age and resulted in the mechanistic paradigms that saturated many disciplines. Literary scholars advance that the historical-critical method, a product of modernism, has failed to bring unified meaning to the Biblical text for the Christian community. They insist that the fragmentation that exists within theology proves their thesis.1

Such scholars praise the literary approach “as an innovation in interpretation and not simply another tool comparable to source, form, or redaction criticism.”2 They believe that it is the only way to view Scripture as a unity. Literary critics maintain that textual unity results in literary approaches for two reasons. (1) As Northrop Frye states, the Bible “is as literary as it can be without actually being literature.”3 That is, although one cannot apply all of the characteristics of secular literature to the Bible, it

is certainly a literary work. (2) To read the Bible as literature “is to restore the balance, to focus atte...

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