A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic: Encouraging Dialogue Among Four Evangelical Views -- By: William J. Webb

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 48:2 (Jun 2005)
Article: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic: Encouraging Dialogue Among Four Evangelical Views
Author: William J. Webb


A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic:
Encouraging Dialogue Among Four Evangelical Views

William J. Webb

William Webb is professor of New Testament at Heritage Seminary, 175 Holiday Inn Drive, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada N3C 3T2.

The idea of a trajectory or a redemptive-movement approach to understanding and applying Scripture is hardly a new concept.1 Nevertheless, it would appear that the publication of Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (InterVarsity, 2001) has awakened interest in and debate on the subject along with strikingly divergent responses. Some evangelical scholars reject a redemptive-movement hermeneutic (herein, RM hermeneutic) as unnecessary and potentially harmful; others embrace a RM hermeneutic as a helpful and legitimate way of thinking through contemporary application of Scripture particularly on certain difficult issues in social ethics. This article will highlight four evangelical views along a spectrum of responses to a RM hermeneutic—two views on the rejection side and two views on the acceptance side.

My primary objective within this essay is not so much to make a fully developed case for a RM hermeneutic as it is to bring greater clarity to issues within the discussion. For the most part I will intentionally channel any extended supporting evidence into footnotes, so that interested readers can pursue the argument more completely within other publications. Accordingly, the broadest goal of this essay is to foster a greater understanding between views and, in turn, to encourage open and meaningful dialogue amongst evangelicals on this important subject.

In keeping with this broader goal of opening up discussion about trajectory hermeneutics I will proceed in three steps: (a) illustrate a RM hermeneutic within the slavery texts; (b) address certain misunderstandings and misconceptions; and (c) lay out four current evangelical responses to a RM hermeneutic. Within this third section I will briefly respond to these four views as well as surface the questions that readers need to wrestle with in an attempt to sort out their own position along this spectrum of responses.

I. A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic: The Slavery Texts

As one reads the biblical texts on slaves, an overwhelming impression emerges: a less-than-ultimate ethic in the treatment of slaves/people is a major

part of our Bible. If we clear away the technical language, we might simply say that there is a problem with the treatment of slaves in the Bible. There exist numerous "not so pretty" components within th...

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