Though the literalists tried to avoid using critical-historical-exegetical methods of interpretation, attempting to continue to read scripture in essentially ‘precritical’ terms, they eventually succumbed to historical-critical methods, believing that by uncovering the ‘real’ history of the text, it would serve their literalist intentions. (As I noted earlier, in my experience, about the only ardent, uncritical defenders of the methods of historical criticism tend to be conservative Evangelicals who believe that history gives them their best defense that the biblical narrative ‘report’ can be secured, stabilized, and made certain through the unassailable historical ‘fact’ recovered by the historian.) To these literalists I would say that if historical methodology has enabled you to secure a text that is truly ‘inerrant’ and ‘infallible,’ then you certainly do not need the Holy Spirit to help you read and interpret Scripture. Nor should you bother with the living, speaking, resurrected Christ. Go worship your unassailable, inerrant, infallible fact and life will be easier for you than attempting to worship the living Christ.”

This, by the way, is why Barth not only rejects topical preaching, be it catechetical, ethical, or occasional, but also rejects expository preaching–if what is meant is extraction of some idea from the biblical text. In expository preaching this extracted idea is then expounded and applied, turning biblical narrative into abstract, general concepts and allegedly ‘biblical principles.’ Barth criticized expository preaching for representing a ‘bondage to the letter’ and an abuse of the Bible, making it into a source rather than a witness. It privileges the text over its context (who is Jesus Christ) and fixed principles of living agency. The only proclamation worthy of the name is the self-proclamation of the Word of God.”

William H. Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 35-36 (my emphasis)

Soli Deo Gloria!

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19 Comments(+Add)

1   Paul C
January 9th, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Might I suggest that in my view, the Bible is scripture, the letter. The Pharisees had the scripture and the letter and yet it did not profit them. As Jesus said,

You examine the Scriptures carefully because you suppose that in them you have eternal life. Yet they testify about me.

The scripture is different than the Word of God which is alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. When the Word of God is delivered it is designed to impact the listener to motivate change, repentance, encouragement, etc. A preacher may use Scripture to do this, but Scripture alone (without the anointing of the Holy Spirit) does not make it the Word of God.

Noah, Jeremiah, Isaiah et al represented the Word of God. The scribes, Pharisees, Saduccees et al represented scripture.

This is where unless the Lord illuminates the hearer (and preacher) we are not profited.

Does this make sense?

2   nc    
January 9th, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Sounds like you’re saying that the Scripture “becomes the Word of God”…

3   Common Sense Christian    
January 9th, 2009 at 1:45 pm

I fail to understand why it is wrong to call Scripture the Word of God. Seems like a very man-centred approach to the Bible, “It’s not God’s Word until it is practical to me and my life”…

4   nc    
January 9th, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Well, you could argue that there is no word if it is not heard/received

5   Paul C
January 9th, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Sorry for my lack of clarity. I think a man like EM Bounds says it much better than I:

The preaching that kills may have insight and grasp of principles, may be scholarly and critical in taste, may have every minutia of the derivation and grammar of the letter, may be able to trim the letter into its perfect pattern, and illume it as Plato and Cicero may be illumined, may study it as a lawyer studies his text-books to form his brief or to defend his case, and yet be like a frost, a killing frost…

The failure is in the preacher. God has not made him. He has never been in the hands of God like clay in the hands of the potter. He has been busy about the sermon, its thought and finish, its drawing and impressive forces; but the deep things of God have never been sought, studied, fathomed, experienced by him.

I think this was the plague of the Sanhedrin – water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.

Contrast this with Christ – the manna from heaven and water of life. He is the word of God – alive and powerful.

Well, you could argue that there is no word if it is not heard/received

I’m not sure this is correct, based on the parable of the Seed and Sower. The word of God definitely goes forth, whether it is received or not. In fact, it is most often rejected.

Seems like a very man-centred approach to the Bible, “It’s not God’s Word until it is practical to me and my life”

Again, I’m not saying this. Rather, I’m saying scripture is not the word of God unless it is “activated” (poor word) by the Spirit of God. This is perhaps why the most effective preachers are not those fresh out of school (with the letter) but those whom the Lord has processed and worked deeply in their spirit so they may bring forth life.

6   nc    
January 9th, 2009 at 2:47 pm

is the parable of the seed and sower about the written scriptures?

7   Paul C
January 9th, 2009 at 3:11 pm

No – I believe it is about the Word of God.

Let me also say that we are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone. Anything that departs from this foundation (ie: Universalism, etc) is not the Word of God.

This is why I believe (and the early church declares) that not every man with a Bible represents Christ, nor does every church represent Christ. This is why the Devil himself can preach (as he did to Jesus and Paul warned about in 2 Cor 11) from the scripture BUT still not speak the word of God.

8   iggy
January 9th, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Paul C,

I used this same sort of explanation with Tony Rose as I was discussing Biblical truth versus the man made idea Absolute truth. I explained that without Jesus the Bible was worthless and it can only be understood with Jesus. So the written word is dependant on the living word which is dependant on the Father who spoke it all and all is unified int he Person of the HOly Spirit.

Meaning that we can have the bible without Jesus and it does not make it “truth” It is only when it is in proper relationship with Jesus is it true. Tony Rose called me a heretic and a few other things. He asserted that the Bible and JEsus were equal.

So what I am getting at is you are stating what this emergent guy believes over one of the big ODMs.


9   Paul C
January 9th, 2009 at 3:20 pm

The perfect analogy to what I’m saying is to recall the eunuch the Phillip met on the road to Gaza.

He had the scroll of Isaiah, sure enough, but it would never profit him anything without Phillip. In fact, he mentioned as much, stating his dependence on Phillip – a true man of God – to bring to light the glory of what he was reading. It was then that the word of God was shared, resulting in the man’s baptism (and maybe even a church in Ethiopia?).

10   Rick Frueh    http://http?//
January 9th, 2009 at 3:30 pm

The word “inerrant” is man made and sometimes gives the wrong impression. I find it difficult to believe that all the millions of different animal species could fit in the ark, and I cannot fathom that all the different “within species” metamorphosis’s took place in 3000 years.

The way the Scriptures reveal God and His Word, along with the interaction of God’s Spirit to the brain of the reader, is a mystery. To say that the Bible is all literal is to deny symbolism and leads to things like the 24 hour creation day being some tenant of the faith.

In the end, “Who do you say that I AM?” will be the deciding factor.

11   Common Sense Christian    
January 9th, 2009 at 6:12 pm

I agree that we ought to interpret the Bible Christologically. I’m just worried that “literalist” interpretation is seen as this bad thing, when if done properly, it can be rather healthy to one’s understanding of not just the ink and paper we call the Word of God, but of the incarnate Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.

12   iggy
January 9th, 2009 at 6:26 pm


Funny is that I am more of a literalist as an emergent than before. I believe Jesus meant it literal that “if you right eye offends you pluck it out”. I have heard and read some many so called literalist say Jesus meant that figuratively… and I just think… then they must have a low opinion of hell…

I agree though with Rick to an extent as “inerrant” and “infallible” have taken on some things that were not originally meant. I see it as Authoritative yet with all the translations and nuances of languages, I see that we may not have the fullest picture.

Now saying that I had one wise teacher that would quote a passage of scripture and then then state” And you know what the passage says in Greek?” He would then re-read the passage again from the translation he just had before. I would laugh every time.

One huge issue I have with so many that claim that one bible translation/paraphrase/whatever is better than the other is that the Septuagint was not a great translation. If you take a bible that uses it, and read the NT passage that quotes an OT passage, often they are different… And Jesus often quoted the Septuagint and seemed not mind that there were difference from that version and the Hebrew. So, Jesus used an inferior translation Himself and did not have an issue.


13   Common Sense Christian    
January 9th, 2009 at 7:56 pm

I am aware of literary forms in Scripture. I am simply saying that there is a place for literal interpretation – the “bishop” makes out there isn’t any, which isn’t always the case…

14   Rick Frueh    http://http?//
January 9th, 2009 at 8:31 pm

There are many nuances to the literal interpretation that deserve some consideration.

1. Many times different people define a verse as literal and they come up with different “literal” meanings.

2. There is always something lost in a translation, especially coming from koine Greek to English.

3. It can be overdone, but certain cultural contexts must be considered.

4. The inherant subjectivity in all of us, shaped by environment, education, childhood, parents, and many other variables all come into play.

5. Squabbles over the essence of literalism can in some cases obscure the overall truth being revealed.

6. For 1600 years the majority of the earth’s population could not read much less understand the principle of literalism. Were they incapable of trusting Christ?

7. In a stark reality, I am myself, and have known thousands upon thousands of literalists and I have never met one who literally and completely demonstrated his literal faith in the entirety of Scripture. Another words, his and my life fall incredibly short of mirroring that which I and they claim to believe, whcih beggars the question “To what good is a verbal theological commitment without a Jamesian translation of that commitment through works?”

In summary, while it is good and beneficial to have a literal view of the Scriptures, it is not the ultimate headlock on living a Christlike life. The Auca Indians were not impressed with Jim Elliot’s literalist credentials, they were impressed with the sacrifice he paid to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

15   Neil    
January 9th, 2009 at 8:54 pm

What Rick said


16   nc    
January 9th, 2009 at 9:58 pm

re: #14

huh, in the mouth of Brian Mclaren that’s all heresy.

17   Rick Frueh    http://http?//
January 9th, 2009 at 10:02 pm

nc – my continuing controversy with BM is his move toward universalism. Whichever parts of my comments can be associated with McLaren is strictly accidental
and inadvertant.

18   nc    
January 9th, 2009 at 10:31 pm

I don’t know if you should pair “BM” and the word “move” in the same sentence….


19   Rick Frueh    http://http?//
January 18th, 2009 at 11:14 pm

CRN posted a radio program about Sola Scriptura.

Now In happen to believe the Scriptures are the basis for our faith, and I know some believe they are exclusive and some do not, with varying degrees of variance, depending on which other resources are included.

But I agree with the theology of sola scriptura, however I suggest two major cracks in that doctrinal armour.

1. Many that claim sola scriptura teach many different doctrines while still claiming the Scriptures teach their theology and not the other man’s teachings. So even though they both claim SS they have arrived at two different conclusions.

2. No one, and I mean NO ONE, actually practices Sola Scriptura in their lives. And I have yet to meet someone who parades their SS credentials as a badge of divine favor who will admit and feel bad that they do not mirror the theology about which they feel so strongly. In fact, many are decieved into thinking they do.

There is a major league difference between believing the Scriptures are God’s only Word and touting that belief as a membership to an exclusive doctrinal country club.

I got saved without knowing anything about sola scriptura. Without humility, constantly readdressed personally and exhibited publicly, the five solas are nothing more than pillars of pride.