I grew up as the son of a Conservative Baptist preacher-man. I came to Christ at an early age; I walked with Christ for many years from an early age. After graduation from high school (1992 … oh my!) I became quite luke-warm, and immature (retarded) in my walk with Christ. The LORD got a hold of me in 1995 through some drastic circumstances. I grew up in Southern California (Temecula and Long Beach CA, the latter being the motherland), and so it was somewhat natural for me—given my Evangelical situation, and the ubiquitous presence of Calvary Chapels through their radio station 107.9 KWVE, The Wave of Living Water, for me to be attracted to their ministry—and so I began attending Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa (Chuck Smith’s church, the founder of Calvary Chapel, and predominate voice during the ‘Jesus People’ movement in the late 60’s early 70’s). As things progressed, I felt led to attend Bible College; Calvary Chapel had a Bible College (when I started it was at Twin Peaks, Arrowhead, CA; but then we moved to their current facility at Murrieta Hot Springs, CA), and so I attended there for a year (before I went to Multnomah in Portland, OR).
I share all of the above history to get to the point I want to make through the remainder of this post. As part of the curriculum at Calvary Chapel Bible College we all had to listen to what we endearingly called “Chuck tapes.” As you walked around campus you could often hear Chuck preaching through the Bible in chipmunk voice (people would speed up their tape players to triple speed to get through the tapes faster). Anyway, this was an integral part of what Calvary Chapel Bible College considered hermeneutics; i.e. the art and science of biblical interpretation. The belief was such that if the bible student (like me) absorbed enough of Chuck Smith’s interpretation of scripture, that he or she would be on solid ground (for the rest of their lives) to interpret scripture, univocally, from Chuck’s interpretive work. So obviously there was an interpretive magesterium at work here; there was such a veneration (still is!) of Chuck Smith among Calvary pastors and the faithful, that whatever Chuck says, preaches, or writes must be anointed by God, and thus sound and true.
Being a Baptist, I didn’t have this same kind of devotion to Chuck; I respected him as a pastor, but I didn’t see him as Moses (as many do in Calvary Chapel leadership, they have for their philosophy of ministry what they call ‘The Moses Model’). In fact, this is one of the reasons I ended up leaving Calvary Chapel Bible College early (it was a two year program, I left after a year); I wanted to go somewhere where the Bible was still seen as God’s special ordained place of encounter with us, and at the same time go somewhere where this, the Bible, was taught more critically (and actually learn the biblical languages, and all of the hermeneutical tools available). This is what led me to Multnomah Bible College, and then terminating at Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
My concern now, after having spent quite a bit of time—again!—devoted to a few dominant voices (John Calvin, Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance); is that I am simply repeating what was happening to me at Calvary Chapel Bible College. That is, that I am beginning to simply defend someone else’s particular (and even idiosyncratic) interpretation of scripture; instead of critically checking what they are offering as interpretation (or not). I am not suggesting that there aren’t a symphony of voices that help contribute to our interpretation of the text of scripture; but this presupposes something, that is, that scripture is the norma normans, the ‘norming norm’ of what really is theological opinion (theologoumena). This presupposes something further; that is that scripture has a clarity to it, that can be critically engaged and understood.
My basic point in this post is this; while there are multitudinous voices available as faithful interpreters of scripture in the history of the Christian church, scripture alone still has the dominant say. There is an interchange that takes place between the text’s original inception, and its ongoing reception in the church (as I have been reading about Gadamer a bit). In other words, scripture’s interpretation involves a dialogical exchange between its interpreters; but scripture’s dialogue is ultimately determined by what the authors (or Author) have intended (which includes its implicit horizon’s of meaning).
All I am trying to say, is that I want to critically engage Thomas Torrance, John Calvin, Karl Barth, Augustine, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Chuck Smith, and whoever else, by the clarity of scripture’s determining voice as it finds its full attestation in the resurrected Jesus. I don’t want to simply parrot one teacher or interpreter over another; I want to engage with certain voices who I find creative and imaginative (in good ways), critically, from the text of scripture. And I want to be a participant in this rich dialogical exchange that we have been called to as we grow in sensitivity to scripture’s voice; which is ultimately God’s voice in Jesus Christ, God’s triune speech act given disclosure through the human media inspired and illuminated by the Holy Spirit’s creative activity (which is ongoing in an illuminating way).