I am going to apply the following quote on theological interpretation of scripture (TIS) from Colin Gunton to a popular pastor among many conservative evangelical Christians; i.e. John MacArthur. The reason I am going to apply the following quote to MacArthur is because part of my passion is to take deep school theology and use that to help correct what I consider to be wayward theological method and application as that is distilled, indeed, through people like John MacArthur. We could apply the quote and its content to many other evangelicals in North America and abroad, but MacArthur, because of his ubiquitous presence (at least in the circles I grew up in) works well as a typological character who I think needs correcting. What might seem ironic (or asinine, depending on the person) to some is that I would dare to correct someone like MacArthur; someone who prides himself on being slavishly committed to biblical exegesis in order to establish every jot and tittle of his exposition and sermonic form. In principle I think, at least for us Protestant Reformed, I can certainly get behind the idea that we want to establish all of our doctrine and teaching based upon biblical exegesis. But the problem arises, especially for folks like MacArthur, when one simply presumes upon some sort of prima facie mode of biblical exegesis; as if what counts as Literal-Grammatical-Historical is simply a neutered or generic way of engaging with texts, in particular the biblical text, such that whatever is produced through thorough application of this method will simply be just what the Bible says. This is the mode of MacArthur; he believes that his exegesis comes prior to his theology, but I am countering that he has a prior commitment to a certain theological paradigm that informs his exegesis in ways he can’t seem to imagine (we all have theological premises informing our engagement with Holy Scripture).
Colin Gunton as he is engaging with a Christian doctrine of creation, particularly the notion of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing), and as he has been developing Irenaeus’ theology in this direction, brings theological interpretation of scripture into his discussion. I am just going to quote him at length (as is typical of my blogging style), and then we will draw off of what he has to intone about TIS and how I think we can apply that to MacArthur in particular and to many conservative evangelical pastors in general. Gunton writes:
What, then, is to be understood by a theological interpretation? At the very least we must essay an integration, if not systematisation, of the various biblical witnesses to creation, and not simply Genesis, in the light of the God made known in Jesus Christ and by the Spirit who relates the world to the Father through him. If we accept Irenaeus’ strong contention that the God of Jesus Christ is the one who created in the beginning, we must interpret Genesis in the light of God’s involvement in the material historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. This enables us not to read trinitarian themes directly into the book of Genesis, as if the author were in some way theologising in a consciously trinitarian way, but to understand the forms of divine action there depicted as the acts of the triune God. This is particularly well illustrated if we see that part of the divine engagement with creation in Genesis 1 involves the ministerial use of parts of the created order in the forming of others. When God says ‘Let the earth bring forth’ we have a picture of divine action enabling the sovereign creator intends. As we shall see, this has important implications for the way we shall understand the relation of creation and evolution.
A theology of creation does not in any case limit it biblical basis to Genesis 1, but is concerned with the meaning of the scriptural understanding of creation as a whole. Because Irenaeus’ focus is incarnational he looks at the whole of scripture through what happened in Jesus Christ, and refuses to become preoccupied, as were some of his opponents, with the exchange of ‘proof-texts’. This is not to say that we should hold that the biblical writers were consciously trinitarian thinkers. Clearly, they were not. The doctrine of the Trinity is a doctrinal development dedicated to saying something of who the God is who creates and redeems the world. In its turn and in its light, this enables an interpretation of the Bible’s teaching as a whole. Thus, when Psalm 33:6 says that ‘by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth’, we may recognise the adumbration of a conception which is later filled out by an understanding of the personal presence of God made explicit by Jesus Christ and the Spirit. As we have seen, the heart of the matter is the concept of mediation which the Bible makes possible, generating as it does its unique doctrine of creation out of nothing.
Does that make sense? Maybe a further illustration might help: Think of what the Evangelist in the Gospel of John did. He “re-interpreted,” or per Irenaeus’ style, he recapitulated the original creation account in Genesis 1.1 by linking his linguistic harmonizing in John 1.1 “In the Beginning God” with his introduction of the Logos or Word to the world. In other words, in light of Jesus Christ what is presented in the Old Testament is re-understood in light of its fulfillment and substantive res (reality) as that is actualized in the Son, Jesus Christ. This is something of a further illustration of what Gunton is after in his linking of biblical interpretation into the context of a doctrine of creation. I.e. without God in Christ there would be no creation, or indeed recreation, wherein all of reality could come to have a Christ conditioned Triune shape and meaning. In other words, particularly as Gunton leaves off with a reference to creatio ex nihilo, what Irenaeus was about, according to Gunton, is basing his interpretation of Holy Scripture within a grandeur context than simply reading off its purported ‘face’ and absolutizing biblical meaning and reality from there. No, what Irenaeus, according to Gunton was about was recognizing that Scripture has a depth dimensional context and reality, and that that only comes as its total canonical orientation is found in and from its ever afresh ever anew referencing beyond itself, beyond its paper and ink, to its flesh and bloodied reality in Jesus Christ and the Triune life co-inhering therein.
Let me try to bring this down a notch (never an easy thing to do): in Irenaeus’ frame, in particular, and in a theological exegetical frame in general, what theological interpretation of scripture entails as a method of biblical interpretation, is the full recognition that scripture itself only has meaning as it constantly is referring itself to its deep reality in Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 5.39). It recognizes that all of reality only has reality as a contingent reality as that is given forth by the Word of God in Jesus Christ. Gunton, through Irenaeus, is showing that at least for the theological interpretation of scripture mode, we must presume upon the reality of who God is as revealed in Jesus Christ in order to cognize any sort of biblical meaning; if in fact we can first recognize that the Bible only has meaning as an instrument mediating something greater than itself to us (something or someOne who has made clear that He alone upholds all things by the word of His power; even Scripture’s meaning as that is found in his Word).
Does John MacArthur fit into this sort of theological interpretation of scripture, or does he operate from somewhere else? The irony is, as we examine his antecedents, when it comes to his hermeneutical method and exegetical practice, is that he operates off of Enlightenment text critical premises that are actually in contest with the sort of Irenaean hermeneutic we have been touching upon in this post. If this is the case (and it is), then how can we accept that MacArthur is actually offering us the Gospel According to Jesus when he is working from hermeneutical premises that themselves are concocted from ideational commitments that are in fact antagonistic to the sort of rich and deep theological pedigree of interpretation that someone like Irenaeus operated from? MacArthur doesn’t self-critically even think from a doctrine of creation and recreation (resurrection) as the basis within which the Bible can find orientation and meaning. MacArthur naively presumes upon a certain method of biblical interpretation that starts with a sort of rationalist common sense notion of reality and language that sees words and meaning abstractly accessible by the powers of human wit and a pressing into linguistic and historical realities without recognizing how reality itself is contingent upon the Word of God. In other words, MacArthur doesn’t make an intentional (Dogmatic) connection between meaning generation and God’s Word as the predicator of all meaning; even Scriptural meaning. He doesn’t allow that primal reality to form his development of a biblical hermeneutic and exegetical practice. As such he falls short in untold manner of ways in his exposition and sermonic deliveries.
 Colin E. Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical And Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), Loc 924, 931, 937 kindle.