Academic journal article Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

Reading Scripture and Nature: Pentecostal Hermeneutics and Their Implications for the Contemporary Evangelical Theology and Science Conversation

Academic journal article Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

Reading Scripture and Nature: Pentecostal Hermeneutics and Their Implications for the Contemporary Evangelical Theology and Science Conversation

Article excerpt

Many conservative evangelicals are concordists when it comes to their views regarding how the Bible relates to modern science. (1) What this means is that they assume that the plain sense of Scripture, rightly understood, should be confirmable by and harmonizable with--be in concord--rather than contradict the findings of modern science, correctly interpreted. When applied to the creation narrative in the book of Genesis, however, such expectations are challenged, and many conservative evangelicals feel as if they have to opt for what the Bible says (that God created the world in six days) rather than what science says (that the world has evolved over a long period of time). This explains, in large part, the popularity of creationism--the idea that scientific evidence can be marshaled in support of the biblical account--among conservative evangelicals not only in North America but also, increasingly, around the world. (2)

Insofar as many Pentecostals consider conservative evangelicals their allies and agree with them about the authority, infallibility, and even inerrancy of the Bible, to the same degree many Pentecostals also presume a concordist hermeneutic along with the accompanying young-earth view of the world. This explains, at least in part, why many Pentecostals are creationists who are suspicious, at best, about the theory of evolution. But what if concordism is itself a modern concoction, developed by modernists--including conservative evangelicals--who feel as if they need to adapt the explanatory power of modern science to interpret the Bible, resulting, paradoxically and ironically, in a scriptural method of interpretation that is itself at odds with a biblical self-understanding? What if the concordist privileging of modern scientific modes of reference and causality is out of sync with the way that Scripture presents itself? Might application of concordist assumptions about science do violence to (at worst) or miss the point of (at best)the Scriptures in general and the Genesis creation narrative in particular?

Others have provided very convincing responses urging against adoption of such concordist presuppositions. (3) In this article, I want to add to these arguments from a specifically Pentecostal perspective. In brief, I will suggest, negatively, that Pentecostal hermeneutical instincts and sensibilities should lead them to question, even reject, concordism, especially in its creationist manifestations, since that is inconsistent with their own instinctive approaches to Scripture; put positively, I will present a rudimentary argument for a Pentecostal theological hermeneutic that reads the book of Scripture soteriologically--i.e., primarily as a theological book focused on God's redemptive work in the world--while remaining capable of acknowledging and even benefitting from modern disciplinary perspectives, even modern science. If this is true, then the result is that evangelical Christians can seek to engage existentially with the realities pointed to by the Scriptures, while being less concerned about what the relevant secular or scientific disciplines may or may not say about such matters.

I will make my case in three steps, corresponding to the three major sections of this article, by arguing that (1) Pentecostal biblical interpretation (hermeneutics), our case study, is fundamentally soteriological and pneumatological, that is, focused on the ongoing redemptive work of the Holy Spirit, rather than merely historical; (2) such a soteriological and pneumatological way of reading the Bible can be appropriately applied to the Genesis narrative as well, resulting in a more expansive theology of creation than that produced by concordism in its creationist guises; and (3) the result will be a distinctive contemporary contribution to the Christian understanding of the "two books" of God's revelation, Scripture and creation/nature, one that preserves the integrity of both the life in the Spirit and the modern scientific enterprise but yet provides an overarching theological narrative that can hold the two together. …

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