January 21, 2008
The Hermeneutics Quiz
Scot McKnight creates a tool to uncover our biblical blind spots.
As you read this, the winter issue of Leadership is hitting mailboxes. One of the more provocative features of the issue will no doubt be a hermeneutics quiz created by Scot McKnight. The issue's theme is, "Is Our Gospel Too Small?" To help answer that question, we invited McKnight to develop a simple tool to assist church leaders in diagnosing their own biases and blind spots with Scripture. In the introduction to the quiz, McKnight says:
I'm curious why one of my friends dismisses the Friday-evening-to-Saturday-evening Sabbath observance as "not for us today" but insists that capital punishment can't be dismissed because it's in the Old Testament.
The quiz is comprised of twenty multiple-choice questions designed to surface the decisions we make, perhaps without thinking about them, and how we both read our Bible and don't read our Bible. Here are a few sample questions:
The Bible's words are:
A. Inerrant on everything.
B. Inerrant on matters of faith and practice.
C. Not defined by inerrancy or errancy, which are modernistic categories.
The commands in the Old Testament to destroy a village, including women and children, are:
A. Justifiable judgment against sinful, pagan, immoral peoples.
B. God's ways in the days of the Judges (etc.): they are primitive words but people's understanding as divine words for that day.
C. A barbaric form of war in a primitive society, and I wish they weren't in the Bible.
The command of Jesus to wash feet is:
A. To be taken literally, despite near universal neglect in the church.
B. A first century form of serving others, to be practiced today in other ways.
C. An ancient custom with no real implication for our world.
After answering all 20 questions, your score is plotted on a hermeneutic scale ranging from Conservative (20-52), Moderate (53-65), and Progressive (66 or higher). McKnight offers helpful analysis concerning the strengths and weaknesses of each of these ways of interpreting Scripture, and he reveals how his own use of the quiz produced some surprising results. He writes:
I was surprised by the low score of an emergent friend and the high score of a professor at a very conservative Christian college. Some answer progressively on one controversial issue (say, women in ministry), while answering conservatively on others (homosexuality, for example).
We invited a few regular Leadership/Out of Ur contributors to take the quiz and report their scores. Here's what they had to say.
Dan Kimball is pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, a columnist for Leadership, and the author of a number of popular books including The Emerging Church. QUIZ SCORE: 62
I wasn't too surprised that I came out in the moderate category. I think the score represents me well. This was a great little survey as Scot causes us to stop and actually ponder the way we view Scripture. Too often we simply make assumptions and draw conclusions without really thinking about why. I am giving this quiz to our staff and elders. I think it will be a great discussion.David Fitch is a pastor at Life on the Vine Christian Community in Long Grove, Illinois, a professor at Northern Seminary, and the author of The Great Giveaway. QUIZ SCORE: 67
I find myself unhappy with my score on the quiz because it labels me a "progressive" (but just barely). I am unhappy because a progressive is described as a person who doesn't believe in the plain and literal meaning of the text. Yet I certainly do. I just don't believe the plain meaning is always immediately evident to each individual reading the text all by him/herself (and this includes even the most brilliant historical critical exegetes among us). Indeed that plain meaning is best preserved through the ongoing community of the church carrying out its apostolic task to faithfully transmit the gospel both in the community's preaching and its living. If that makes me a progressive, so be it.
I also must protest that seeing the Bible as "historically shaped and culturally conditioned" somehow makes me a progressive. For there is no more conservative view than believing in the incarnational nature of the gospel that has come in the particular person of Jesus Christ. This means that Truth necessarily comes via history and culture. The fact that I believe this should make me a raving lunatic conservative in these times where everyone wants to find God in the universal. All in all, I enjoyed taking this quiz and I say thanks to Scot. But I still wonder, how can this quiz help evangelicals escape the hermeneutical categories (of modernity) that individualize and dehistoricize the ways we seek to interpret Scripture?
Bryan Wilkerson is the senior pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts, and a regular contributor to Leadership. QUIZ SCORE: 59
The quiz put me squarely in the Moderate category, which feels accurate and comfortable for me. While I would agree with McKnight's description of the Moderate as "flexible," I see flexibility in terms of applying scripture to a wide range of issues, rather than allowing freedom to pick and choose which commands to obey and which to dismiss. Similairly, what McKnight describes as the moderates' "struggles...to render judgments," don't feel like struggles to me, but rather like reasonable and defensible principles for interpreting difficult issues.
Recognizing these distinct approaches to the Bible (conservative, moderate, and progressive) helps to explain the difficulties we often have resolving controversial issues in the congregational. When wrestling with issues like women elders or modes of baptism, healthy debate and biblical discussion doesn't always lead to resolution because sincere believers are operating from different hermeutical perspectives. Awareness of these categories can defuse some of the tension, and reminds church leaders of the importance of teaching and modeling sound biblical interpretation.
If you haven't already taken "The Hermeneutics Quiz," you can find it here.