The Many and the One: The Interface Between Orthodox and Evangelical Protestant Hermeneutics (1)
In any ecumenical dialogue, a discussion of perspectives toward the Bible as the Word of God is a primary issue. It is the contention of thiw paper that within Protestantism, the evangelical heritage provides the closest parallel to the Orthodox position on Scripture and hermeneutics. Both have a high view of Scripture and inspiration as well as a conservative approach to critical issues. The purpose of this study is to note agreements and differences in the respective hermeneutical approaches of these two Christian traditions and thus to enhance future dialogue. I have chosen key hermeneutical categories and under each will attempt both to describe each tradition’s approach and to distinguish the differences and similarities between them. Thus each category chosen below attempts to develop this interface further.
Evangelicalism is a branch of Protestantism that has its roots in the fundamentalist movement bur went in a different direction in the 1940s and 1950s, Marsden notes four stages in the movement from the mid-1800s to the present: 1) From the 1870s to the end of World War I fundamentalism / evangelicalism was both popular and mainstream in American religion, although there were increasing points of tension centering on the mainline denominations and seminaries like Harvard and Yale, all of which were moving in a liberal direction. 2) From 1919 to 1926 the modernists increasingly won every battle, concluding with the Scopes “monkey trial” that effectively humiliated the fundamentalist position. 3) From 1926 to the early 1940s fundamentalism withdrew from mainstream American religious life and regrouped. It became increasingly sectarian, as seen in the doctrine of separatism that became a focal point of large segments of the movement. 4) From the 1940s to the present, a self-conscious “new evangelicalism” emerged and formed a distinct movement along several lines: a desire to dialogue with non-evangelicals, a rejection of radical separatism, a theological openness on non-essential matters (e.g., eschatological views), cooperative evangelism (e.g., Billy Graham crusades), a refusal to align political conservatism with orthodoxy, and a growing social concern. (2) Of course, this is a widely diverse movement, but one can say that there are certain common characteristics: a high view of Scripture as the inerrant/infallible Word of God, the centrality of the “gospel” (euaggelion) of Jesus Christ (including substitutionary atonement and the necessity of a personal faith-decision), and a Trinitarian theology.
1. This paper is an outgrowth of a presentation to the Society for the Study of Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelism at Wheaton College, September 25, 1993. I would like to thank Keith Wells, a member of the Society and reference librarian at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, for his invaluable help in researching this paper.
2. George M. Marsden, “From Fundamentalism to Evangelicalism: A Historical Analysis,” in The Evangelicals: What they believe, Who They Are, Where They Are Changing, ed. David F. Wells and John D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975), 142-62 (esp. pp. 144-49). See also Grant R. Osborne, “Evangelical Interpretation of Scripture,” in The Bible in the Churches: How Various Christians Interpret the Scriptures (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1994), 129-159.