Not many years ago, a theological view called the “canonical approach” was championed by Brevard S. Childs from Yale Divinity School. (The Canon means the accepted, received, authoritative books of scripture – our Bible.) This approach takes the whole Bible into account when building theology, including both the Greek Scriptures (New Covenant) and the Hebrew scriptures (Old Covenant). The canonical approach means reading the Bible holistically and believing that one can assert the general thrust of the whole Bible – and especially its climax in the New Covenant Scriptures – for establishing teaching that should be normative for all believers.*
When people “pick and choose” their passages and verses to develop doctrine they can arrive at very odd conclusions. Today’s egalitarians argue that the main thrust of the Bible is toward equality. Advocates for gay marriage argue that the thrust of the Bible is for greater and greater acceptance of gay life!
Today, a growing number of Evangelicals and Charismatics are coming to really “off” positions in their theology, including severely erroneous views such as universalism (that everyone will be saved). We noted last month that those who reject the authority of the Old Testament simply ignore what the New Testament says about the Hebrew Bible. Even well-meaning believers are liable to pick and choose texts and misinterpret them, in spite of other texts that would correct their errors. This is now rampant. When one builds a doctrinal position, it has to be based on the picture that emerges from the whole of scripture including all the texts that make assertions about the matter. Yes, there is evidence that the Bible sometimes gives direction for a limited time. For example, Paul writes on it being better to not marry given certain circumstances. However, when we build our doctrine, we have to make sure that we do not reject the universal teaching and commands of the Torah and of the whole Bible. I call this a “conservative canonical approach.” We should go through the Bible accounting for all the texts that touch on a subject in context and then come to a whole-Bible conclusion. Many are not are doing this today, but it is crucial in avoiding error. I wrote my last three books to help correct errors that are now becoming very alarming.
These books are:
Prosperity: What the Bible Really Says,
Heaven, Hell and the Afterlife: What the Bible Really Says, &
Powers of Light and Darkness: What the Bible Really Says.
While some cultural background material for biblical interpretation is also helpful, anyone can study the Bible this way (for whole-Bible conclusions) and thus safeguard truth and avoid error. Today this is easier with all the software and internet Bible tools available, many of them without charge. Let’s have a truly conservative canonical approach that produces sound doctrine.
*Childs’ approach was almost at the level of the “high view” of “inerrancy” that we hold to – that all the texts of the Bible always speak the truth according to the basic teaching of each text.
This article originally appeared on Tikkun Ministries International, November 11, 2018, and reposted with permission.