I just finished reading another chapter of Slave by John MacArthur. In it, he recounts the martyrdom of John Huss. Huss happened upon the writings of Wycliffe and they totally changed his life. I know it wasn’t Wycliffe alone that fortified Huss while he burned at the stake, but how did Huss know Wycliffe was right? What if Huss was simply enamored by the novelty of Wycliffe’s ideas about the authority of the church versus the authority of scripture? How did John Huss become convinced that the doctrine of the Catholic church was wrong?
Is there any book you’ve read outside of scripture that presented a new idea or spiritual concept to you for which you would be willing to burn?
The recent online discussions about two different Christian books have had me puzzling over those questions the last couple of weeks.
The two books were written by Christians for a Christian audience and published by Christian presses. The authors use the Bible as the foundation for their ideas. Even so, there has been a great deal of disagreement, even heated argument, among believers about the ideas put forth by the authors. One side is warning the other to avoid a book because of its dangerous, anti-biblical ideas. The other side says, “You’re wrong. You’re exaggerating. Besides, how do you know it’s wrong? Why should I listen to you?”
If Christians are using the same book (the Bible), why are there so many different interpretations? I realize that there are different methods of interpretation that yield different results, but can they all be right simply based on the correct execution of a method of interpretation? Are they all equally valuable? Is it possible for an idea to be right in its own way?
And how do you know that the interpretation, though achieved by the accurate use of an accepted method of interpretation, is taking you down the right road? Authors have hundreds of pages to craft an idea; how do you know whether they’ve taken you to the right or wrong place by the end? Do you simply trust the publisher? Well, it’s a Christian book. I bought it at LifeWay, so it must be good. (“Good” in the sense that it contains truth.) Do you trust the author? Do you trust your feelings about the ideas? Do you trust it because it resonates with your experience and spirit?
These are important questions. For instance, as I mentioned, I’m reading Slave by John MacArthur. Generally, I trust what he writes. In this new book, he has the burden of convincing me that there has been a vast conspiracy among biblical scholars and translators to remove the word “slave” from the New Testament. That’s a pretty big accusation with some real implications for my life. Am I simply going to believe it because it’s John MacArthur? Am I going to disregard his argument because I don’t like the word “slave” or the idea that Jesus owns me? After all, based on my understanding of slavery, that’s not very nice and loving; that doesn’t sound like Jesus. MacArthur is accurately and carefully using a historical-grammatical hermeneutic. The conclusions he’s reaching are correct (based on my limited knowledge of the time period and culture) according to that method. Does that make it truth or just a particular kind of truth? When I finish the last chapter, how will I know whether MacArthur is right or not?
How do you evaluate the veracity of a book? I’m looking forward to reading your comments.