Evangelicals, like others, do not have a single method for interpreting scripture; however, despite the diversity within evangelicalism concerning specific methods of biblical interpretation, features remain which still enable one to classify certain approaches and people as “evangelical”.
The defining features of an evangelical interpretation of scripture are found in its presuppositions, that is, those basic beliefs which shape one’s worldview. These defining presuppositions are largely related to a doctrine of God and doctrine of scripture. In fact, the same can be said for non-evangelical perspectives. One’s doctrine of God and scripture are essentially related and they determine the resulting method of biblical interpretation.
For the evangelical, their doctrine of God includes a God who is both transcendent (distinct from his creation, holy and sovereign) and immanent (present with creation, concerned and active in creation). It also includes a God who communicates to humans made in his image in order that they might have a relationship with him.
This sovereign God is also an effective communicator. This means that his communication is both meaningful in its content and powerful in its ability to accomplish his purposes.
As you can imagine, this picture of God produces a distinct view of scripture when scripture is understood to be a primary means by which God performs this communication.
When we come to an evangelical doctrine of scripture we find that it is consistent with this picture of God. According to evangelicals, the God who communicates continues to communicate in every age through the scriptures. While affirming the divine nature of scripture, evangelicals do not neglect the human contribution. In fact, the human authorship of scripture is basic to their method of interpretation.
Evangelicals see a goal of biblical interpretation as the uncovering of the human author’s intention. Giving priority to the author’s intended meaning provides biblical interpretation with objectivity and stability.
The processes involved in the divine and human production of scripture are debated within evangelicalism, but there is agreement concerning the result of this process. All scripture is “God-breathed”. As such, it provides us with a continual standard upon which we can measure all other potential sources of God’s communication.
The result of these presuppositions on an evangelical interpretation of scripture can be summarized in a word: “confidence”. Confidence that God has communicated effectively to humanity; confidence in his ability to communicate truthfully, meaningfully and powerfully; confidence that he has communicated in such a way that we are able to interpret and understand his communication; confidence that his word continues to be relevant to the Christian community and the world in every age; confidence that his message, which he sovereignly communicated, is not corrupted by any supposedly erroneous world views or ungodly motivations of the human writers; and confidence that those writers were moved by his Spirit in such a way that what they wrote is what he wanted them to write.
Evangelicals come to scripture with confidence because they come to God with confidence, a confidence not in themselves, but in God’s power, God’s desire for us to know him and so be transformed by him.
Kit Barker is Lecturer of Theology at the Wesley Institute in Sydney.