I will definitely be reading Rachel Held Evans’ new book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, but I haven’t done so yet, so I’m not commenting on that book. It’s always interesting to me, however, to see reviews of reviews before I’ve gotten my hands on a book.
In this case the review getting reviewed is by Kathy Keller at The Gospel Coalition, and Morgan Guyton is doing the reviewing of the review. The whole thing is interesting, but I’m particularly interested in one aspect that comes near the end:
Kathy Keller responds to this with a very presumptuous and uncharitable indictment: “If you say, ‘Parts of the Bible express love, and other parts express power interests,’ you’ve clearly gotten your standard and definition of love from outside the Bible—specifically, from contemporary sensibilities—and these are your ultimate authority and norm.” Beyond the breathtaking unfairness of leveling such a strong accusation with so little supporting evidence, the palpable irony here is that Rachel, without naming (or perhaps realizing) it, has articulated the hermeneutical principle of the spiritual godfather of the Reformation, Augustine, who says in his opus De Doctrina Christiana: “If it seems to you that you have understood the divine scriptures, or any part of them, in such a way that by this understanding you do not build up this twin love of God and neighbor, then you have not understood them” (De Doctrina 1:36:40). Augustine is calling upon us to do precisely what Rachel tells us to do: read the Bible with the prejudice of love. This is similar to the hermeneutical standard of the famous 18th century British evangelical John Wesley who said, “No scripture can mean that God is not love or that his mercy is not over all his works.”
I’ve tagged this the “hanging rule” and of course it goes back to Jesus–“on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40). You can see my KJV background by the fact I remember it that way and the name I use comes from that particular passage. And as Guyton notes it couldn’t be farther from original.
I consider this one of the best rules the non-expert can use in applying scripture. I’m not talking about writing scholarly papers on exegesis, unless one is doing theology, but rather about how one understands and applies scripture in one’s life.
What amazes me is how many people think that love is such a dangerous principle. Yes, one might improperly define the word “love” but that is true of any word. The problem I often see is that by letting scripture define “love” (or claiming to do so), people often rob the word “love” of any meaning. If you take any interpretation of any violent passage and claim that must somehow be part of God’s love, then you can easily make love meaningless, and thus statements in scripture such as “God is love” are robbed of any force.
“God is love” should be permitted to stand against our theology and correct it.