How “the Spirit” speaks in a text

Dr. Albert Mohler reviews a work by John R. Franke, a professor at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, whom he says “has been among the foremost proponents of the embrace of a postmodern worldview.”

I see two things that I’d like to comment on. First is Franke’s statement that the earliest Protestants “were characterized by plurality”:

“The early Protestant church was characterized by plurality, but this does not mean that Protestants were pluralists,” he concedes. “They were not. Instead, they were committed to establishing the one true church over against the Roman Catholic Church, which they viewed as a heretical distortion of the one true church. They were committed to one true way to be a Christian, the one right way to read the Bible, the one system of doctrine, the one right set of practices.”

This is an incredibly helpful statement, and it sheds some light on how today’s Protestant churches need to continue to understand themselves and their respective missions. The One True God has one true and final purpose for the people that he calls and saves.

However, Franke moves into unhelpful territory soon afterward:

In the end, Franke’s understanding of the Bible falls desperately short of evangelical conviction. In an argument similar to that made by his late mentor, Stanley Grenz, Franke argues that “Christian communal identity has been bound up with a particular set of literary texts that together have been identified by that community as canonical Scripture.” He speaks of the Bible as “inspired,” but his argument is that “the Spirit has spoken, and now speaks, and will continue to speak with authority, guiding the church into truth, through the canonical texts of Scripture.” His proposal seems to leave no room whatsoever for verbal inspiration.

“The Bible is the principal means by which the Spirit guides the church today,” Franke affirms, but he goes on to state that “the speaking of the Spirit is not bound solely to the original intention of the biblical authors.” Utilizing a postmodern understanding of literary texts and their interpretation, Franke asserts: “The speaking of the Spirit through the texts of Scripture means that while the intention of the author is an important concern, it is not the only concern. It does not represent the fullness of the speaking of the Spirit, since this always involves the response of the reader” (emphasis added).

I would put “the intention of the author” as being not merely “important,” but of primary concern to the reader, intending what the text, and therefore what God, is intending to say. Calvin also talked about “the inner witness of the spirit” in understanding Scripture. But looking to “the speaking of the Spirit,” without consulting what the Spirit initially had to say in a particular text, is an error that many in the history of the church have fallen prey to.

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