Ministerial vs. magisterial interpretation

Years ago, this post from Jame’s Swan’s Beggar’s All blog, the Dead Letter of Scripture, hit me pretty hard.

Here was the final summary offered in the post:

FINAL SUMMARY: God’s breathed-out revelation to his creation is dead, ineffectual, unclear, incompetent, insufficient, incomplete with regards to salvation and inferior to the Roman Catholic Church.

Recently, I did a post on my own blog and the Just and Sinner blog that covered a related topic: how we should or should not speak of ourselves as interpreters of God’s very word.  The title of the post was John 16:8-11 and ministerial vs. magisterial interpretation and the entry point for the post was how Lutherans often apply the law-gospel doctrine in a rather wooden and even faulty way (using John 16:8-11 as a key example).  This led me to the wider issue of how we see ourselves as biblical interpreters.  Here is how I ended the post:

Think about what Pastor Todd Wilken, the host of Issues ETC has said as regards his complaints about much contemporary Christian music: when you are courting a woman, and her father asks you what you find compelling about his daughter, you don’t talk about what she does for you– how she makes you feel and such.  You talk about her, her character, her qualities, who she is.

I submit that passages like Romans 3:19-20 in particular help us to remember that the validation of God’s word is never subject to our evaluation of its truthfulness to any degree whatsoever.Nor is the establishment of God’s word in any degree based on our critical evaluation of itNor it this the time for us to be emphasizing how we are inevitably interpreters of the words of others (perhaps even testing them against other things we know are confident are true) – in hearing these words it is we who are interpreted, for we are hearing the active words of the living Spirit of Christ (see more about an interesting battle that took place over issues related to this in the 16th century between Matthias Flacius and Caspar Schwenckfeld). It is only men veering towards or playing with death who dare to call these words “dead”.

Although I did not mention this yet elsewhere, this critique is actually going to lay the groundwork for future posts that will be challenging some of the ways confessional Lutherans approach apologetics.  That said, I am sure there will be things in the posts that will challenge some Reformed sensibilities as well.  Please don’t hesitate to engage me on them.

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