When I was a new Christian, I naively thought that everyone read the Bible the same way, with virtually one interpretation that all born-again Christians would have. One of the biggest shocks I experienced occurred about six months into my walk with God, when I met a fundamentalist Baptist preacher who was trying to convince me that all Pentecostals were being misled by the devil!
In the years since my conversion, I have been greatly impacted by the power that our paradigms or perspectives have in regard to how we read the Scriptures, why we read the Scriptures, and how we interpret the Scriptures.
For example, if someone reads the Bible from the perspective of just wanting to have a blessed personal life, they will overemphasize everything in the Word regarding God’s blessing, and apply it to themselves. But, they may skip over some of the conditions of those blessings and vice versa.
If a person reads a book like Radical by David Platt, they can easily be moved from a prosperity paradigm or individual paradigm to a mission/discipleship-focused paradigm that emphasizes surrendering all for the urgency of making disciples, just like the original apostles did in the Gospels when they left all to follow Jesus. But those with a kingdom paradigm (like myself) will filter the great teachings of Platt's book so that they fit with the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28, which can result in a contemporary application of getting a good education, developing our creativity and making disciples of marketplace leaders by infiltrating the systems and institutions of this world (which I am sure the author would also make allowances for).
This can fit nicely with the Pauline epistles, which seem to advocate a quiet and slow personal and cultural revolution, in and through the mundane in our lives, as we do everything unto the Lord (see Colossians 3:17; Ephesians 5); not just radical experiences like selling all we have and moving to an unreached people group to preach the gospel.
The following are some of my opinions regarding 10 perspectives and their resulting interpretations:
1. The Word of Faith Perspective
Those who have been taught in the tradition of Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland and others in the Word of Faith movement (which started in the 1950s and gained great popularity in the 1970’s) read everything in Scripture with the lens of using their faith to access God’s promises, and Christ’s finished work on Calvary to receive divine healing and prosperity. Because of this, they usually do not study much of the Old Testament, except when they refer to passages regarding healing in the Pentateuch (e.g. Ex. 23:25, Psalm 103:1-5, and Prov. 4:22). They read the New Testament to see who they are or what they have “in Christ.” Thus, it is an individualistic, rights-centered approach to Scripture that is very weak on the corporate nature of vision, purpose and prosperity. Also, this perspective lacks a biblical worldview when it comes to the application of the Old Testament law of God to civil society.
In spite of its weaknesses, this perspective can still be effective when it comes to learning how to believe God for the miraculous!
2. The Liberation Perspective
Liberation theologians and their adherents emphasize the suffering of Christ because they read the Scriptures generally through the lens of class warfare, prejudice and victimology. Thus, the sufferings and cross of Christ (who was crucified by the majority culture) become a model for all suffering, oppressed people who believe Jesus has come primarily to give them economic and political liberty from their oppressors.
The challenge regarding this view is its potential to reduce Christology to anthropology and Christianity to a mere geopolitical/economic liberation movement.
3. The Perspective of Self-Empowerment
In the past two decades, we have seen the incredible rise of motivational speakers (e.g. Tony Robbins). Many preachers have used this perspective in their preaching. The result is that many sermons are based on the practical issues of the Bible related to hard work, faith, focus, understanding our unique gifts and calling and how we are made in the image of God to do great works like God. The challenge with this perspective is the lack of balance: proponents often do not balance their message with other passages related to Jesus’ teachings on self-denial, suffering, taking up the cross, and forsaking everything to follow Him. Scripture teaches us that before we can save our lives, we have to lose them (see Mark 8:35). Also, the emphasis in Scripture on long-lasting blessing is tied to personal transformation through holiness, humility and dependence on God—not self-empowerment through confidence in our own natural abilities, even if they are given by God.
4. The Pietistic Perspective
The perspective of the pietist lends itself to searching the Scriptures primarily to bring inner transformation and a personal closeness to Christ. Holiness, walking in the Spirit, hearing the voice of the Lord and denying ourselves are all emphasized, which is great—and all true, and absolutely necessary.
The weakness of this perspective is that believers can become so contemplative and self-focused on their own emotional and spiritual transformation that they can neglect the proper emphasis Christ gave us when He called us to go to all the world to preach the gospel (see Mark 16:15-18), and transform culture as salt and light (see Matt. 5:13-16).
5. The Evangelistic Missional Perspective
This perspective is all about winning souls and making disciples. Anything done by a church or believer that does not directly lead to converting and maturing people in Christ is jettisoned or viewed as unnecessary and lukewarm.
The weakness of this view is its tendency to be one-generational and not practical enough for the everyday lives of growing families. Also, it is not always conducive for those who have a long-term goal of producing wealth for the kingdom, and who want to put their children through the best universities for cultural credibility and access. There is also a possible lack of emphasis in regard to empowering influential marketplace leaders called to infiltrate the systems of the world (e.g. like the prophet Daniel).
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