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Jon Ruthven

This paper was written by Jon Ruthven.

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Jon Ruthven is a Professor of Systematic Theology at Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, Virginia.


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Articles > Charismatic Theology > Can a Charismatic Theology be Biblical?

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The Approach of this Paper

    I submit this paper for your scrutiny to test its viability as both a theological method and as a radical (in its original sense of going back to the root) Evangelical reframing of traditional doctrines. This paper represents the first stages of an attempt to re-vision a charismatic Evangelical theology, hence, on an indispensable principle of religious authority, i.e., sola scriptura.[3] Because we take this religious authority seriously, and therefore seek to screen out our own biases and traditions, we rely on some principles of content analysis, a method extensively employed and proven in social sciences and literature for objectifying the content and emphases of communication. This study appears only as an outline of largely unfinished research.

    To prosecute its thesis, this paper first provides background by briefly describing content analysis in contrast to traditional Evangelical hermeneutics. This is followed by a description of emphasis patterns within selected doctrines, as laid out by: 1) traditional Evangelicalism, 2) contemporary biblical theology, and 3) some procedures of content analysis. The paper concludes with a summary and implications of these contrasts for contemporary Evangelical theology and praxis. This study examines specifically certain emphases within the doctrines of hermeneutics, the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God, soteriology, and faith.

    The purpose of this paper is not simply an exercise in polemics, but an attempt to restore, on biblical criteria, some key theological emphases of a holy, authoritative, inspired and inerrant scripture, and thereby to express a truly normative, biblically-grounded theology for all believers in Christ Jesus.

Content Analysis: A Hermeneutical Method for Determining Literary Emphasis

    Content analysis is a commonly, if semi-consciously and crudely, applied method of determining, inter alia, emphasis. For example, if a young man's fiancée moves to a new town and then writes him a five-page letter in which four pages describe the handsome boy next door, while only one page discusses the former young man, then his reaction to the letter (unless love is truly blind) will involve content analysis: "Four pages about this new guy, and only one about me?" We need not require a trained linguist to draw ominous conclusions from this letter. [4]

    More formally, content analysis may be defined (more broadly than we will apply it in this paper) as "a method of studying and analyzing communication in a systematic, objective, and quantitative manner for the purpose of measuring variables." [5] This procedure is becoming widespread in the examination of a vast body of material, e.g., in determining the biases, themes, or allotment of emphases within TV programs, newspaper editorials and news, foreign official "news" bulletins, propaganda, transcripts of trials, psychotherapy sessions, dreams, literary works.[6] In other words, content analysis, among other goals, attempts to measure precisely what is being communicated from the sender's point of view.

    "Systematic, objective and quantitative" approaches to determining emphasis in theology have not characterized the discipline up to now. Indeed, we need only a passing familiarity with a variety of other academic disciplines over the last century or so to appreciate the gripping power of tradition to retain familiar categories rather than to allow a "paradigm revolution" in our thinking based on new data, i.e., recognizing that new winerequires new wineskins. [7] Certainly theology, including hermeneutics, is not exempt from this phenomenon, often being shaped far more by inherited patterns of emphasis than the emphases in the text of scripture.[8]

    A precedent-setting example is Martin Luther, who saw the charismatic emphases of the Gospels and Acts (and largely ignored them in other parts) and responded by gerrymandering the NT to conform to the emphases of his theology and to deny NT authority to his opponents. Specifically, it was within the context of anti-charismatic polemics, against both the Papacy and the Radical Reformation, that Luther developed his concept of a "canon within the canon," i.e., that the doctrines and emphases of one group of books was subordinated to another group. In his "Preface to the New Testament" of 1522, Martin Luther distinguishes the "true and noblest books," i.e., Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Peter and then the rest of Paul's letters and the first epistle and Gospel of John, from others in the New Testament. His sole criterion for selecting "the heart and core of all the books" is that "these do not describe many works and miracles of Christ, but rather masterfully show how faith in Christ overcomes sin, death, and hell and gives life, righteousness, and blessedness." The discerning Christian prefers the Gospel of John over the Synoptics simply because it contains the fewest miracles. [9]

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