Seeking Lasting Reproducibility by Interpreting Scripture with Humility

Seeking Lasting Reproducibility by Interpreting Scripture with Humility March 14, 2013

Biblically speaking, how should we understand “reproducibility?” Or, stated in another way, what is it we seek to reproduce in our training?

In the previous posts, I considered possible reasons why missionaries so strongly emphasize “reproducibility.” I argued that there are serious problems with this trend.

In this post, I propose an alternative way of thinking about reproducibility. At one level, I agree that we want to teach ideas and methods in a simple way, if possible. However, we do not want to make them more simple than they really are. As Christians, not mere pragmatists, what do we want to reproduce?

There is nothing we could do more reproducible than helping someone internalize how to interpret Scripture. I am emphasizing the “how” question, not “what” theological conclusions someone should know. I am referring to exegesis, the skill of hermeneutics/interpretation. A group of people may not completely grasp the teacher’s message or it implications, yet listeners soundly trained in exegesis will be able to return to the passage and reproduce the teacher’s instruction (assuming the teacher is correct). If the teacher was mistaken in a few points, exegetically strong listeners can discern those aspects and even help the teacher communicate the Bible’s meaning more clearly.

From left to right, the structures of A-, B- a...
Reproducibility is about DNA.

We can reproduce most efficiently those things that we have most internalized. Every Christian needs to internalize the most basic principles of interpretation, things like “Interpret Scripture with Scripture,” “Context is King,” use clear texts to interpret unclear texts, etc. If listeners do not have a grasp of these principles, they will overly depend on the opinions of their teachers, being unable to make humble challenges to mistaken teaching. In addition, the average Christian will either be intimidated to interpret the Bible or perhaps assert wrong conclusions that stem from naive, uninformed readings of a biblical passage.

Training Christians in the principles of biblical interpretation protect churches from leaders who abuse their authority and appeal to their education. By reproducing sound exegetes––interpreters, not just theologians––we help people to honor the Bible as their authority over any particular teacher.

This is real, lasting reproducibility.

Our methods and teaching should aim to foster humility. Over emphasizing reproducibility undermines that goal inasmuch as it limits our view of Scripture and turns our attention to other objectives, like conformity, speed, numbers, etc.

We seek to shape DNA. At some level, we may be able to map out an abstract map of the reproduction process. However, in reality, the whole thing is far more complex than we sometimes estimate. Having sound skills in biblical interpretation (not just theology) is fundamental to reproductive DNA.

Ultimately, we strive to reproduce godly, Christ-like church leaders and followers of Christ. This is a holistic goal, which takes time and a multiple of approaches. It involves one’s head, heart, and hands.

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