For the past year or so, I have been searching in vain for some sensible definition of what is being called "the new hermeneutic," which is supposed to give one the ability to understand the true meaning of passages of scripture which one does not want to obey! I have not yet found anyone who can tell any logical way to apply its principles. In fact, the only information I have been able to get is that one must not try to be logical in its application, for if one is logical, he is depending on his own human wisdom and the new hermeneutic supposedly depends on a superior wisdom from above. Whether it is directly infused as a result of prayer, by the laying on of hands, or some other mystical method is not yet clear.
So, although I have not been able to understand exactly what it is or specifically how it works, I have been able to find some of its fruits, and thus, how it works to some degree in some specific situations. Although I am hesitant to give these examples because it may promote a more widespread use of these nebulous methods, I will try to suggest the sort of thing that I think I have discovered.
For example, one may easily discern by that new method that Acts 2:38 is not really applicable to people in general, but was a specific statement made only for the benefit of those in that circumstance. The reasoning (?) goes something like this:
The Great Commission is the basic rule for salvation. It says, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." So, all that a person really needs to do is to have some sort of faith in Jesus, and be baptized as Jesus was, and he has all the promises of God that relate to being a Christian. Acts 2:38 says "Repent" but since that was a specific statement to those who had crucified the Lord, it does not necessarily apply to us today. The fact that they were pricked in their hearts does not mean that everyone must be pricked in the heart. There is no statement that shows that the Ethiopian eunuch was pricked in his heart. As brother Famous Preacher so beautifully put it, "he was serving God according to the best light he had and was guilty of no great sin." A child who has no consciousness of sin and therefore cannot repent, may be baptized to follow the example of Jesus, and is therefore added to the church. A member of any denomination who thinks he was saved somewhere in his past life, even if he has no real idea when it was, may confess his belief in Christ and be baptized to follow the example of Jesus, and he is saved, and is my brother in Christ.
Do you know anyone who teaches like that? To my surprise, I have discovered some who have a national reputation doing so. They may not know they are applying the new hermeneutic, but they are.
Then the new hermeneutic takes the next logical (?) step, or plunge into the abyss: Since we are all brothers in Christ, and all of us are wrong about something, it is hypocritical, wrong and judgmental for us to assume that all the saved are in the Lord's church. Who are you to assume that the things about which you may be wrong are less significant than the things about which others are wrong?
Somewhere about at this point, the advocate of the new hermeneutic expounds his basic philosophy: We are absolutely sure of one thing and that is that there is no absolute truth of which anyone can be sure. We are absolutely positive about that. Since the Bible is absolutely clear that we cannot afford to depend on man's wisdom, then anything that is logical or makes any sense is to be rejected. Since that does not make any sense, you may accept it as absolute truth.
I had started to write a long article about this, but by this time I am becoming a little nauseated, and think it may be best to stop. One of the very sad things about this new hermeneutic is that there are more people than you might suppose who are using something like it, and are unaware of it. Like some other foul poisons, when it gets loose in the atmosphere, it soaks into many surrounding things without us being aware of it.
T. Pierce Brown
Published in The Old Paths Archive