Recommended Reading

Recently, I’ve participated (on several blogs and discussion lists) in some conversations on hermeneutics in the churches of Christ. As is so often the case, these conversations eventually devolved into brethren (myself regrettably included) repeating either “CENI GOOD!” or “CENI BAD!” at one another in various iterations and decibel levels. However, out of the ruins of such a breakdown in dialogue rose for me a moment of silent wonder and awe.

You see, one brother (Bobby V., I think) offered to the discussion a link to an essay from Tom Olbricht entitled “Hermeneutics in the Churches of Christ.” I want to add my recommendation to his. If anyone else has grown weary of chewing on their brethren’s hearts by arguing over the merits of CENI, this essay is for you. With broad but careful and clearly-annotated strokes, Bro. Olbricht traces the historical development of our brotherhood’s hermeneutical tradition. He goes on to show how different aspects of our interpretive methods have been applied at the scholarly level and the congregational level. He closes by offering his hypothesis on the source of our recent hermeneutical wars, and pointing to real opportunities and challenges for our future.

I write this entry soberly and repentantly. Soberly, because I have rarely encountered scholarly writing so clear, thorough, accessible, pertinent, irenic, and exciting! The last essay I read whose author’s voice struck me like this was NT Wright’s essay on Biblical Authority. Repentantly, because while Bro. Olbricht attacks no one, a few passages ARE rather pointed. He writes, “Members seem currently more interested in personal struggles than in reflection upon how to interpret the Scripture.” I bow my head, guilty as charged. To lead God’s people in the path of Jesus, we must all do a better job of discarding, shelving, or at LEAST ‘back-burnering’ our personal struggles and strive to let God’s Word speak with the voice and authority God intended. That starts with me.

I encourage everyone to take the time to examine Bro. Olbricht’s essay, and if anyone is interested in irenic and growth-oriented discussion about it, I would be excited to participate either on Fumbling… or elsewhere as would be most appropriate and helpful.

in HIS love,


About Nick Gill

orphan-poet-adoptee-soldier-prodigal-servant-husband- counselor-desperate seeker after my Father's face "I feel my body weakened by the years as people turn to gods of cruel design. Is it that they fear the pain of death, or is it that they fear the joy of life?" - Toad the Wet Sprocket

Posted on 20 August, 2006, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Nick,Points well taken. Too often I find that rather than discussing interpretation principles, we’re discussing “Are we going to do _____ or not?” And our preferences as to whether or not to do it shape our discussion.My classes with Dr. Olbricht forever changed my approach to Scripture. A very insightful, humble man.—Tim

  2. Thanks for the comments on my site and the information on CENI. Thanks.

  3. Stoned-Campbell Disciple

    Nick,I am pleased that Olbricht was helpful to you. He is a great and gracious man. I agree that he attacks no one but he does make some “pointed” remarks as you point out. He has always been kind and gracious to me. Shalom,Bobby Valentine

  4. Nick,Excellent post.I think most Christians approach the text with agendas, trying to prove their views instead of really looking at what God is actually saying. I think our heritage, background, social enviornment, class, political views play a role when we read the Bible. Can we set those things aside. I think we should and when we do his word will suprise us. Last year I read the Old Testament for the first time without considering the N.T. I read it as the New Testament hadn’t been written and it brought new meaning, power and God’s grace just jumped out of the pages. Grace. Nick excellent post.I enjoy reading your blog.You make me think.

  5. Adelphoi,Sometimes I just don’t know who to listen to. I’ve been reading the Heart of the Restoation series out of Abilene Christian. I know that many of my ministering friends have connections with the lectures at Pepperdine, the work at Abilene, the Tulsa workshop. I believe that what they are doing is good work. They are striving to grow and to understand God’s message so they can relay it to a desperate world. Then, I read a collection of book reviews written and published by John Waddey that basically crucifies such men as Olbricht, JM Hicks, C Leonard Allen, Richard Hughes, Royce Money, as well as the usual suspects, Lucado and Atchley and Shelley.I can’t blame the man for voicing his opinions and concerns, or even for naming names, because Paul had no problem naming names when he believed certain brethren had shipwrecked their faith and were a danger to the young body.There are a lot of people who agree with Waddey.There are a lot of people who agree with those men whom he ‘wrote up’.I’m just one theological neophyte in the churches of Christ. I read what one group of brethren writes about the narrative nature of Scripture, about how our schools and congregations have tended to render obsolete the message of the Hebrew Scriptures, about how the early Restoration writers were shaped by their Enlightenment and Scottish Common Sense paradigms.Then I read books from other groups that say that group A’s concern with narrative is just postmodern subjectivism, how most of our preaching schools and universities have always taught to take literary style into account, how they can’t think of one preacher who doesn’t study and teach the Hebrew Scriptures, and how group A is being just as shaped by postmodernism as the earlier Restoration writers were by modernism.I get confused and depressed and just wonder if I should just jettison the whole business. I just don’t know. It is intellectually dishonest to ignore the concerns of Waddey, et al, isn’t it?in HIS love,Nick

  6. Stoned-Campbell Disciple

    Yep, I’ve been “crucified” by Waddey before too. Nick you have to simply read, look at the sources as best you can, and then decide what you believe. As for Brother Waddey’s book reviewing talent, he and I had an exchange sometime back over Doug Foster and Gary Holloway’s little Renewing God’s People: A Concise History of Churches of Christ … one of the best 150 page books you can get your hands in my opinion. Waddey wants to lay the charge of “revisionism.” That term is a boggy man with no clear meaning. What does he mean by that? Where did the authors misrepresent the facts of the matter? He could not demonstrate it and cannot demonstrate. He says these authors have an “agenda.” Well so did every other author in history including Earl West and John Waddey. Both are extremely selective in their sources.Well I could go so I better quite before I get into high gear.Shalom,Bobby Valentine

  7. I took your advise and read Olbricht’s essay with great interest. I believe his conclusions are for the most part right on, and an honest look at a movement trying desperately to hold on to it’s historic identity.The most telling part of the piece to me was this “In regard to soteriology, Churches of Christ members have a relationship with Christ by being in the church. They are saved because they have been baptized into the body, into the church. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (I Cor 12:13). Christ died for the church. His blood is therefore available only in the church, into which the believer is baptized. The entry into the church is not determined by any religious leader, any eldership, or any convention. God himself adds baptized believers to the church. “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). An eldership may determine whether a person has views sound enough to participate in the activities of the church, but they cannot decide whether one is in the church, in the case that one has been immersed for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Because of the practice of other groups out of which restorationists came, letters of transfer from one church to another sometimes showed up in the 1930s, but the practice has gradually been abandoned for the theological reason that the congregation does not put anyone in the church. God puts people in the church. So a letter from men guarantees nothing. Being saved and being a member of the church are therefore one and the same. In Churches of Christ if one wishes to know the status of a person in the community, the question is never Is she saved? Is she born again? Is she a Christian? The question is Is she a member of the church?Christ is the savior of the church. The acquisition of Christ as savior has nothing to do with a warm, personal encounter with Christ. It has little to do with a heart warmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit and the risen Lord. It has to do with obedience to the commands of the one who is the head of the church. Christ is the authorial figure for the church. He is not available as a loving father figure. Changes have occurred, however, in Churches of Christ. If the church is a family rather than a blueprint, then it possesses a loving father rather than a harsh judge who spends all his time pouring over the law. Once again a hermeneutical shift has resulted”As a brotherhood of believers, the more rigidly we hold on to the history of the RM, and view Christianity as complying with certian rules, the more marginal we will become.When you and I come to an open Bible with an open heart, we should not be on a quest to find just one more verse that supports our presuppositions. We should not be looking for more rules to follow, or for others to follow, but for biblical principals to guide us on our journey of faith.If you only read books by RM authors, only listen to RM preachers, you are likely to only dig in your heels deeper right where you are. Perhaps that is not a bad place to be, perhaps not.”Christians only, but not the only Christians”? When the word of God, interaction with others who claim Jesus as Lord, and our personal relationship with Deity are filtered through the lense of Restoration history and practice, not only are we the losers but the kingdom of God looses too.Grace and Peace,Royce Ogle

  8. Nick,I would love for you to add to the discussion going on at my blog. I am asking the question to Restoration Movement: What should we be restoring? I believe the movement needs to ask itself that question every once in a while. I enjoy your blog and have apprecaite your comment on my blog.Thanks and God bless you brother.

  9. On another note: are you related to Larry Gill? He is a minister in Abilene.

  10. Stoned-Campbell Disciple

    Just checking in.Shalom,Bobby Valentine

  11. Stoned-Campbell Disciple

    Nick I am totally saddened by your news about Fall Hall Glenn. I wish there was something I could do.Shalom,Bobby Valentine

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