Gospel and Spirit (Gordon Fee)

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Fee, Gordon.  Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.

The real battle over inerrancy doesn’t concern whether the autographa are (were?) inerrant.  The conservative has no access to them and the liberal can’t produce any arguments on why they would be errant.  The real problem, however, is hermeneutics.  Lacking any fear, Gordon Fee jumps into the fray.

Hermeneutics and Inerrancy

Since Scripture is a divine-human product, it creates tensions in the life of the church.  We have eternal truths applied to human particularities.  The temptation to get around this tension results in a “divine rule book” hermeneutics. Many conservatives (since liberals scorn Scripture, we don’t even need to address them) level all the imperatives in Scripture with the result that they can’t live by their own advice.  As Fee wryly notes, “One whole wing of evangelicalism, for example, argues vehemently for the eternal validity of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 on the silence of women, while rejecting every other imperative in the chapter, including the final one, not to forbid speaking in tongues” (Fee 45).

Even worse, but proving Fee’s case, Paul doesn’t always give the same imperative to the same situation. The guidelines for widows in 1 Cor. 7 is different from 1 Timothy 5. So how do we do ethics?  First, we realize that God’s gift precedes his obligation (good Augustinianism here).  We do not start with “law” but with God himself, who gives himself to us (good Wyclifite insight here).  As Fee notes, “All things are measured by the character of the Father; as his children we are privileged by the power of the Spirit to bear his likeness in the world” (46). To do otherwise is to make the medieval mistake: turning the gospel into a “New Law.”

While some of Fee’s comments decisively rebut the cessationist, he is on weaker ground when it comes to women in leadership.  He makes several important points, but none of them is logically overwhelming. Still, they are worth considering.  Should women be quiet in church (1 Tim. 2:8-15)? The question we should all ask is which part of 1 Timothy is particular and which eternal?  For example, no patriarchalist literally holds to 5:3-16 (which, interestingly enough, is opposite of Paul’s advice in 1 Cor. 7).  What grounds do we have for thinking that is particular to that situation and not eternal?

I don’t know.  Fee raises good points that few patriarchalist have thought about (or even are aware exist), but the structure of his argument resembles a tu quo que fallacy.  I’ll leave it at that.

His two most important chapters deal with distinctives in the Assembly of God and the larger pentecostal church.  Can we draw doctrine from narrative and is the baptism of the Holy Spirit subsequent to regeneration?  The answer to both questions is “sort of.” While cessationists, Baptist and Reformed, oppose basing doctrine (or practice) on narrative in theory, they do so in practice.  Where is the didactic teaching that says we baptize infants (or believers after a credible profession)?  It’s not there.  They base the teaching (correctly, I believe) on the household baptisms in Acts.

Fee suggests that a better question is how can we draw doctrine from narrative. Which experience of the primitive church is normative for us?  The Jerusalem Church shared everything, yet we have no evidence the Antioch Church did, and we know for a fact the Corinthian (and probably Roman) churches did not.

Even more problematic, while the epistles have didactic elements, they are occasional letters not systematic theologies.  Even if we draw doctrine from them, and we should, we have no warrant to treat them as Pauline Summas.

This book is a fantastic intermediate level text on hermeneutics.  It presents a number of tough case-studies that will make everyone uncomfortable.

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