Most American Protestants, whether liberal or evangelical, are egalitarians when it comes to the reading and study of Scripture. They tend to be committed to the American proposition that "all men"-and women-"are created equal" not simply because they are patriotic or democratic but also because their doctrine of Scripture drives them to it. The logic runs like this: Because the Bible is clear, anyone who can read its words should be able to understand its meaning, no matter what the reader's education or social status. This egalitarianism has produced some laudable results. For example, it keeps ordinary Christians reading the Scriptures so that they, like Timothy, may thus be made "wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15). Individual Scriptural reading is also one of the means by which God instructs and encourages Christians and thus gives them hope (see Rom. 15:4). Moreover, we, like the Bereans, surely are to be commended when we turn to the Scriptures to check whether what is being preached to us is true (see Acts 17:11). Yet Protestant egalitarianism is also, at the same time, the source of significant errors. One of these errors involves egalitarianism's failure to recognize that not everything in Scripture is easy to understand and so we need those people who are especially well-trained in the Scriptures to help us avoid twisting them in harmful ways (see 2 Pet. 3:16). The fact is that some people are better equipped to interpret the Bible than others-and so their interpretations, everything else being equal, are to be preferred over the interpretations of the average Peter, Paul, or Mary.
Darryl G. Hart is Director of Fellowship Programs at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (Wilmington, Delaware) and author of several books including, John Williamson Nevin: High Church Calvinist (P&R, 2005) and A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (Ivan R. Dee, 2006).
Issue: "Connecting the Dots: Why Systematic Theology Matters" Jan./Feb. 2003 Vol. 12 No. 1 Page number(s): 33-35
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