Reading Scripture and Nature: Pentecostal Hermeneutics and Their Implications for the Contemporary Evangelical Theology and Science Conversation

by Amos Yong

This article recommends that more intentional focus on the theological character of the biblical message that involves the work of the Holy Spirit can be helpful in resisting the concordism, prevalent in some evangelical circles, that insists on harmonizing Scripture with science. Help in developing such an interpretive approach can be found, surprisingly, in Pentecostal Bible-reading practices. Our case study of Pente- costal hermeneutical sensibilities opens up space for a reading of nature that is complementary with a reading of Scripture. The objective is to invite evangelical Christians to develop a theology and hermeneutic of nature that sustains the scientific enterprise even while registering Pentecostal perspectives, especially in the dialogue between theology and science.

PSCF 63, no. 1 (2011): 3–15

2 comments to Reading Scripture and Nature: Pentecostal Hermeneutics and Their Implications for the Contemporary Evangelical Theology and Science Conversation

  • Scot Sutherland

    I would like to suggest that this post also be added to the Bible and Science discussion.
    Thank you Amos for bringing a scholarly bit of insight to the contrast between both conservative modernist perspectives and liberal perspectives through the lens of Pentecostal hermeneutics.  I found it refreshing to hear a perspective that approaches the polarizing debate about the veracity of the scripture with a new, perhaps more transcendent, perspective.
    I am a 54 year-old PhD student in the field of Learning and Mind Sciences.  I have been grappling with questions about the relationship between God’s written word, created word and living word (Jesus Christ) for my entire professional and academic career.  These questions remain very open and influence my research and scholarly work every day.  I can not say that I have arrived at many answers about the apparent disjunctures between the written and created Words of God.  I do have some thoughts:
    Let’s begin with a few assumptions that I feel both the Bible and the Created Word insist upon.  1) Both are completely, utterly, and clearly exactly the message God wanted us to have, and we add or subtract from either at our peril (Matt 5, Luke 16, Rom 1).  Both are meaningful (important idea in my work) but they are also so infinitely deep and vast that they can never be fully explored.  Jesus gave showed us how to walk in harmony with both of them and he continues to do so for those that love him in our daily lives. (1 Timothy 3).  I will share my thoughts in the form of briefly annotated questions.
    How can the scripture make sense without creation and vice versa?  Jesus seemed to assume that they can not be separated.  After all how are we to understand the work of the Good Shepherd if we don’t know anything about shepherds and sheep?  Wouldn’t understanding sheep better help us understand the importance and influence of a shepherd?  Are we literally and actually sheep, and Jesus a shepherd, or is it more reasonable to assume that Jesus meant to describe the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep?  A similar line of reasoning can be applied to wind and the Spirit, fishing for men, and just about every other teaching Jesus gave.  Perhaps God’s created and written word were intentionally made limitless to keep us learning for eternity.  I have found my greatest insights in my scholarly and scientific work as I grappled with understanding the disjunctures between scripture and the natural world.  I am learning to explore the implications with great anticipation any time I find things in the Bible that call into question my scientific understanding and vice versa.  The Bible has become my most important resource in my scientific work.  Amos’ comments about the work of the Spirit ring with a note of truth for me.
    Is “Truth” a set of conceptions, arguments or a system of thought, or is it the person Jesus Christ?  I find understanding this question to be a quite a challenge.  Are we so predisposed to assume logical “either A or B” constructs that we fail to truly comprehend what it means for Jesus to say, “I am…the truth…”  Perhaps Jesus wanted us to think of truth as walking with him, not making claims and arguments.  He didn’t ask people to agree with him, but simply to walk with him.  The more I let this idea of truth as a person sink into life and my work, the more I seem to be able to enter into conversations with those that hold opposing or even antagonistic views.  I seem to be able to evaluate ideas within the context of the assumptions they depend upon and often reap important insights in the process.  I find myself emboldened by the idea that no matter what happens to my ideas or claims, Jesus will never leave me or forsake me and as I walk with him I will discover new insights an ideas that subsume and extend the old ones.  I find myself able to argue more persuasively when I encounter a poorly conceived or simply erroneous notion that seems to be gaining some traction.
    I am trying to figure out where I picked up this idea.  I think it comes partly from my Scottish “Warrior-Poet” tradition.  Everybody has a working theology, philosophy and science.  By theology I mean the way we account for things that can not be reasonably explain or verify with evidence.  By science I mean the way we learn about the world we live in, whether it be systematic (empirical and qualitative) or informal in nature.  Philosophy is the way we bridge the gap between the way we account for what we can not explain reasonably or scientifically. Western philosophy began with Artistote and his logic and moved through the Aquine notions of virtue that come from the Bible and toward the more secular rationalistic approach of the moderns.  I’m not sure what to call the existentialist and postmodern perspectives.  At any rate as long as we assume that the scripture and creation are absolutely exactly as God wants them to be and that when we walk with Jesus we are walking with the truth, are we free to adopt differing theologies, philosophies and sciences depending upon what works in a given situation?  I realize this is a very controversial question, and perhaps the assumptions above need some work, but I find the question to be both compelling and intriguing.
    My father told me several times, “Try not to take a position until you must make a decision.  Take into account all sides, but when the decision time comes be prepared to be decisive.”  I’ve discovered over the years that the number of times I need to take a particular position are far less than I anticipated.
    Great article Amos.  Thanks.

    • Randy Isaac

      Scot, that quote from your father reminded me of a quote I appreciated from medical ethicist Lew Bird: “Maturity is the ability to accept ambiguity–and to resolve it in specific situations.”

      Thanks for a good comment.


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