Compatible or Derived?

It is critical in theology to consider whether the view one defends is actually derived from Scripture or is only, at best, compatible with Scripture.

Consider, for instance, applying the question “compatible or derived?” to the various positions held on the topic of origins. While atheistic evolution is immediately rejected by Christians — and rightly so — some have attempted to defend a “theistic” evolution. Others, perhaps seeing insurmountable problems for any form of evolution, defend various theories of Old Earth Creationism. But not even the olympic-level exegetical gymnastics of a Hugh Ross can make the Bible actually teach one of these positions. The best that proponents of one of these views can do is attempt to defend the position that their view is compatible with Scripture. But what they cannot do — what they absolute cannot do — is to actually derive these views from the Bible.

Compatibility is insufficient in Reformed theology. We want to know what the Scriptures actually teach. We want to know God’s Word, not what might be compatible with God’s Word. The quest for compatibility runs the risk of eisegeis, but derived theology is exegetical theology. Theology should be limited to the explicit teachings of the Scripture along with that which by “good and necessary consequence” may be deduced from Scripture. With this “Scripture principle” the Reformed theologian defends the regulative view of worship over the inroads of “compatibility” inherent in the normative principle. That is, while others introduce contemporary dance and fog machines into the sanctuary Reformed theology limits the elements of worship to those that are commanded in the Scriptures.

In all realms, the Reformed Christian seeks to derive his views from the Scripture. We don’t look for how Aristotle, Freud, or Dewey can be made compatible with Scripture. The Word of God and it alone is our guide.

4 thoughts on “Compatible or Derived?”

  1. Hi Doug. Joe Puplis writing. I hope this message finds you and your family well. I thought I would reach out to you regarding this post as it captures well the ways we had been taught in understanding and applying ‘sola scriptura’. It’s a view I had appreciated as a young man though it’s also one that I no longer hold, through exposure to different ideas, more critical thinking and life experience, I suppose.

    I’m curious to know if you believe that there is one perfect, ‘inerrant’ and exclusive means of reading and applying the biblical text. And if such a view exists, what hope do we have in finding it? Imagine, a flawless interpretation, free of cultural bias, historical nuance, and the narrow (and limiting) scope of one’s own experience. Ex cathedra in the palms of our hands. Sign me up!

    Have you ever wondered whose perspective was more ‘biblical’? Those who used Ephesians 6 to uphold the institution of slavery in America or those who used Galatians 3 to resist the institution of slavery in America?

    You mentioned Reformed worship limits itself to the elements described in the Scriptures – such as the tambourine, I imagine. That must make one’s singing and one’s worship more pure and acceptable in the eyes of God, correct?

    Does Reformed warfare also limit itself to the weapons described in the Scriptures – such as horses, chariots, swords, spears, and the sling? Is that the required arsenal in order to earn God’s favor in combat? Or does the Bible explicitly endorse pacifism? (Psalm 20:7)

    It strikes me as arrogant and tragically misguided to use the Bible as a weapon in this way. The Bible is a deeply complex collection of books and forgive me, but I am suspicious of anyone who abides by the rule of, “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

    I would welcome your advice as I remember you to be a thoughtful person. Not as one who engages in simple herd-mentality.

    At the very least, I believe that my interpretation of the Bible is limited and flawed (and constantly evolving – or ‘reforming’) and I believe that yours is (and ought to be) as well. Perhaps we could agree on that. : )

    Grace and Peace to you, Doug.


    1. Always good to hear from you Joe.

      You bring up a number of questions and topics. I cannot address them all quickly.

      It is important to note that the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture is precisely that – the inerrancy of SCRIPTURE. It is the text that is without error, not the interpreter.

      Chapter 1, parts 6-10 of the Westminster Confession of Faith provide a good summary of how to interpret Scripture. Most important perhaps is part 9 which says “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”

      While “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” is in one sense right — we should indeed believe the Bible because it is Word of God — it doesn’t answer the question of what the Scriptures themselves say. It is good to question and debate the interpretation of some Scriptural verse or passage rather than merely assuming some meaning. I am not arguing against that. What my original posts intends to argues against is not “comparing Scripture with Scripture” but “comparing Scripture with secular science, ethics, psychology, etc.” That would be to compare the unchanging word or God with the ever-changing theories of man.

      While probably not answering all of your questions, there is a book I read recently on the topic of Sola Scriptura that I found quite interesting, even overturning some misconceptions I had. That is Keith Mathison’s “The Shape of Sola Scriptura.” I recommend that book.

      1. Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Doug. I would have expected nothing less. : )

        I appreciate the distinction between the inerrancy of Scripture and the fallibility of its interpreter. But then at the end of the day, what does it matter if the Bible is inerrant or not? Its ‘inerrancy’ doesn’t protect it from being weaponized by malicious or simple-minded people, all speaking with the ‘authority of the infallible Word of God’.

        You and I have dear brothers and sisters who believe the inerrancy of Isaiah 11:12 assures them that the earth is flat. Does secular science have nothing to say about that!? Is Galileo still a heretic?

        And amusing to imagine the reaction modern day pastors and preachers would endure if they tried to pull the kind of exegetical leap that Matthew did in chapter 2, verse 23. Matthew would have been thrown out of seminary!

        I feel that the problems the idea of ‘inerrancy’ causes far outweigh any redemptive purposes it serves. I believe we NEED science, psychology, and ethics. And the Bible NEEDS to be wrestled with. No one is ever done learning. Especially the Christian. But this subject certainly demands more attention than you and I are able to provide. I appreciate the conversation and the clarifying words regarding your positions.

        Thank you for the recommendation of Mathison’s book. I glanced at it briefly online. Perhaps I’ll follow-up with you on that once I’m able to read it.

        Be well, Brother.


  2. Joe,

    I know you are talking to Doug but if I may interject the importance of the inerrancy of scripture is why try to interpret it if it is not inerrant?! While Commentaries on the Westminster Confession of Faith is important to Presbyterians, to Baptists like me they are not so as I believe it contains errors. Arguing different interpretations of paedo-baptism is silly to me because at the outset it is unscriptural. I do not waste a lot of time reading commentaries on the Book of Mormon because it is errant. While science is more important to me as a Classical Apologist than Doug who is a Presuppositionalist we all draw our lines. Ballistics and DNA are important to me in my line of work but not so in my interpretation of scripture. I however am discerning even of science. Psychological profiles are sometimes helpful but are errant. The Grim Sleeper for instance does not fit the typical profile of serial killers. I have no use for astrology or phrenology.

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