In part 2 of our interview with James Hamilton, we continue to address his new book God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, while exploring other critical issues related to Jim’s scholarship. I would like to encourage everyone to checkout Jim’s blog For His Renown, great stuff over there.
Lastly, and I don’t want to be belligerent about this or come across as doing hard-marketing, but I am currently listing the eBook edition of God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment for $7.99, which is a ridiculously great deal: don’t miss it. Thanks everyone for reading, and be sure to share your thoughts!!!
Matthew: Your answer, concerning Jesus, Paul, and the OT (see part 1 of the interview), indicates a belief that the text should be the subject forming our minds and not the object to which we impart meaning. This is obviously a bold application of your hermeneutical principles. Do you believe this approach is commanded by Scripture? Or, is it one approach among many other options?
Jim: Obviously there isn’t an explicit command in the Bible that says: “Your thinking is to be shaped by the statements of the Bible!”
Nevertheless, I think the biblical authors assume that those who believe their statements will have their thinking shaped by the Scriptures. So when Yahweh spoke from Mount Sinai to Israel, then when Moses went up on the Mountain to get everything else he had for them, this information was clearly meant to be foundational and paradigm shaping. Similarly, when the Prophets declare “Thus saith the LORD,” they are expecting all who recognize Yahweh’s authority to embrace his word. Something similar is at work when Jesus makes authoritative statements, whether by saying “You have heard that it was said, but I say to you . . .” or when he says “Truly, truly, I say unto you . . .” And we find the same thing with Paul introducing himself as an Apostle–he is laying claim to authority.
So I think there is a fundamental distinction between those who submit to the authority of the text and those who submit the text to their own authority. I want to be with those who pray, “Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me” (Ps 119:98). We don’t come to the text to master it but to be mastered by it.
Matthew: What is your view on Scripture and inerrancey? How does it apply to the theology you are doing here?
Jim: I believe that when God stooped low to enter our little world and speak, he allowed no error into his communication. I believe the Bible is totally true and trustworthy. I gladly embrace inerrancy, and I think the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is a good statement that I gladly endorse. There’s more that I could say, but instead of saying it here I’ll point to my essay, “Still Sola Scriptura: An Evangelical View of Scripture,” pages 215–40 in The Sacred Text: Excavating the Texts, Exploring the Interpretations, and Engaging the Theologies of the Christian Scriptures, ed. Michael Bird and Michael Pahl. Gorgias Précis Portfolios 7. Piscataway: Gorgias, 2010.
Matthew: Your understanding of the Bible is firmly rooted in the theology of the Reformation, and especially the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. How have the Reformers influenced your views of Scripture, and do you consider yourself a part of the Reformed tradition?
Jim: I’m convinced that my views about Scripture arise from the text of Scripture itself. In the writings of the Reformers, as well as in the early fathers, and most other Christian writers throughout church history, I feel that I’m reading kindred spirits. These people–who approach the Bible with the same reverence, gratitude, and trust that I feel when I approach the text–provide affirmation and fellowship.
Obviously there are exceptions, and the Reformers reacted against the elevation of other stuff to the level of authority that only Scripture deserves. I’m definitely with them on the Solas. And I’m happy to be identified with the reformed tradition, inasmuch as all protestants–including Arminians!–are part of the reformed tradition.
The main thing for me is the Bible, though, not tradition. I want to understand and embrace everything the Bible teaches. If the Bible goes against something in the reformed tradition (as it does on infant baptism), then I’m with the Bible not the ‘truly Reformed’. I’m a Baptist because I believe it’s the most biblical way of living out what it means to be the church. I agree with the cry of the Reformation, “ad fontes!”, to the sources! And the source in question is the Bible.
Matthew: This puts in a place to address an increasingly relevant topic. As a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and having studied under Tom Schreiner, you are part of a growing academic guild in the SBC that tends to identify itself with the reformed tradition. At least at the academic level this movement seems to be sweeping through the SBC. What do you make of its influence, is it only at the academic level or do you think it is a wider trend?
Jim: Ever since the conservative resurgence in the SBC, which began in the late 1970′s, there has been an increasing desire to be biblical. We want to embrace everything the Bible teaches. I think the conservative resurgence is now bearing fruit as more and more faculty and students at SBC seminaries believe everything the Bible teaches, from the virgin birth to election and predestination, and I’m very excited about the great commission resurgence that is now at work in SBC churches and agencies. We have a great message–the gospel, a great task–the great commission, and we have great help–as the Spirit and the Son enable us to bring glory to the Father.
I think there is a lot to be excited about, but we also have a lot to do–so many people need Jesus.
Matthew: You mentioned earlier that the practice of infant Baptism is unbiblical. Why is it NOT a matter of opinion?
Jim: Because it’s a command of Jesus. He commanded his disciples to go make disciples, baptizing them. Then all through the NT we see the disciples of Jesus doing that: making disciples and baptizing them. The word “baptize” is the transliteration, not translation, of a Greek word that could be translated “immerse in water.”
When Jesus gives commands, my opinion doesn’t matter. Nor do opinions matter when we’re looking at the meaning of words. To be clear, Jesus commanding that disciples be made and immersed in water is not a matter of opinion.
Matthew: Getting back to more practical matters. You specifically note that different ways in which God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment can be read and used. Will you outline those different ways, and suggest how it might be best used by pastors and Bible teachers/study leaders?
Jim: I’d love for people to begin at the beginning and read every page until they get to the end, but that’s not the only way to use this book.
One way that I think all Christians could benefit from the book would be for them to allow it to accompany their daily Bible reading. So if you’re reading Genesis this month, read the section in the book on Genesis, and so forth.
Pastors and Bible teachers can basically do the same with whatever book of the Bible they’re teaching. I think this would be particularly helpful when someone first sets out to study a book of the Bible in order to teach it. I may not treat every single passage in the book, but what I say in the book might provide an overview of the whole that will set all the smaller pieces in a coherent context.
Matthew: Much has been made of the new perspective on Paul, most especially regarding theories of justification. How does your work in God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment incorporate or reject the “new perspective”, and how do you present justification?
Jim: I think important things have been learned through this discussion, and I think that as a result of the conversation many have learned to be careful with Jewish sources. I go into this in some detail in my essay “N. T. Wright and Saul’s Moral Bootstraps,” and I haven’t changed my position since I wrote that piece.
I think that justification is by grace through faith, and I think that the best reading of Paul and the Jewish literature around the New Testament leads to the conclusion that at points he is addressing people who mistakenly believed what is reflected in 4QMMT: “it shall be reckoned to you for righteousness when you do what is right and good before him” (4QMMT = 4Q399, fragment 14–17, line 7, my translation). I think that’s pretty different from Genesis 15:6, which Paul exposits in Romans 4 and Galatians 3.
Matthew: Your basic thesis asserts that your notion of God’s glory in salvation through judgment can be found in every book of the Bible. Given your views on justification, how does your thesis work in the book of James?
Jim: I think that a book like James is a lot like the book of Proverbs, where the wise perspective being advocated is one that recognizes that God is going to judge, and this fear of God propels the patient endurance of faithful service, glorifying God and condemning the world. Meanwhile James announces God’s judgment on the worldly wealthy (James 5:1–6) who persecute Christians (James 2:6), calling them to be saved through his warning. If they will repent, they will have been saved through the judgment announced by James to the glory of God, trusting Jesus the Lord of Glory (James 2:1).
Be sure to watch for our upcoming interview with Michael Horton about his new systematic theology, The Christian Faith.