Balancing Personal and Historical Application of Scripture

Michael Spencer, over at Internet Monk, has recently interviewed David Powlison regarding his contribution to the ESV Study Bible.  [If you are looking for a single, solid resource for your personal library, let me recommend this study bible to you.  It is not only a great translation of the Bible, but this Study Bible contains a wealth of supplemental material to help you understand the historical context of the Scriptures with pertinent, and not overpowering information.  Back to Powlison.]

His focus was on reading the Bible and personal application – a task which can often be divorced from understanding the original setting, context and application of the text to its original audience.

The whole interview is helpful (click here for the whole thing), but this quote I found most interesting:

[MS] Can a verse taken completely out of context still yield a Spirit-revealed application?

[DP] Just read the sermons of Charles Spurgeon! His applications were often wise and biblical because he had such a refined sense for the unified teaching of Scripture and Spirit. But he rarely communicates what any passage means in context, and I think that is a liability as a role model. Readers and preachers less grounded than Spurgeon will have fewer checks on the temptation to make odd applications.

I’d probably pose your question in a slightly different way, saying “yield a wise application” rather than “yield a Spirit-revealed application.” The Spirit is the source of all wisdom, for believers and unbelievers alike. If a secular psychotherapist says to an angry, entitled, manipulative husband, “You are angry, entitled, and manipulative, and you need to learn how to love your wife and not be so self-centered,” I’d rather say that those words are wise, cohere with Scripture, and express a common grace goodness of the Spirit, instead of saying they were Spirit-revealed. That counselor is missing the saving grace of Christ that is Spirit-revealed in the Word, and that ought to find expression in counseling.

Again, check out the ESV Study Bible (website here) or go to Amazon and order one.  It is well worth the investment.

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