I had one of those "aha" moments while reading a response from my Asbury Romans class. I know that at some point during my education I started reading the words of the Bible differently, trying to read them in context, but I can't fully remember how I read them before. Sometimes I find words to express the difference.
A couple of conversations with students both at IWU and at Asbury have clarified yet another way to conceptualize the difference between:
pre-modern vs. modern
as Scripture vs. as contextual texts
with universal application vs. with local application
Here it is: my students at Asbury and some here come to the text asking "What is true?" not "What did Paul mean here?" For example, when it comes to a question like, what did Paul mean by the phrase "the righteousness of God" in Romans. 1:16, I ask, "What specific meaning or meanings did Paul understand by these words?" But my students come to the phrase asking, "what is true about the righteousness of God?" So I say something like, "Given the background of this phrase in Judaism, Paul was almost certainly thinking about God's righteousness rather than human righteousness when he used this phrase." The student says, "Both are true, maybe the text means both: God's righteousness and a righteousness from God."
I'm not sure I'm presenting the distinction very clearly. I've been working with an anonymous IWU student (you know who you are) on N. T. Wright's view of justification in Paul. The student frequently wants to approach this question as "What do Christians believe about justification?" But that's not the original meaning question and that's not how Wright is approaching Paul. The question Wright is asking is how did Paul use this word, with the question of what we should believe about justification being a slightly different one. We find many theological meanings that are fine theology, but they're not the way Paul put it. They may not contradict Paul, but they are not Paul in the same way James is not Paul.
So I find the way IWU professors and the evangelical milieu uses Scripture is in this pre-modern way. They are looking for absolute truth in the words--the "biblical" perspective on whatever issue. I am not saying that this is bad. What I'm pointing out that Paul did not originally understand himself to be writing for all times and all places. Originally, his words had specific meanings in the light of specific situations... When Christian communities use the words of the Bible as the source of their beliefs, most of the time they are working out modern theology and speaking far afield of what Paul originally had in mind.
Well, enough of that...