I value the tools of inductive Bible study. I believe that I am a competent scholar of the original meaning of the Bible because Asbury Seminary equipped me with the tools of inductive study. Inductive Bible Study is the evangelical method of choice in relation to the Bible. Grant Osborne's The Hermeneutical Spiral is now a classic evangelical Bible method book, and its first section is straight inductive Bible study.
What is inductive Bible study? It is a "scientific" method for determining the meaning of a text. It asks, "What is the most probable original meaning of this passage given the way words work in historical and literary contexts?"
So what is the problem? It is three-fold:
1. We can observe that evangelical scholars do not actually practice what they preach with regard to inductive method. They regularly go through the motions of the inductive method. But when the data approaches certain "boundaries" (pre-suppositions, Hays and Duvall would say), they shift from the most probable interpretation of the data to a possible interpretation that fits with their evangelical faith.
Of course many evangelical scholars might deny this practice, but I observe it time and time again. Even Osborne's book exemplifies this practice. His presentation of inductive method in the first 180 is highly technical and scholarly. But as soon as he gets to biblical genres, his theological beliefs begin to color his presentation in a noticeable way.
2. The Protestant drive to read "the Bible alone," led, in the modern era, to an emphasis on the original, historic, literal meaning of the Bible as the locus of God's word in the Bible. Ironically, however, attention to the literal meaning of the New Testament leads us to the realization that the New Testament authors themselves did not practice inductive Bible study method. Rather, the NT authors regularly read the OT texts to various degrees metaphorically, allegorically, in short, not in terms of what it actually meant originally.
There is a kind of crisis in "biblical theology," which has historically been oriented around the original meaning. The book by Joel Green I've been reviewing is moving in the right direction (final installment on Friday). The driving forces behind his argument are 1) the polysemy of textual meaning coupled with 2) the impossibility of objectivity anyway, and 3) a conversion of ways of thinking to an orientation to hearing/seeing Christian meanings. His result is to argue that it is not necessarily the original meaning of the biblical text, arrived at by objective inductive study, that is the meaning of the Bible of interest to us as Christians.
But the question I find myself asking even after Green's book is whether he would allow that the most likely original meaning might find itself in serious tension with the "converted mind" of the Christian reader. I must admit that I ultimately find myself drawn back to the medieval multiple senses of Scripture--literal, figurative, allegorical, anagogical. I cannot deny the validity of inductive Bible study as a method for determining the most probable original meaning of a text. Yet I cannot deny with Green that this is not at all necessarily the meaning most important for the believer.
Reading the Bible as Scripture does involve a mind converted and oriented around Christian meanings, but there is no set rule as to what level of meaning it turns out to be. The IBS meaning is a valid meaning, and it is an important meaning in the "flow of revelation." But it is not necessarily the most important meaning for believers. This is a meaning that comes from a converted mind and the mind of the Spirit.
It will be interesting to see what happens to IBS in the days to come and what happens to evangelical hermeneutics.