Hermeneutics of Steve Schlissel and Peter Leithart

Discussion in 'Federal Vision/New Perspectives' started by Hebrew Student, Jun 18, 2010.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. Hebrew Student

    Hebrew Student Puritan Board Freshman

    Hey Everyone!

    I was wondering if someone here can help me with this. I have been doing work on dealing with Hyperpreterism for some time now, and I have been dealing with the strange hermeneutics of the Hyperpreterists. Now, I am a follower of Gary DeMar’s ministry, and the other day I found this article by Steve Schlissel on body piercings. Now, don’t get me wrong, I certainly think there is a problem when you end up looking like the man in the picture! However, the hermeneutics that Schlissel used were, to put it bluntly, very odd. He started by calling the penetration of sexual relations “piercing,” and pointed to instances outside of marriage where [he thinks anyway] the marital act is said to be humbling because of something in the act itself. He then connects this act to the piercing of Christ on the cross, and points out that Christ humbled himself to death on a cross. His conclusion is that piercing is inherently humbling, and, since women are created subordinate to men, women can wear piercings, but men cannot, since men are not to be “humbled” in this way.

    Well, I was concerned about this hermeneutic, because I see a similar hermeneutic from hyperpreterists all of the time. So, I wrote a response to it pointing out that, although I agree with the conclusion about being careful to not pierce ourselves so as to look like metal man, I believe that the way in which Schlissel arrived at his conclusions is suspect.

    The next day, Gary DeMar did his daily show, and was talking about hermeneutics:


    On his show, he recommended a book by Peter Leithart called Deep Exegesis. In the program, he talked about literary interpretation, and some of the basic ideas found in pragmatics, and I thought that what he was saying was generally true. However, the next day he did a program where he applied the ideas in Leithart’s book, and I was absolutely dumbfounded:


    He goes to Matthew 2:15, and deals with the fact that a passage about Israel is being applied to Christ. He argues that Christ is an antitype of Israel, and is, in a certain sense, the new Israel. This fact is really not contested very much, since this is not the only place where Matthew compares what happened with Christ to what happened with Israel. However, then he, in a bizarre fashion, and apparently following Leithart, argues that the Israel that existed in the current day was the new Egypt! I thought that was rather bizarre since both Israel the nation, as well as the ideal Israelite, Jesus, is coming from a physical place called Egypt in both texts. He also mentioned James Jordan, and one of his bizarre interpretations of scripture. There is someone who is involved in dealing with hyperpreterism who relies heavily on James Jordan. He has a lot of strange beliefs, though. For example, he agrees with the hyperpreterists when it comes to the text that talk about the coming of Christ. However, he gets around hyperpreterism by literary types. His exegesis is really bizarre. However, he has recently written a book on hermeneutics, and Peter Leithart has endorsed it.

    Now, I started looking into Peter Leithart’s book Deep Exegesis, found that it was on Amazon, and also found that there were sample pages you could read. Trust me, this is the first book on hermeneutics I have ever read that has sheet music on the last few pages. Also, some of the people who had read it said that he goes after historico-grammatical hermeneutics, and there were many people who had read it who were actually assaulting historic-grammatical hermeneutics in their comments. I also found an article where someone was just ripping on Peter Leithart for his belief in the Federal Vision [which made me think of this thread]. I also found out that other people like Eric Redmond were endorsing this book as well. The combination of the assault on historic-grammatical hermeneutics, the fact that this is the same [or very similar] methodology to that which hyperpreterists use, and the recommendation by folks like Gary DeMar and Eric Redmond made me quite uncomfortable.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, literary criticism has its place in exegesis. However, my concern is that this is an overreaction to the simplicity of exegesis in modern day evangelicalism. We need to consider literary features of a text, but do so in the context of the other aspects of language, alongside syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. If you don’t exercise that caution, I have found that you can use this hermeneutic to prove practically anything you want, as the hyperpreterists do in order to prove that Christ returned in A.D. 70.

    The interesting thing is that all of the people who seem to be the crafters of this hermeneutic are part of the Federal Vision [Steve Schlissel, James Jordan, Peter Leithart, etc.]. First of all, I was wondering if someone could give me some information to understand exactly what the Federal Vision is, but secondly, is this hermeneutic crucial to the case of the Federal Vision? The paper I linked to cited Peter Leithart as denying things such as justification by faith alone, and it seemed really dangerous. Also, is there any reason why this particular hermeneutic is so wrapped up with this movement?

    I am very concerned because I see this same type of hermeneutic wrapped up in hyperpreterism [which I believe to be heresy], and how the possibilities are endless to the manner of things which could be proved by this hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is something where, if you don’t get it right, the Bible becomes putty in your hands. You may get lucky [as Steve Schlissel did], and come to a correct conclusion, but, eventually, you will come across something fatal.Also, when the hermeneutic is endorsed by well respected teachers, it becomes even more dangerous. I was hoping someone who has dealt with this before can point me in the right direction in terms of getting all the background, and thinking clearly on this issue.

    God Bless,
  2. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    The point about Israel becoming like Egypt is taught not just by hyperpreterists but by orthodox preterists and others.

    E.g. in Revelation 11:8 Jerusalem is said to be "spiritually" Sodom and Egypt. The Judaistic Jews were the first to persecute Christianity, had become thoroughly corrupt, and God brought trouble on them that is likened in the Book of Revelation to the Egyptian plagues.

    I know Revelation is a difficult book so take this interpretation with a pinch of salt, but there is some evidence in the Bible that apostate Israel is likened for effect and irony and truth to Egypt.

    There have been some funny-peculiar hermeneutics going around Christian Reconstructionist and Theonomist circles sometimes. James Jordan and David Chilton (who wrote a book on Revelation and who apparently moved from preterism to hyperpreterism) sometimes(?) employed a hermeneutic called "interpretative maximilism" which may be sometimes(?) seen in Chilton's book on Revelation, "Days of Vengeance".

    Bahnsen criticised this hermeneutic in a review of "Days of Vengeance", which review may be online.

    Some of those behind the Federal Vision have been from the Reconstructionist stable. Also some/much of Reconstructionist postmillenialism (although not all) has been of a preterist (not hyperpreterist) approach.

    Some of these people get carried away with their own cleverness and are not satisfied with sound teaching. They take e.g. covenant theology or orthodox preterism to an unbiblical extreme and take exegesis to an unbiblical extreme.

    Dispensationalism is so strong in American evangelicalism of course, that you get these over-reactions to it.

    Having now listened to de Mar, this is the kind of irrational "exegesis" and tenuous connection making that Bahnsen was criticising.

    I haven't studied the "Out of Egypt I called my son" passage. I always thought it was referring - in Matthew - to Christ returning from the literal Egypt to Palestine. I would have to look at it more closely myself, but Leithart/de Mar's exegesis of the Hosea/Matthew passage may be the result of a quackodox hermeneutic.

    I wouldn't say the same for those who hold that apostate Israel is "Egypt" in Revelation, as this is much more straightforward.
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2010
  3. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritanboard Amanuensis

    We must remember when criticizing Chilton's later work that he was a different man after his health problems began and was taken advantage of by some.
  4. Hebrew Student

    Hebrew Student Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks Richard Tallach and Backwoods Presbyterian!

    I found Bahnsen's critique of David Chilton's Revelation Commentary. I couldn't believe what I was reading. It was literary criticism gone wild! I don't even know where do begin with this. Yes, we need to look at larger literary structures, but as a complement to analysis on the micro level, not to completely overthrow language on the micro level! All of this being said, and Backwoods Presbyterian has informed me, with a full acknowledgment that chronic health problems can affect your thinking.

    I guess what gets me is the attitude of the folks who hold this position. As I read some of the approving reviews of Peter Leithart's book, it almost seems as if I keep hearing that, if I don't accept this Interpretational Maximalism, then I am somehow not as intellectually enlightened as they are. And yet, I look at these interpretations, and they are just so far from the way I use my language in every day life that it makes me wonder exactly what they are trying to accomplish by arguing this stuff.

    I think that you are right, Richard. This may be an overreaction to the atomistic understanding of scripture found in classic dispensationalism. I have noticed the same thing in hyperpreterism, namely, that the whole hermeneutic is a negation of dispensationalism. It is sorta like stopping yourself at the edge of one side of a cliff before you fall off, and then running like a madman straight off the other side.

    God Bless,
  5. Willem van Oranje

    Willem van Oranje Puritan Board Junior

    Isn't one of Schlissel's chapters in that book called, "the hermeneutic of deception"?
  6. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    No doubt James Jordan's approach either has been influential or springs up from similar soil.
  7. alhembd

    alhembd Puritan Board Freshman

    In my opinion, Steve Schlissel is a dangerous screwball. We can be too apologetic with our apologetics. Statements like the one above need to be denounced on the most severe terms. Think how Calvin would have rebuked a man like that.
  8. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    It isn't bizarre to realize that by the time one gets to the book of Revelation, indeed the Christians are "Israel" and the Chief Priests, Scribes, and Pharisees are "Pharaoh" and his minions.

    However, trading places and following the apostle's hermeneutics is NOT the hermeneutical maximalism of Jordan&Leithart and anyone that follows them.

    Someone I know once remarked that Jordan seemed to think that any idea that popped into his head must be publish-worthy. There's no check on the full-blown Allegorical interpretation.
  9. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    Quote from Adam
    Same with the Federal Vision. I suppose their justification for it is that they are trying to be more consistently and self-consciously Covenantal and less Dispensational/Baptistic. They end up just making a confused and confusing mess.

    Same with this weird hermeneutic. They're extremists with a cause. The cause is to take certain teachings to "logical" extremes, often to go in the opposite direction to Dispensationalism, even if they veer into unbiblical territory.

    They idolise their extreme "insights" as fresh illumination from the Spirit of God. The analogy of the faith is trampled on. The Pentecostalists were pioneers at this, although in many ways less dangerous, by denying an Apostolic Administration or anything temporary about it.

    If their "radical" insights trump the Confessions then the Confessions have to be rewritten. Rushdoony said this about theonomy and the WCF. The hyperpreterists believe this. The Visionistas don't mind that their ideas contradict the WCF. "Interpretative maximallists" don't follow a traditional Reformed hermeneutic.

    It's "radical (Reformed) insights" into God's Word versus a traditional conservative, Reformed, careful, gradual, and evolutional development of doctrine within the Church in the context of what has already been achieved by the illumination of the Spirit and become confessional. The latter is the healthy progress of the New Covenant Church towards maturity.
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2010
  10. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    I have read over and over again where Bahnsen was very sharply critical of "interpretive maximallists" as denying sola scriptura and being very dangerous. This way of interpretation is very fanciful it seems and takes allegory to a way awkward level. Then again I have heard some redemptive-historical preaching and writing that seemed to take their point of view a little to far as well. I guess any over arching view of scripture can be taken to far and made to warp the plain meaning of scripture, so we should all be careful of such dangers and realize that we all can be guilty of this.
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page