On Target Hermeneutics : Delighting Grace Interviews Matt Rogers and Donny Mathis

You got to love being a subscriber of David C. Cook free e-books. Not only do they fill your Kindle app but they sometimes gives out great books. One of them is Seven Arrows to which I was intrigue to what this book is all about. As I check the content, the book is about hermeneutics, the proper interpretation of Scripture. Finding it very useful for the church, I set to find the author and give it a proper promotion here. So I connected with Matt Rogers and Donny Mathis, authors of Seven Arrows to talk about hermeneutics and much more:
Delighting Grace: What is hermeneutics and why is it important?
Matt Rogers: Hermeneutics is quite simply the technique of interpretation. We employ these techniques in every day life as we try to understand what people are saying to us in conversations or in the emails that we read. If understanding a conversation or an email is important to us, then understanding what the Holy Spirit inspired authors are trying to teach us should be even more important! Evangelical Christians claim that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, meaning that everything that it claims with regard to matters of fact and matters of truth are, in fact, true, but the pathway to understanding and knowing those claims begins with a proper method for interpreting the inspired text.

In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul exhorts Timothy to study to present himself to God as an approved worker, who rightly interprets the word of truth. While this exhortation was made specifically to Timothy, I believe that every Christian, because we have all received God’s Spirit, is called to the same task of seeking understand what God is teaching through his word so that we can receive it, believe it, and live it for his glory. In writing Seven Arrows, we want to give our brothers and sisters in Christ some simple, practical tools to make their reading of Scripture more enjoyable, fruitful, and life-changing.
Delighting Grace: People might say that hermeneutics is not for me, that’s for pastor or theologians only, what is your response to that line?
Donny Mathis: The idea that “normal Christians” are not supposed to concern themselves with matters of theology or hermeneutics seems to be a gesture towards humility. It appears that most people are trying to say that deep matters of theology and of the Bible are for the professional, trained pastors and not the common man or woman. We certainly recognize that there is an important place for godly, trained theologians and pastors to aid the church in discerning matters of theology or biblical interpretation. Their role, while important, need not render the rest of the church passive, however.
The irony of this claim is that while it seeks to demonstrate humility it is, in fact, impossible. Anytime anyone reads the Bible they are doing hermeneutics. Anytime anyone speaks about God they are doing theology. Sadly, they may be practicing inadequate hermeneutics or espousing foolish theology, but they are doing these things nonetheless. Since we cannot read the Bible without seeking to understand its meaning (hermeneutics) or talk about God without some theological underpinnings, it would make sense for us to want to do these things well.
This is our task in writing Seven Arrows. Since people are going to be reading the Bible (we hope) and seeking to understand and apply its meaning (again, we hope), then we want to aid them in doing this well. Without a clear plan for properly reading the Bible it is easy for our good intentions at spiritual disciplines to either discourage us because we don’t understand what we are reading or lead us into inadequate or false theology because we misunderstand what we are reading.
Delighting Grace: There are lots of Study Bibles out there and of course Matthew Henry’s commentary is in the public domain so why do I have to know the proper interpretations when I can get them from those Christian giants?
Donny Mathis: While we as a Christians should be thankful for all of these resources that are available to us in this digital age, they are not a substitute for each of us reading and seeking to understand the inspired text ourselves. First, the only text with no errors is the Bible. No matter how helpful the study notes in our Bible are or the commentary that Matthew Henry gives can be, they all have mistakes! And, we will all make mistakes because we are not perfect either. I am, however, confident that the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures will bless our efforts to understand the Bible with more depth and clarity by making the truth contained in the Scriptures come alive for us.
Delighting Grace: When certain passages in the Bible are interpreted properly, is there an instance that there is no practical applications? How do we deal on those verses or chapters?
Matt Rogers: The whole of the Scriptures are written to help us see, understand, know, and worship the one God, revealed in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For this reason, each passage of the Scriptures is going to play some role in pointing us to that end. Clearly, there are some passages of Scripture that may not have a clear application – meaning the passage does not come right out and say; “now you should go and do this or that.” But simply because a passage does not make the application clear does not mean that it is void of application entirely.
Take the first chapter of the book of Matthew for example. The vast majority of this passage is a list of names and hard to pronounce names at that. What do we make of this text? We know, by virtue of Paul’s claim in 2 Timothy 3:16 that this text is God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. This is true even though the text does not make the application immediately apparent.
This is where the Seven Arrows helps tremendously. If I simply read that text and said, “What do I do?” I’d likely be confused and assume that the passage was irrelevant. But if I ask the preceding four questions then I would know that the passage is written to connect Jesus birth with the promise made to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament – namely that there would be a man who would one day sit on the throne of David who would fulfill God’s promises to Abraham by defeating Satan, sin and death. The application then is clear – I should worship a God who keeps His promises to His people and trust that Jesus is the very Son of God.
Delighting Grace: Among Christians what do you think is the most misinterpreted passage in Scripture?
Donny Mathis: Wow. I am not sure how to answer this question. Many passages in the Bible are consistently misunderstood because we do not take the time to figure out how the author is using the passage in his larger argument or whether he is writing in a literal way or figurative way like you would do in a poem. I guess the passage where the misunderstanding frustrates me the most in Philippians 4:13. In this verse Paul explains that he can do all things through him (Christ) who strengthens me. At least in America, this verse has become a kind of mantra to be repeated so that you can do things that you would not ordinarily be able to accomplish, but in the context of the passage, Paul is not presenting a mantra that will help someone accomplish a superhuman task. He is explaining that he has learned through the hardships and blessings that he has received to be content in every situation because he knows that God has a plan and is teaching him through times where he has abundance and through times where he has very little. In the end, Christ strengthens Paul for every step in his journey to fulfill the calling that God has placed upon his life, and Christ will do the same for us.
Delighting Grace: What is that verse and chapter in the Bible that truly bless you when applied hermeneutics and you got that “Eureka!” moment.
Donny Mathis: One of the GREAT things about the Bible and about having a strong technique for reading it and applying is that those “Eureka!” moments happen almost every day, and the next one is often better than the last because we are continually being stunned by God’s grace and goodness to us. So, this question is REALLY difficult to answer. Let me give just one example.
A few years ago, I was studying the best way to interpret the parables of Jesus and learned that these stories were generally constructed to teach one main point and were not allegories where every line had some type of secret meaning. (I learned these principles in A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible by Robert Stein.) So, like most good stories what happens at the end is EXTREMELY important for understanding the point that Jesus was making. This fact became stunning to me when I realized that the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) ended with a confrontation between the gracious Father and the older son who refused to go into the party that the Father was throwing because his younger son was dead and is now alive and was lost and is now found. The way that the parable ends with the older son standing outside of the party meant that the main point of the story was not the forgiveness that the younger son had received from the father. This fact caused me to read the whole chapter all over again, and I realized that all of the parables in this chapter were directed towards Pharisees, tax collectors, and sinners and that they built on one another. Each of the parables demonstrates the rejoicing of heaven that takes place when a sinner repents, but the central point of the final parable is directed towards those who despise the fact that God is gracious to sinners. In the end, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is both a rebuke and an open-ended invitation to the Pharisees and scribes (and to all others like them). As a result, the prodigal was not the son that I had always thought that it was!
Delighting Grace: Tell us about your book Seven Arrows. What is it all about and the processes of writing it. Hows you’re team up with Donny Mathis?
Matt Rogers: I remember listening to a preacher teach a familiar passage on the radio while sitting in my green Ford Ranger pickup in the parking lot at Furman University. I had read the text numerous times since my conversion due to my seemingly insatiable hunger for God’s word. Yet, hearing this skilled pastor proclaim the Scriptures faithfully brought out a depth of meaning and beauty that I failed to see when reading the Bible alone.
Honestly, I was stunned and frustrated. Why hadn’t I seen that? What was he doing that allowed him to notice nuances and complexities of the Scripture that I did not? Would it require a seminary degree, perhaps even a PhD, to be able to read the Bible, understand its meaning, and apply it to my life?

Now, as a pastor of a local church who writes and preaches regularly, I hear people ask me that question. They share how the word has challenged, convicted, and spurred them on to spiritual maturity. And for that I am thankful.

I am also scared. I am afraid that I may subtly create a chasm between the average member of the church that I serve and me. I am frightened that they may depend on me for too much. I am scared that this may produce passivity in them, thinking that somehow I am doing something that they will never be able to do for themselves. And, I am convicted that my God-given role is to equip God’s saints for the work of the ministry, which most certainly means that I have a responsibility to teach them to feast on God’s word for themselves (Eph 4:11-16). What they do with their Bible will shape the trajectory of their lives.

Lifeway Research has found “reading the Bible is the best predictor for spiritual maturity.” Ed Stetzer writes:

“Perhaps what evangelicals need most right now is a strategy for biblical literacy. We need to reengage the biblical narrative and immerse ourselves in consistent (or daily, if that’s your thing) study. It will help us be more gracious and winsome in the way we communicate. It will help us have a clearer view on controversial issues. It will help us to understand and communicate a clear gospel as laid out in the Scriptures — a gospel of the cross and of the Kingdom. The Word of God is essential to where we are right now.”

 This reality became clear for me during the first year following the planting of a church in Greenville, South Carolina in 2010. God saved a young man in our congregation, and he was filled with questions. Like most new Christians, he wanted to know God deeply and asked me to help him. We met over breakfast once a week and talked about life and faith. Each question led to another series of questions and a quest deeper into God’s word.

His passion was great for the 90 minutes or so that we were together each week. But what was he doing for the rest of the week? I knew that he was reading his Bible, but I also knew that he did not have a plan. He did not know where to start, what to read, or what to do while he was reading. This led to mounting confusion and doubt on his part.
I knew that I had to develop a plan to help him read his Bible effectively. But this could not be just any plan. It could not be overly academic. My friend, while filled with spiritual vitality, was not a theology student. He’d never read the Bible before on his own, much less heard the word “hermeneutics.” If I gave him a thick book of theological “do’s and don’ts,” I knew that it would only heighten his insecurities with God’s word.
I also did not want to give him some other author’s reflections on the Bible. Don’t get me wrong. Devotional guides are necessary and helpful tools for the church. However, my friend needed to start with the Bible rather than training himself to depend on someone else to do the work for him. If I simply handed him another devotional guide I would be doing the same thing that I wanted to avoid in my preaching – I would be teaching him to depend on a middleman to help him read the Bible.

Finally, I wanted to avoid giving my friend something overly simplistic. I knew there were Bible reading methods available, but I could not find one that would actually give them a map for reading that could be used with any passage of Scripture. Sure, they could note things they observed about a Bible passage and how that passage affected their lives, but I wanted him to be able to dig deeper for himself – to not simply scratch the surface but to be able to mine the gem that is God’s word. I also wanted my friend and those who would come after him to have an ordered plan so that they would not just be asking random questions about the Bible but asking good questions and asking them in the right order. This type of tool would allow him to study the Bible on his own for the rest of his life.

I doodled on a dinner napkin the questions I ask when reading a passage of Scripture, and I used directional arrows to illustrate my meaning. Little forethought went into the doodle other than years of personal Bible reading and reflection. I never intended these simple doodles to go beyond than that breakfast table. But they have. Disciples of Jesus are hungry for simple, practical tools to aid them in knowing God and making him known. I have watched disciple-makers in our church use these Arrows to help a new believer grow in faith and understanding. I have watched teenagers read the Bible for themselves and unearth deep and profound truths of God’s word. I have watched missionaries in other countries translate and use these Arrows to aid in mission to unreached parts of the world for the first time. I have seen other churches take these Arrows and use them to shape a disciple-making culture in their church, proving that it is possible for normal church members to be faithful in the tasks of studying the Bible and disciple-making.

This book is an effort to illuminate the path that the Arrows provide.
The answers to these questions often prompt lengthy, academic resources that are seemingly inaccessible to the modern Bible reader. That doesn’t have to be the case though. I have watched our congregation, The Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, South Carolina, grow under the teaching of men like Dr. Donny Mathis. We have worked diligently to take the simple Arrows that I developed and teach our congregation to be effective Bible-readers.
We pray that the fruit of our labor will produce an army of God’s people who will be unleashed on a disciple-making mission, which will lead to awestruck, life-encompassing worship as they are transformed by God’s word.”
Delighting Grace: Wow thank you Matt. Please invite our readers to check your book, blog and social media accounts.
Matt Rogers: I co-wrote a book titled “Seven Arrows: Aiming Bible Readers in the Right Direction”, with Donny Mathis, which is available on Amazon in print and Kindle format.

I also write for a number of evangelical organizations throughout North America and maintains a blog at http://www.equiptogrow.com. You can also follow on Twitter @MattRogers_. You can follow Donny on Twitter @dmathisii and read posts that Donny makes at http://www.equiptogrow.com as well.


Marianito “Nitoy” Gonzales is a 30 something blogger who wears many hats. But his passion is to preach the gospel and make God know to all men. He blogs at Delighting Grace (https://delightinggrace.wordpress.com). You can reach him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

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