The Rapture is When?

A Critique of The Rapture Question Answered Plain and Simple
by Robert Van Kampen

by Darrel Cline

Problems in Chapter One Continued

Beginning on page 23, we are given the foundation to Van Kampen's entire argument and its resultant position. He calls it "A Face-Value Hermeneutic". From a distance, this hermeneutic has many significant strengths; but, up close and personal, Van Kampen's application of it is full of significant flaws. One of them is illustrated right on page 23 in Van Kampen's quote of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:13. In the paragraph where this quote is used to support Van Kampen's version of a "face-value hermeneutic", he makes this claim: "In other words, if they could read it, they could understand it. All a believer needs is eyes to read or ears to hear with...that is God's divinely revealed method for studying and understanding His divinely revealed truth." The problem is that 2 Corinthians 1:13 is not dealing with "reading" as the ability to come to clear understanding. Rather, Paul is dealing with the issue of there being no subtle meanings attached to his words. The burden of the statement is found in the preceding verse where Paul says that his rejoicing is rooted in his clear conscience in light of the fact that he was never guilty of being sly in deliberately writing words that, though they had a sense of truth to them, were easily able to be taken in a different and misleading way. In other words, Paul was dealing with his claim that he never intentionally used words to lead them to think one thing while he actually meant something else. He is dealing with the rather common game that many play in which words are used that are technically correct, but deliberately misleading. The fact that Paul wrote this indicates that words can be taken in several different ways -- thus effectively blowing up the simplistic "face-value" hermeneutic.

And, the following verse (1:14) actually is translated "...just as you also partially did understand us..." by the NASB translators. This means that understanding is not automatic to reading.

What's my point? This: a face-value hermeneutic has the huge problem that what seems to be on the face of a verse is often discovered to not be the real meaning by further, more detailed, consideration. The problem is not that the verse is actually misleading. It is, rather, that language is not precise and misunderstanding is extraordinarily common. Face-value reading often results in superficial reading and absolutely false conclusions. I think I see an abundance of this in Van Kampen's writings, but whether I can substantiate it or not remains to be seen. More about that later.

Actually, the biblical hermeneutic finds a better expression in 2 Timothy 2:7 where Paul exhorts Timothy to "consider" what he had to say and then promises that the Lord would "give him understanding of Paul's meaning". In other words, understanding the Bible is not as simple as having eyes to read or ears to hear. Having eyes to see and ears to hear is only the very first step in a legitimate hermeneutic. Beyond that are many other issues. If misunderstanding were not such a huge possibility, Paul's promise to Timothy that the Lord would give him understanding would have been a wasted promise. Who needs the Lord to give understanding if all you have to have are eyes with which to read, or ears with which to hear what someone else reads? It seems to me that Van Kampen has reduced the complexity of understanding down to the ability to read or listen. It sounds like, on the basis of a "face-value hermeneutic", that Van Kampen believes the finite can grasp the infinite simply by reading. If that were true, there would be no place for the vast multitudes of books written for the specific reason of attempting to draw out the true meaning of the text of the Bible -- including Van Kampen's books. If reading automatically leads to understanding, why is it that there is such a diversity of understanding of the various verses of the Bible?

What I think I see happening in Van Kampen's "face-value" hermeneutic includes the following. First, it skips almost all of the process required to correctly understand. Here is the process. First, it must be understood that in biblical, written communication, the individual human author had a controlling concept that dominated his writing. He chose his individual words because of their ability to push his readers in the direction of his meaning. This means that before one can be sure what a given individual verse actually means, he needs to understand at least something of the larger picture. This introduces what is commonly known as "the hermeneutical circle." The circle exists because it is the individual words that move us in the direction of a grasp of the whole, but it is our grasp of the whole that determines how we understand the individual words. Thus, before a given verse can be clearly understood, all of the verses within the book in which that particular verse is found must be used to attempt to understand the overall picture. Van Kampen gives the impression that he has not done his homework and that we don't need to either. Rather than studying each individual book from which he gets his supporting verses (proof texts) in order to establish the meaning of the verse to which he appeals, he simply gloms onto a "face value hermeneutic" that allows him to think that just because the words seem to say what he wants them to say, that is what they actually say.

But this is often not the case.

The point I am trying to make here is this: it is illegitimate to take a verse from here and a verse from there and then "sew" them together to form a "theology of" a given subject without first doing our homework.

The problem is that if one hasn't done his homework in every book from which he gets his proof texts, his own ideas will govern his conclusions rather than divine revelation. It should go without saying that until one understands each verse in its own context, one cannot be sure that any two or three verses really stand side by side. Just because two verses in different contexts use many of the same words does not mean that they are dealing with the same subject matter. It is the flow of meaning through a context that gives individual verses their meaning, not the simplistic face-value of the words discovered within them. For this reason, the face-value hermeneutic fails at the level of being too simplistic because too much has been assumed and not enough has been established as truth.

Second, the unfortunate result of "face-value" hermeneutics is that people come to the text of divine revelation with prior assumptions of what is true and then they find their "truth" validated by the face-value appearance of meaning found in words of the verses. Rather than understanding that understanding is not simplistic, we should assume that we do not understand until we can put the pieces of a given book together in a cohesive unity. Then, when we have done this with more than one book, we can be sure that we are actually comparing oranges to oranges when we see verses that have some of the same words in them in the various books we have studied.

The problem here is, of course, that it takes a lot of work to do this. Most of us are, frankly, not committed to this task at a level that allows us to be consistently accurate.

So, in summary, Van Kampen's appeal to "face-value" hermeneutics is simplistic and opens the door to any and all kinds of theologies that are really nothing more than the dreams of the interpreter and not the meaning of the text itself. Cults by the dozen have been created by such simplistic study.

Now, someone will likely say, "But Darrel, Van Kampen himself says, on page 31, that verses must be kept in their own context, so you have been too hard on him." The problem here is that it is relatively easy to say that verses must be kept in their own context; it is altogether another thing to keep them in their own context and not bring one's own context into the study of the original context. Van Kampen compounds his error on page 32 where he tells us "...God's Word was written plainly and simply in order that plain and simple people like you and me, without theological degrees, can understand it." This is nice sounding, but completely erroneous and Van Kampen knew it when he wrote it.

You say, "How do you know that?" I gathered it from all of the "personal testimony" information in which Van Kampen clearly separated himself from all of "us" plain and simple folks in an effort to convince us that he was actually superior to "the average Christian". He said those things so we would be impressed with how well qualified he was to tell us "the clear truth". If his contention that the Bible is plain and simple for plain and simple people, why tell us how he was raised from an early age to "think biblically"; how he was raised to be able to rub shoulders with all the "wheels" of evangelicalism; how he was superior in logical and analytical thinking to most of the rest of us; and how he had opportunity to talk to all the educated "wheels" if he had some question about language or whatever? If the Bible is so plain, why did he take pains to tell us how superior were his privileges to the rest of us? Obviously, he says that the Bible is for plain and simple people without really believing that he is one of them.

I am not simply being nit-picky here. It is either true that the Bible is plain and simple in its meaning, or it is not. It is either easy to see the truth of it, or it is not. It is either written for plain and simple people, or it is not. Van Kampen would like us to believe that if we just read it we can understand it; and that if we understand it, we will naturally agree with his understanding of it. But, the fact that he had to write a book in which he tells us of his superior opportunities, in which he has to explain the intricacies of the face-value hermeneutic, in which he uses verses to make points that the verses do not make, and in which he constantly tries to tell us that his "plain and simple understanding of the text" is the accurate understanding so that no one who disagrees with him can have an honest reason for such disagreement -- all of these realities that he himself put into his book prove that his hermeneutic is both simplistic and self-contradictory...and, thus, self-defeating.

Three final questions regarding this simplistic approach to the understanding of the infinite mind of God: 1) Why did Jesus spend most of His ministry life pouring Himself into 12 "plain and simple men", and then turn around and pick one of the best trained theological minds of that generation to write most of the New Testament?; 2) If the Bible is so easy for "plain and simple people" to understand, why are those "plain and simple people" commanded by God to love Him with all their minds?; and 3) Why did Jesus apparently make "understanding" of the Truth a matter of the heart and not of the mind in John 7:17?

Previous ChapterReturn to Contents PageNext Chapter

Back to Pastor's Study

24526