Getting the Message, A Plan for Interpreting and Applying the Bible by Daniel M. Doriani, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1996, 255 pp.
I had recently contacted Dr. Doriani, who teaches at Covenant Seminary, to ask him about what courses on American Presbyterian history he taught there. In our email conversation he mentioned his appreciation for Gordon Clark. This earned him some respect in my mind and so finding his book on hermeneutics I decided it might be a worthwhile read. Reading this book is part of my quest to distinguish Reformed hermeneutics from non-Reformed alternatives. This quest arose because I’ve found that conservative Christian writers of various denominations have virtually complete overlap in their expressed hermeneutical principles. Since the various camps, however, do not reach the same conclusions in theology they must either be starting with different hermeneutical approaches or one or more of them must be misusing their expressed principles.
Doriani provides excellent, insightful example for each of the principles of interpretation that he gives. His approach is based on an acrostic “CAPTOR”—meaning “Context, Analysis, Problems, Themes, Obligations, Reflection.” He emphasizes the benefits to proper interpretation of approaching the text with humility and patience, focusing on the details, and studying the historical and literary context. He presents a number of general interpretive principles focused more on diligent study than certain logical principles (e.g. to interpret the Old Testament through the lends of the new).
So, to my question, does Getting the Message help to distinguish Reformed from non-Reformed hermeneutics? While it is in many ways an excellent book, I can’t say that it is did. Though Christian character (humility, patience, respect for God’s word, etc.) are important to interpretation, it cannot be validly defended that interpretation in one tradition—say Presbyterianism—have an advantage in these virtues over the Baptists, Mennonites, or Moravians. Piety benefits interpretative work, but does not account for the interpretations themselves. In fact, none of the elements of the CAPTOR acrostic themselves account for the differences in theology between the various Christian views. But let this not be a criticism of Doriani though, since it was not his goal in writing Getting the Message to answer this question.