Christopher Cone interviewed by Todd Mathis of Grace Theology Press, November 2015:
Tell our audience a little about your ministry.
I serve in a few different roles. I am at Southern California Seminary (which is connected to Shadow Mountain Community Church pastored by David Jeremiah). I am the Chief Academic Officer there, and serve in a faculty role as Research Professor of Bible and theology. I also am part of a church plant, pastoring at San Diego Fellowship of the Bible – better known as SDF. I am always working on some book project or another, and I write articles on www.drcone.com. I also travel and speak at conferences all over the world, so I keep pretty busy. My wife and daughters are awesome – they are so supportive and encouraging. They truly give me wings.
How did you get into this arena?
Higher education, pastoring, and writing all work symbiotically for me. Each one helps me be better at the other two. So I have been passionate about all three for as long as I can remember. I am grateful that the Lord has allowed me to serve to some extent in all three capacities, and thankful to do that in schools and churches all over the world.
I had three goals.
First, was to help people understand how to do basic exegesis – to study the Bible for themselves. We are all accountable to know God’s word. This isn’t just something pastors should know. We all should be growing in the knowledge of His word. And I wanted to help provide a straightforward process, so that Bible study wouldn’t seem so threatening or scary.
Second, I wanted to emphasize that the teaching and preaching of God’s word should be rooted in Bible study, not in our own creativity. Communicating the Bible is sometimes perceived more as art than science, and as a result, there is very little attention given to actually teaching the word. It is not uncommon to find people talking about the Bible, but it is unusual to find people actually teaching what it says. Integrating aims to try to help resolve that – to get our teaching and preaching to be more Biblical.
Third, I want to encourage Bible teachers and preachers to understand how critical it is that they teach people to fish rather than giving them a fish. Too often we create dependents and not disciples, because instead of teaching people how to handle the Bible for themselves, we just give them some of the highlights of our own study. Preparing a banquet is very impressive, but it is much more profitable to take people into the kitchen and teach them to prepare their own meals. I think that is a key component of discipleship, and Integrating attempts to encourage us to think in those terms.
Who is the intended audience for the book?
I really appreciated Dr. Thomas Constable’s endorsement of the book – he served for many years as the Chair of the Bible Exposition department at Dallas Seminary, and he recognized that the book would “be of interest and help to all who want to facilitate the growth of Christians – not just intellectual growth, but true growth in godliness.”
It is really designed for everyone who is interested in studying, applying, and communicating God’s word. It isn’t written just for pastors, though hopefully pastors will really appreciate it. It is written for a much broader audience than that.
Where do you see our society and culture at with regards to integrating exegesis and exposition and what are the implications?
Sadly, we have a rich tradition of fostering Biblical illiteracy. Because we focus on feeding people rather than teaching them to feed ourselves, we have generations of people who have no concept of why or how they should study the Bible for themselves – they have been trained to think that is what they pay a pastor for. On the other hand, those Bible communicators who have committed to the process of replication – the one that is commanded in 2 Timothy 2:2 – those people are usually very effective at discipling and training up others. Its really a matter of purpose in ministry.
Can you give a thumbnail sketch of the method that you are advocating with Integrating Exegesis and Exposition?
Sure. I outline a nine-step process for handling the word in a scientific manner, and then explain how we should maintain that quality and in-depth approach when we are communicating the word to others. As it has been said, we certainly want to take the cookies off the top shelf and move them down a bit, but we want to be careful not to put them on the floor. We want people to stretch a little bit, and to grow.
In practical terms that means we need to show our work. Explain to our audience and to learners how we arrived at our conclusions. Instead of saying “trust me, I studied this thoroughly,” we are saying, “don’t take my word for it – check out these things specifically in the text.”
Could you show us how this works out with a passage?
Sure. One chapter in the book addresses the distinction between description and prescription, which helps to answer how we can understand challenging passages like Matthew 28:18-20 in light of Matthew 21:2. When Jesus gives these commands, who is He talking to? What impact does this passage have on us today?
This is also a huge issue in understanding the book of Acts. We really can’t understand the book of Acts properly unless we recognize when the author is describing and when he is prescribing. These are just a few of many examples in the book.
How does this process validate your teaching position regarding Free Grace and Dispensational theologies?
That is a great question. I am loyal not to theological positions, but to God as revealed in His word. So any opinion or belief I have, I want it to be Biblical and not my own creation – nor anyone else’s. So this process – which is essentially just the logical outworking of a literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic – is about just understanding what God has reveled in His word.
I believe the Bible, handled naturally in the way it was intended, teaches pretty clearly the basic ideas of grace as the free gift of God, based on faith alone. Likewise, even those who oppose the view admit that if you handle the Bible in a consistently literal manner, you will arrive at dispensational conclusions. So rather than try to validate these positions, I am simply trying to handle the Bible accurately. I think the Bible validates those positions, even thought there is certainly room for refinement in how we handle and explain the ideas of grace and dispensational thought.
Is there a role for Church history and tradition in our interpretation?
This is such a pivotal question. How one answers that question will largely determine many of their theological conclusions. The correct answer, I believe, is unequivocally no. If we read historical theology into the text, we are no not doing exegesis, but instead we are studying what others have said about the text. While that can be helpful, historical theology has no authority in interpretation. To illustrate, the Catholic Catechism tells its adherents to interpret Scripture according to the interpretation of the church. It tells Catholics that they should not interpret the Bible for themselves, but that they should learn what the church says the Bible says, and then consider that as authoritative. And there is no middle ground – either the voices of others is authoritative in determining the meaning of the text or it isn’t.
Now, I am not suggesting we should be uninformed, nor am I suggesting that historical theology has no value – there is great value in that discipline as long as we employ it correctly, recognizing that while it helps us gain perspectives in many areas, it has no authority for the interpretation of the Biblical text.
What do you want people who buy the book to really get out of it?
I want readers to get a basic process for understanding the Bible, and to have a sense of confidence that God wrote the Bible to be understood. Also, I would like for readers to become sensitive to the reality that when we are communicating the Bible to others, we aren’t simply teaching or preaching material, we are preparing people for life, and we need to give them the tools to do life. God’s word does that, and if this book helps readers to focus on helping others to learn how to handle God’s word for themselves, then I will be really pleased with that.
How can our audience connect with you and stay up to date on your ministry?
Probably the best way is through my website, www.drcone.com. I try to write regularly there, so they can read those articles, but also the books are available there as well. The church website is www.sandiegofellowship.org, and the school website is www.socalsem.edu. If people want to contact me directly they can feel free to email me on the website (www.drcone.com). Because of my crazy schedule, I don’t always respond as quickly as I would like, but I love the interaction, and I do respond. Would love to hear from your readers, and I have appreciated this opportunity to share with them.
Thank you to Dr. Cone for this interview.