Saturday, April 25, 2009

Debates on Biblical Theology

Sometime ago at there was debate between Graeme Goldsworthy and Carl Trueman about Systematic and Biblical Theologies. I've written on this before (Biblical Theology - An Endangered Species), but here are a couple of quotes from each author:

Trueman: "Year in, year out, I teach the history of Christian doctrine; and, year in year out, I have not only taken flack from those liberals for whom the whole idea of doctrine is somewhat fanciful; I have also taken flack from those evangelicals who ‘just have their Bible’. That the church wrestled for at least 1700 years with issues of systematic theology, not just biblical narrative, and did so in a manner which sought to preserve the balance between economy and ontology in the church’s proclamation of God in Christ, is lost on such students. My fear is that the biblical theology movement, while striving to place the Word back at the centre of the church’s life, is inadequate in and by itself for the theological task of defending and articulating the faith. Reflection upon the wider church tradition is needed, creeds, confessions and all, because this is the best way to understand how and where the discipline of biblical theology and redemptive history can be of use to the wider picture without it usurping and excluding other, equally necessary and important theological disciplines. Christianity is Trinitarian at its very core, and it is my suspicion that biblical theology on its own is inadequate to protect and defend that core. We need ontology as well as economy if we are to do justice to the Bible’s teaching on who God is and what he has done. The biblical theological revolutionaries have become the new establishment, it time for those of us rebels who think that the Bible raises more than just redemptive-historical questions, and that the creedal tradition of the church gives important insights on this, to raise our voices in dissent, to highlight the very real dangers of making this insight into an ideology and to do our best to bring the pendulum back a little."

Goldsworthy: "One more point needs to be made. By its very nature, systematic theology involves a measure of abstraction in order to show the contemporary relevance of the revelation that was given within its redemptive-historical context. If systematics is divorced from this context it becomes a total abstraction. The gospel is not an abstraction but the proclamation of a once-for-all historic event within time and space. To de-historicise the gospel is to destroy it. This has happened in the moving of the one saving event to the continuous repetition of the mass in Catholicism, to the existential moment in Bultmannism, or to the timeless ethical ideal of Liberalism. Biblical theology is necessary to prevent this de-historicising of the gospel by anchoring the person and work of Christ into the continuum of redemptive history that provides the 'story-line' of the whole Bible. The only thing that can rescue systematics from such abstractions is biblical theology. In fact, systematic theology is plainly impossible without biblical theology. Biblical theology is the only means of preventing every biblical text having equal significance for Christians (e.g. we need it to sort out what to do which the ritual laws of the Pentateuch). It prevents us from short-circuiting texts so that we isolate them from their theological context and then moralise on their application to believers."


Rod said...

My only question from reading the essays on this post is:

Where is constructive theology in all of this?

John Thomson said...

It is because biblical theology must be the foundation of systematic theology I find myself unconvinced by the argument that while imputation (of Christ's active righteousness) may not be found in a rigorous biblical theology its truth may lie in systematic theology.

Ian Hugh Clary said...

I wondered on your thoughts about John Murray who blended biblical theology and exegesis into his systematics. Would not someone like Murray meet both of the concerns of Trueman and Goldsworthy?
Someone like Don Carson also comes to mind.

Dan McCarthy said...

This message is for Joel Willitts. I just read a nice article about your views on Matthew and the Shepherd King. I wonder if your book discusses how this impacts eschatology and Jesus second coming. I am writing a book on Jesus second coming from a historical pre-millenialist perspective and view him as a conquering King.


Steve Duby said...

I agree with the post above that there are viable options for meeting the concerns of Trueman and Goldsworthy. Biblical theology with its careful unfolding of the canonical discourse in all its historical situatedness and systematic theology with its analytic, integrative accounts of Christian belief belong together! Systematics should never become disconnected from particulars, but, as Alister McGrath argues in the final volume of his Scientific Theology, human knowers will always desire to search out the underlying coherence of the things (including biblical texts) that we observe. Systematic theologians should cultivate exegetical prowess and biblical theologians should do their work with one eye on how it can enrich the discipline of systematics.

Andrew Faris said...

Honestly, I've not understood what the debate is about.

It just seems like both are so obviously necessary that the best option is to think that systematic theology that isn't informed by biblical theology is poor systematic theology, while biblical theology alone is only part of a job- fine enough, as long as others come along and work towards finishing it.

The two seem so complementary that I don't get why have to put them up against each other. Never have.

Think about it: is it at all possible for anyone with a high view of Scripture to disagree with either of these two's comments (other than the needless "rebel" language in Trueman's)?