Monday, December 1, 2008

Gold from Gerald

This is the scholarly boat rocking that I've tuned into lately. It's interesting to note that there is awhole glut of evangelical books to help you understand the historical background or context of a passage. The problem is evaluating the quality of this 'extra-biblical' material and determining when and how to use it. Some authors do it well, but they do it well because they use existing evidence very carefully and don't rush into interpreting the text based on it. In this article by Gerald Bray, he argues for a return to theological interpretation which is the historical tradition of the church. Humans interpret Scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit so therefore given that the Holy Spirit is God our interpretation is theological first and foremost. (I've noticed that Michael Jensen is blogging along these lines recently, as well.)


Andrew Bowles said...

I would like to see some more extensive argumentation along this line, because I don't think the parts of his thesis necessarily hold togehter. I definitely agree that we should emphasise theology in preaching rather than historical and exegetical detail. But I'm less comfortable with the idea that 'scientific' and contextual interpretation always have to bow to a 'timeless' theological interpretation. That was the troublesome part of the Alexandrian 'spiritual' exegesis (eg. Origen). The part of the hermeneutical spiral that moves back to the text seems to be missing. How can you genuinely hold your theology accountable to the Bible with his method?

Good to see your accidental blog. Several folks have clicked through to Inexhaustible Beauty - now the Philokalia, there's some real old-fashioned spiritual exegesis!

Luke said...

Hi Andrew, thanks for making me part of the blogesphere, now I'll waste time more constructively!

I wouldn't want to make it exclusively theological, that would be an over-correction and a mistake however I'd want to make the 'theological,' the final arbiter of any interpretation. So the idea would be to use carefully all the tools available with theology being the "queen" of your final decision before preaching and applying the text. (The problem with more 'scientific' interpretation is that it imports the bias of which every field or expert your relying on, into your interpretation of Scripture.)

As for the link between theology and scripture, I think this the where the art of biblical and systematic theology come into their own. (Contra Matt, Grudem defines Systematic theology as the careful marshaling of biblical evidence for a given topic.) If you kept your eyes open to the specific weaknesses of both types of theology and your spiritual self open to the Holy Spirit you'd be able to discern theology from scripture. Of course you'd use historical theology to cross-check all your answers with the Holy Spirit's work through history.

(Just like Ridley only without the cheese.)

Andrew Bowles said...

"(The problem with more 'scientific' interpretation is that it imports the bias of which every field or expert your relying on, into your interpretation of Scripture.)"

Unfortunately so does theological interpretation, which is my standing problem with this method as we hashed it out on MASG, and which ended in the infamous flirtation with postmodernism. :)

I think your idea of 'cross-checking' with historical theology is helpful here, as well as building your personal discernment. Gerald seems to be too dismissive of other readings of Scripture that have something helpful to offer for theology. Yes, even feminists and the New Perspective...

I haven't read what Grudem has to say, but what he's describing doesn't sound like what systematic theology as a discipline actually involves. Collating biblical evidence on a topic is just the first step. I think that Matt was right to say that systematics is a broader activity than that.

Luke said...

I found an interesting article today at Ridley today entitled 'Is the Bible Hermeneutically self-sufficient?' When I review it on the blog I'll tie in some further responses to you.

Yes, regarding systematic theology. On the one hand Matt and I were talking cross-purposes on the other hand the more I thought about the more I realised we had a fundamental disagreement.

Cross-purposes: I was emphasising the gathering of Scripture aspect while he was emphasising the organising ideas aspect. Disagreement: Grudem follows Berkhof who says "[systematic theology is] a systematic presentation of the doctrinal truths of Scripture" Calvin in his 1554 preface says his Institutes "guide and assist them [the readers] in finding the sum of what God has been pleased to teach us in his word."

This means systematic theology at it's heart is the careful marshaling of what Scripture says (or infers) on a particular topic. For sure it depends on your organising idea but the superstructure is irrelevant if it's not based on something. The most sophisticated idea is still natural revelation if it's not based somewhere on special revelation!