Monday, July 2, 2012

On Biblical Studies and Systematic Theology: Their Marriage

I just finished reading a really helpful essay that was jointly written by, C. Kavin Rowe and Richard B. Hays; their chapter is in the 'Biblical Studies' category for The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology. They offer a sketch of development relative to the historical and contemporary relationship (or not) between so called 'Biblical Studies & Systematic Theology'. They seek to broach how it is that these two relative disciplines indeed have come to be separate, even competitive disciplines; such that the biblical/exegetical student could be as far apart from the systematic theologian as could the analytic theologian be apart from his counterpart, the so called dialectic theologian. In other words, they seek to both descriptively and constructively engage this so called divide; and in the end, they offer a constructive proposal that seeks to place biblical studies and systematic theology in dialectical and dialogical relation (such that they are no longer in a competitive relationship) – which correlates, by the way, with our thesis 9; that Evangelical Calvinism is a form of dialectical/dialogical theology and understanding. Let me share, the summarizing and concluding thoughts of Rowe and Hays; thoughts that I concur with and find quite encouraging, personally:

[...] where the subject matter of biblical exegesis and of dogmatic theology is thought to be the same, the two disciplines are of necessity inseparable. In this respect, to refuse interdisciplinary work between biblical interpretation and constructive theology is to deny the coherence of the subject matter itself. Today, however, the complexity of the interpretive task may warrant a continued, though always provisional and cooperative, division of labour between biblical scholars and systematicians. The exegete concentrates upon the refraction of the subject matter through particular witnesses, thereby penetrating more deeply into the particular shape of the subject matter and helping to avoid banal theological  generalities (Childs 2004: xi). And the theologian concentrates more upon the whole of the subject matter as it is expressed through the understanding of scripture in the dogmatic tradition, thereby helping to avoid the tendency toward fragmentation in exegesis (the old problem of losing the forest for the individual trees).

Yet, in continuity with the ancient church, there is no final division between biblical interpretation and theological reflection, for they are united in the common task of attending to the subject matter of scripture. Their actual relationship is thus dialectical, in the sense that within their respective foci there exists a constant movement between the particulars of the biblical text and the whole of systematic reflection in an effort to do justice both to the exegetical thickness of doctrine and the theological coherence of biblical exegesis. [C. Kavin Rowe and Richard B. Hayes, Biblical Studies: Chapter 24, in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, edited by Webster, Tanner, Torrance, p. 452]

In the essay, both Rowe and Hays speak quite approvingly of both Barth and Bultmann of being thinkers who brought together (in their own ways) the task of theologizing and biblical studyizing; that in the modern period (from which they both were birthed) had been divided  – as much as the 'historical Jesus' had been from the 'Jesus of faith'. To see biblical studies and systematic theology implicating each other – as we ought – is really to engage in a 'theology of retrieval. Meaning, as Rowe and Hays suggest through their historical development, that Barth & co. engaged in the process of retrieving the doing of biblical exegesis and theology (together) from the Patristic and Reformed periods; but in a way that also did the "retrieving" from a particular situation of development itself. So that this "retrieval" of thinking biblical studies and systematic theology together has taken shape with the full realization of all of the interpretive advances made, even in the modern period itself. The result, really, is that theological exegesis should be the only way Christian thinkers and readers engage the text of scripture and their respective thinking of the God revealed in Christ that scripture finds its scope through.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.