Here’s a very brief set of theses I wrote for Dr. David Luy’s course The Use of Scripture in Theology here at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Enjoy.
Evangelicals know that our theology should be scriptural, that is, it ought to be somehow backed up by, rooted in, borne out of, necessitated by [or some other sticky dependence relational phrase which will make a good sermon series] the Bible. We know this. But knowing how to move from Scripture to theology is not as easy as knowing that it should be done. In this paper, I propose fifteen theses for Evangelicals who wish to move from Scripture to theology. I will briefly comment on each thesis statement for the sake of clarity, but this is more manifesto than dissertation, and the theses are not equally exhaustive of the process from exegesis to theology. In accordance with thesis 13, my intentions are to share with the church what I’ve learned in the academy, for God’s glory and the edification of the body. Let it be known that I do not wish these theses to be nailed to any hermeneutics professor’s door, nor is it to be pinned to any church bulletin boards. May God continue to lead His Church into all the truth.
What is Scripture and What is it for?
- A key component of moving from the text of Scripture to theology is knowing the ontology of scripture.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and was produced by men as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Scripture is God’s Word to us through His chosen vessels. Scripture was not produced by the will of man ultimately, but by the will of God who superintended its writing both for its original audience as well as the benefit of His Universal Church. Scripture is God’s special revelation to His image bearers.
- Closely associated with the ontology of Scripture, and equally necessary for the theological enterprise, is the teleology of Scripture.
One cannot fully understand the ontology of Scripture without understanding the teleology of Scripture, its purpose. Scripture is intended by God for His people. That they may be complete, equipped for every good work, and that they may know Him and His only Son, in whom is forgiveness of sins and salvation for all who believe. Scripture is meant to be applied to all of life, that God’s redeemed image bearers might thing His thoughts after Him in every domain.
- The teleology of Scripture leads us to view the Old and New Testaments through the lens of an Eschatological Theocentrism.
God progressively reveals Himself and His eschatological plan throughout Scripture. The grand metanarrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation serves as a map by which we can locate various events. Rather than just a Christological lens, the economy of God warrants an economic/biblical-theological lens for which the Evangelical Christian ought to read and relate the Old Testament to the New. The Bible is ultimately about God, the Trinitarian God, who acts in history and whose actions, including speech-acts, continue to reveal more and more of His nature and character to His image bearers. The progressive nature of God’s Self-Revelation and demonstration of His attributes serves as the ultimate telos for the world and mankind. God’s ultimate goal is to reveal His attributes and Trinitarian nature to His image bearers and glorify Himself, which is the best possible thing for His image bearers.
- Based on (1)-(3), a further component for moving from Scripture to theology is the recognition and affirmation of the authority of Scripture.
The authority of Scripture flows naturally from the ontology, teleology, and eschatology of Scripture. Scripture is the inspired, self-revelation of the God of Truth who has purposed His word to serve as the formal principle of the Christian faith. Any questions as to the equal authority of general revelation with that of special revelation are irrelevant this side of the fall. It is God’s Word which has final authority on all matters theological. God’s purpose in giving us a sure word was precisely so that we could have true knowledge of Him. It follows that God’s self-revelation is more authoritative than other means of coming to theological conclusions.
How Ought We Use Scripture?
- Eschatological Theocentrism provides a Kerygmatic material principle for interpretation.
With God’s economic activity as a guiding principle for interpretation, the Kerygma, the peak of God’s self-revelation, serves as the material principle for faithful interpretation. While the Canon of Scripture serves as the material principle of the Christian faith, the Kerygmatic redemption in the Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation motif serves as a guiding principle which excludes heterodox theology. In order to get the metanarrative right, one has to get the Kerygma right, and one cannot get the kerygma right without an orthodox understanding of the hypostatic union.
- An Eschatological Theocentrism ought to lead to a serious reflection on a Canonical reading of the text.
To affirm that God is sovereignly at work in Scripture ought to lead one to consider that God was also at work in how He put Scripture together. Though a canonical reading ought not be uncritically appropriated, especially in light of various other possible canons, to take Eschatological Theocentrism seriously warrants a serious look at canonical approaches to Scripture.
- Authority of Scripture dictates that Scripture ought to interpret Scripture. The clear interprets the unclear.
Since Scripture is the highest authority in theology, a hermeneutical spiral is the appropriate response when one comes upon a difficult passage of Scripture. The teleology of Scripture dictates that Scripture is sufficient for the Christian life. If something is unclear in Scripture, one should look ultimately to Scripture. Reason and other tools can aid in clarification, but never against the clear teachings of Scripture and never as an ultimate authority. What could be an authority above God’s own Words?
- The Authority of Scripture and Inspiration of Scripture dictates the relationship between special and general hermeneutics.
God is the Lord of all truth. If there is truth in general theories of hermeneutics then we have no problem plundering the Egyptians. Tools that can help us more accurately interpret Scripture should be seen as a blessing from God. Though we should never take gifts from the Greeks without checking inside them. Insofar as general hermeneutics binds Scripture from speaking, or hinders the orthodox interpretation of Scripture throughout Church history, that aspect of general hermeneutics ought to be reformulated or rejected.
- In considering nonbelieving scholars, a distinction needs to be made between know-that; know-how; and know-whom.
Nonbelievers can ‘rightly’ interpret Scripture insofar as that means “understand what Scripture says.” For instance, a nonbeliever could read these theses and understand all of them. Nonbelieving scholars are able to understand the Bible, they can ‘know that’ as in have propositional knowledge of Scripture (including those speech acts which are not neatly reduced down to their propositional content). They may even ‘know how’ to read Scripture as a believer would. One does not need the Holy Spirit for that. But a nonbeliever can’t assent to Scripture without the work of the Holy Spirt. They cannot affirm the truths of Scripture and rightly live in accordance with its teachings apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. They do not have knowledge by acquaintance “know whom” knowledge which the believer comes to have when they read the Bible. But the nonbeliever can know the Bible’s truth in the know-that and know-how modes and thus will be held accountable by God for such knowledge.
- Tradition and Rule of Faith play a boundary role for interpretation.
An evangelical program for moving from Scripture to theology has to have a boundary role for tradition and the rule of faith in their theologizing. If someone comes away from Scripture with a ‘new’ reading which goes against a conciliar understanding of Christ or contradicts the Apostle’s Creed, that reading is incorrect. The economy of God continues on outside of the Canon of Scripture in the work of the Spirit leading God’s Church into the truth. To contradict what all orthodox Christians have found unity on is to put oneself outside the orthodox faith, and such a hermeneutic should be abandoned.
- A discipled reason’s role is as a theological helper not usurper.
A discipled reason plays a coherence role in helping theologians think consistently about their theology. It also helps biblical scholars rightly interpret Scripture and weed out obvious flaws in variant readings which would contradict express teaching elsewhere in Scripture. A discipled reason can also aid theologians in deriving good and necessary consequences from Scripture. Furthermore, a discipled reason can aid in contextualization, e.g. applying the text and a systematic theological interpretation of the text to a specific circumstance in a church body.
A discipled reason cannot be used to flatten out warranted mysteries, however. Mysteries such as the Incarnation and the Trinity which are affirmed by (9) are not to be negated or marred beyond recognition by reason, for a discipled reason is a reason that affirms the Creator/creature distinction and thus has a healthy respect for warranted mysteries of the Christian faith which the doctrines of incomprehensibility and accommodation justify. A discipled reason works hard to have a reading of Scripture which matches its theology, and vice versa. But a discipled reason does not over step its bounds and speculate about theological points which are not warranted by Scripture.
- Eschatological Theocentrism is not limited to the pages of Scripture but continues even in our day and age.
The Spirit’s continued work in the church from the closing of the Canon till today ought not be abandoned for an attempt at first century purism. The Eschaton is not merely a distant point in time, but the outworking of the Economic Trinity in time and space since the foundation of the Church (and prior). The Holy Spirit has been at work in the Bride of Christ to shape her and mold her for God’s good pleasure. Church history is messy but God has been at work and to affirm Scripture is to affirm God’s providential hand over history inside and outside the history recorded in Scripture.
- The relationship between the Church and the Academy ought not be two-faced, affirming on Sunday what you deny in your articles on Monday.
Academic Christians ought to fight hard to affirm in their theoretical theology and professional articles what they read, sing, and hear from the pulpit on Sunday morning. The theologian ought not live a split brained life nor talk out of both sides of his or her face. But rather, they ought to work to integrate their academic life with their practical faith, even if it cost them credibility in the academy.
- The Academy is for the purpose of the church and ought to work hard at both high level and ‘low brow’ for the edification of God’s people. Including taking up, with the serious resolve which he does in his academic work, the issues of his local body.
Along with a life of integrated theology, the theologian ought to work for the people of God. The theologian ought to consider it a joy to teach the local church body where God has placed him. In order to serve the body well, the theologian needs to be considering lay concerns and local church issues in their academic work.
- To read Scripture with the Eschaton in mind is to take seriously God’s work in the community of faith, both past, present, and globally.
God has been at work in redeeming His people around the world. He has been building His church since He inaugurated it. He sovereignly rules and reins over all people groups at all times. We must listen to our brothers and sisters in other countries and other times in order to avoid the mistakes of our own day. If God made different people in different places at different times, and if He has been redeeming those people, then we need to listen to what He has taught them if we want to understand His Word and His heart more fully.