Thursday, June 21, 2012

Exegetical Theology or Theological Exegesis?: DeYoung on the Both/And

Earlier today, we saw Dr. Millard Erickson in his Christian Theology give us a good example of how good exegesis informs our systematic theology. Therefore, it should be emphasized that theology ought to be driven by the biblical text, correct interpretation of the author, and a firm understanding of the original languages, hermeneutics, etc. But does it go the other way around? In a helpful and interesting post, Kevin DeYoung suggests that not only does sound exegesis lead to sound theology, but sound theology leads to sound exegesis.*

But what about the reverse? We all know exegesis should inform systematic theology, but should our theological systems also inform our exegesis? Some Christians, especially biblical scholars, have argued that the best exegesis is completely theologically unprejudiced. We can’t bring our theological concerns to the Bible, lest we gerrymander the Scriptures and impose anachronistic categories on the text. The unspoken (or spoken) assumption is that the traffic between exegesis and theology is one way. Biblical scholars do their work, and as long as theologians pay attention to professional exegesis they can go on and do their own work. But the task of exegesis, it is often implied and sometimes explicitly said, has little to gain from listening to the theologians.

 This insistence on making the path between exegesis and theology a one way street is untenable and unwise.

He then goes on to highlight the argument of commentator Moises Silva (taken from his Interpreting Galatians) who makes a similar argument briefly shared her:

1. “In the first place, we should remind ourselves that systematic theology is, to a large extent, the attempt to reformulate the teaching of Scripture in ways that are meaningful and understandable to us in our present context” (208). There are many learned commentaries that fail the preacher, let alone the parishoner, because they refuse to ask any of the questions real people are asking. They dive into history, philology, and redaction criticism, but won’t talk about what this or that passage means for our view of marriage or our understanding of the devil or our belief in providence. The categories of systematic theology are not static. Some loci wax and wane with the times. But in general, systematic theology deals with the questions Christians have been most interested in discussing over the years or centuries. To set aside theology in the task of exegesis is an invitation to make exegesis irrelevant.

2. “In the second place, our evangelical view of the unity of Scripture demands that we see the whole Bible as the context of any one part” (208). The current debate about Adam, to cite just one example, demonstrates how critical the unity of Scripture is in shaping our exegetical method. . . . So if Romans teaches the doctrine of original sin rooted in a historical Adam we will not be embarrassed to bring this consideration to bear on our understanding of Genesis, not in a way that ignores everything else going in ancient Mesopotamia but in a way that informs our understanding of God’s inspired, unified Word. Of course, eisegesis is a danger . . .

3. “Third, and finally, my proposal will sound a lot less shocking once we remember that, as a matter of fact, everyone does it anyway” (209). If postmodernism has taught us anything it is that none of us comes to a text with a completely unbiased, blank slate. We come to the exegetical task for a framework, with a way of looking at the world, with a system. This is how the mind works and one of God’s gifts which make learning possible. It also makes the preacher’s herculean task more feasible. Without a systematic theology how can you begin to know what to do with the eschatology of Ezekiel or the sacramental language in John 6 or the psalmist’s insistence that he is righteous and blameless? . . .

There is some real truth here. The third point made by Silva is particularly important but must be guarded. We do approach the biblical text with certain assumptions but that does not mean that we cannot, will not, or must not be changed by a given text. How many of us have ever read a text - perhaps one we have read hundreds of times before - and suddenly realize that a certain belief we hold is wrong and thus change? So though we confess that we approach the biblical text with our assumptions (Calvinism, liberalism, etc.) we must still allow exegesis to inform our theological conclusions.

But we should highlight one other thing mentioned by DeYoung and Silva. The role of the preacher is to be both exegetical in his sermons as well as theological. He should demonstrate to his congregation how to rightly interpret and apply a text and also how it fits with the broader biblical narrative. Thus it is not enough for the pastor to be informed by commentaries who care only about the text, but must also understand systematic theology, biblical theology, and historical theology. After all, theology is just as practical as exegesis and a congregation needs both.

So here's to hoping that we are all exegetes and theologians and vice a versa.


* DeYoung begins clearly stating the former, that exegesis informs our theology.  Good systematic theology will be anchored in good exegesis. The sum of the whole is only as true as the individual parts. No Christian should be interested in constructing a big theological system that grows out of a shallow and misinformed understanding of the smaller individual passages. I don’t know of any evangelical pastor or scholar who disagrees with these sentiments.


Kevin DeYoung - Your Theological System Should Tell You How to Exegete 


Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 1 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 2 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 3
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 4  
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 5

Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 1
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 2 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 3
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 4
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 5   
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 6 


For more on Erickson:
Blogizomai - Where to Begin?: Calvin on the Starting Point of Theology - The Knowledge of God & the Knowledge of Man
Blogizomai - Wherefore Art Thou Theological Giants?
Blogizomai - On Special Revelation: Dreams, Visions, Theophanies, and the Word of God


For more:
Blogizomai - Repost | "Life's Biggest Questions" by Erik Thoennes
Reviews - The Top 5 Essential Works of Theology of the Past 25 Years
Reviews - "Doctrine"
Reviews - "The Good News We Almost Forgot
Reviews - "Dug Down Deep" by Josh Harris
Reviews - "Heresy"
Reviews - "Christianity's Dangerous Idea" by Alister McGrath
Reviews - "The Theology of the Reformers"
Blogizomai - Repost | Schreiner on the Practice of Inaugurated Eschatology
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