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Is there a wedge being driven between Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology?

November 11, 2008

I have recently been undertaking some research in the relationship between Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology. In the light of this I was intrigued by the following remarks which I came upon in a Christian magazine published in the UK:


The wedge that has been consciously driven between systematic theology and biblical theology over recent decades in influential circles is starting to bear very bad fruit. Exclusive emphasis on the Bible as storytelling has combined with a trendy cultural impatience both with the past and with the very idea of systematic theology, and this has provided fertile soil for the reception of the kind of ideas promoted by the scripture revisionists.


Unfortunately, the author, a well-known scholar, does not detail his reasons for arriving at this conclusion. Personally speaking, I would be inclined to view this as a somewhat jaundiced view of recent developments, but I say this on the basis of living in the UK and the author of this comment may be drawing upon developments in North America. I would, therefore, be interested to get the reaction of others to this comment. Does this chime with your own experience in recent years? Is this an accurate assessment? Or, is there some element of truth in this that needs to be taken very seriously? Your observations would be most welcome.


Sinai and Zion: II

October 29, 2008

A few days ago I heard a stimulating lecture by Craig Evans, renowned NT scholar, from Acadia Divinity College. He was addressing NT connections with the community at Qumran. He made the point that the Essene community there never amounted to probably more than 100 at one time, but that there were probably thousands more living in various communities throughout Judea. So the question was asked, Why is there never any mention of them in the NT, and why did Jesus not encounter them in his travels? Evans argued that it was probably because the Essenes, living strictly by the Torah, would have been totally scandalized by Jesus and his violation of taboos. His neglect of washing before eating, his fraternization with sinners and tax collectors, his profanation of the Sabbath–all these would have clearly put Jesus beyond the pale of even being considered a holy man. If the Pharisees were scandalized by Jesus’ behaviour, what would the Essenes have thought! They did not even operate on the same assumptions. For example, when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath, he justifies his action by saying that even his accusatory audience would help get an animal out of a ditch on the Sabbath. This argument wouldn’t have worked with the Essenes, as they specifically address this matter and argue that the animal must remain in the ditch since to help it out would be to violate the Sabbath (CD 11:13014).

My point is simply this: Jesus operated with a more inclusive concept of Torah, a more liberating one, which seemed to move out into the world while the Essenes operated with a more exclusive concept of Torah, which separated them from the world. One moved over barriers while the other erected barriers. They both probably used the same Bible. I wonder if the reason for the different views had to do with the different perception of the significance of the present moment. Although they were both sensitive to the eschatological thrust of the scriptures, one focussed on Sinai, the other on Zion. I wonder if this same feature is true when we look at the various movements within Christianity: some are more isolationist and separatist, the other is more expansive and mission-oriented. A student of mine recently wondered about holiness and said that a true conception of holiness was to enlarge the place of God’s presence while a false conception was to narrow the place of human presence.