Sunday, July 08, 2007

[THO] Theology vs. Biblical Studies

I often run into a notion that theology and Biblical studies are/should be synonymous. This is a rather alarming notion. If I believed it I would likely go find a school more focused on Biblical studies to study at. I think both are distinct and both are necessary.

In Biblical Studies the only starting place has to be the Scriptures. While I love the Scriptures, they are far too narrow a place for us to do all theology from. Hence I would consider Biblical studies a narrow subset of theology. Theology has much broader starting points.

Just to clarify I am interested primarily in Christian theology, and because of that Biblical studies will always play a strong role in my work of theology. But it isn't the only starting point. More it is one conversation amongst many that are important.

So does this mean I value scripture less? I think that is probably a valid criticism. But my committment to the Bible doesn't come out of my theological studies, it comes out of my passion to know the God of the Bible more. So there is a devotional committment to scripture that is part of who I am - and this does influence my theology.

Theology engages Scripture, history, tradition, dogma, hagiography, philosophy, mysticism, spirituality, cosmology, social sciences, ethics, economics, science, etc. There are a few starting points - such as the notion that theology is essentially the convesation about God/Man relationship in light of these broad dialogue partners, but you can start from almost any of these and do theology - even Christian theology.

That is why I find theology so fascinating. The Bible is a wonderful expression of God to Christians. But it is not the only book God has given us. And it is not the only voice in the conversation of theology.


Anonymous said...

I chance upon your site recently, and support your view. I am evangelical Christian. But somehow, I think we evangelical just focus too much on Biblical, and sort of putting theological study aside, especially those of the patristic fathers, which is not something wise.
Eg. The creed is the work of the theological understanding, and if want to solely use biblical approach, perhaps we would have to quote the entire bible!
Anyway, we need more teachers like you.

One of Freedom said...

Welcome to my blog. I think you might like some of my more recent posts. I've been spending a fair bit of time reflecting on the relationship that evangelicals have with scripture with an eye on finding more helpful approaches to constructing this relationship.

Thanks for the encouragement.

Anonymous said...

I am in the process of evolving from a fundamentalist based charismatic. I am not hostile to institutional Christianity but have, for the most part, abandoned it. I have discovered that my Fundamentalist/Evangelical vocabulary was unusable to explain my Pentecostal/Charismatic experience. So after thirty years of contemplation and research I have put most of it together in a recently published book, "The Messianic Matrix." Find it anywhere online. I am gathering many like minded friends along the way and will be most happy to dialogue with you and your band of believers. Loren W. Caudill

One of Freedom said...


Interesting. I am not sure that you can completely get away from the vocabulary of your traditions. I too have a Foursquare connection BTW, in the Canadian context. Your work does look interesting. I've been quite impressed with Pentecostal theologies as of late - there are some amazingly innovative thinkers emerging from Pentecostalism as it matures as a movement. Perhaps we'll find intersections in our thinking to dialogue about via this blog. Blessings!

Stefan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Sorry I disagree here. Biblical scholars don't just study scripture they try to determine the context of scripture, history, etc. OT scholars typically are also experts on ANE culture etc.
Theology is basically trying to provide a framework (Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Tillich etc) for organizing the disparate narratives/texts into doctrines or beliefs about God.

One of Freedom said...

Not quite.

The only reason Biblical scholars dig into ANE cultures, etc. is because of the text. Their commitment is to the text. Otherwise they'd by cultural anthropologists (and maybe some should).

Also theologians are those that reflect theologically. It is not always about a framework, although a lot would fit within that description. It is also about context, justice, human nature, etc. The starting point isn't always a text or a narrative even. The starting point can be the lived situation of the human person. This is at least the way Moltmann describes it when he is accused of being a sloppy exegete, he says essentially so what, I'm reflecting theologically not exegeting scripture, two different tasks. But both can benefit from each other.

Why'd you delete your comment and then post it anonymously?