Saturday, August 1, 2009

Justification: "Systematic Theology vs Exegesis, a false dichotomy or real tension?"

In a previous post about Justification I outlined several questions that emerge from the debate. One of them was my speculation that underlying this debate is a presupposition about "Systematic Theology vs Exegesis, a false dichotomy or real tension?" This English blogger, Paul Helm confirms my suspicions.

For various reasons it is at present hugely fashionable to think of theology in narrative form: in terms of covenant (Horton), speech-act theory and ‘theodrama’ (Vanhoozer), and of history (N.T. Wright), for example. More generally, it is vogish to think predominantly in the category of history, redemptive history, biblical history, ‘biblical theology’, and to downplay or abandon the categories of systematic theology. In Wright’s case this way of thinking is habitual because he is first and foremost a historian, and so first and foremost he thinks in terms of historical sequences, of sequences of action, human and divine, and of their significance. He is much less interested in the ‘creedal’ statements in Scripture. He has little feel for the doctrinal debates in the history of the Church, and he sticks as closely as he can to the very words of Scripture and to the use of any analogies and metaphors that throw light on these.

Wright says, while not condemning systematic theology, that he wants exegesis to drive the debate about Justification. (Justification, Wright, 23) However as Mike Ovey so carefully explains in these lectures, thinking about the "whole counsel of God" is just as important doing exegesis. (More generally I've noticed that expository preaching is understood in the places I frequent as pure exegesis with application at the end rather then exegesis and systematics drawn together practically.) So when we think about Justification (itself a systematic topic) we need to strike a balance between exegesis and systematic theology rather then hold them in tension or pit one against the other.