#6 When we systematize the Bible, or pick and choose verses from its diversity for a “topical teaching” we deceive ourselves if we believe that we have somehow improved upon the Bible from the form that God actually gave it to us in. Prior to the late eighteenth century, Systematic Theology did not exist as a separate discipline from Biblical Studies. For most of the history of the church the study of the Bible was the study of Theology.
I know I’m treading on thin ice here! And, truth be told, when I was presenting the original paper (upon which this series of blog posts is based) at the Society of Vineyard Scholars conference earlier year, I kinda breezed right over this section (knowing full well that probably a third of the people in the room had PhD’s in Systematic Theology), in order to avoid a barrage of rotten fruit being hurled in my general direction. But none-the-less, when putting together a topical teaching we do run the risk of thinking that we are somehow improving upon the text by presenting it as a systematic set of propositional truths on a given topic, as opposed to the original form that God choose to revel Himself (and His truth) to us in (e.g. primarily narrative, story, but also poetry, etc.) Winn Griffin puts it like this:
“ordering them in a human fashion, as if the reader could do a better job than the Spirit in putting the text together” …
“Evangelicals believe that God somehow has given us the wrong sort of book and it is our job to turn it into the right sort of book…”
To my second point above I turn to Joel B. Green:
“For most of the history of the church, theology itself was primarily an exegetical enterprise, with exegesis taking the form of homily and theological treatise… its capacity to speak in the present tense across time and space – was on prominent display. The rise of various forms of scientific exegesis from the eighteenth century forward has had the general effect of segregating professional biblical studies from everyday interpretive practices characteristic of the church, and of disconnecting not only biblical scholarship but often the Bible itself from the theological enterprise” …
“Since the lat eighteenth century, scholarly work has moved forward under the assumption that history and theology are separate things.”
Now I’m not sure that I’m ready to throw out entirely Systematic Theology as an academic discipline (for one thing: there’s no Trinity without Systematic Theology, IMHO), but I do think that we, as the church, need to spend a lot more time getting to know the narrative of scripture, reading scripture in community, immersing ourselves in the stories of the text, and teaching our congregations how to read the Bible for themselves, before we jump immediately into Bible dissection mode for our latest series on family, end times, finances, etc. [But for an opposing viewpoint see Luke Geraty’s excellent post Biblical Studies Needs Theology.]
What do you think? Do we sometimes go too far down the road of scriptural dissection in “applying” scripture or developing “relevant” topical sermons? What is, or should be the proper relationship between Biblical Studies and Theology? What do you think of Green’s argument from the history of the theological endeavor above? Let me know in the comments below.