I’m going to paste in the original Conclusion of my paper on Biblical Theology, and then make comments, as much of my thoughts about this has already changed being just one year removed. Here we go.
We have only scratched the surface of our topic. Much more could have been said about what we have covered. We have had to ignore issues and challenges that are standard conversation fodder for those in the field. Similarly, much could have been written reflecting on various themes or proposed centers, and I am sure that there is a great deal within the discipline that I am currently unaware of at this time.
I want to conclude by sharing my own spiritual reflection on the practice. I have been challenged and encouraged by Systematic Theology, yet when I compare that to my experience with Biblical Theology, I have found my personal understanding of God and my relationship to Him to be vastly more enriched by it than by Systematics. My heart is often warmed when reading Biblical Theology. I find that I track better with the story of God than the arrangement of categories. I am more likely to be in awe of God when I hear about the trajectory of His work in the world and the telos that has been planned from the beginning. I am energized by the purposefulness of God’s narrative. Both Systematic and Biblical Theology are needed, but if there are many Christians who are similar in temperament to me, then the writings on and the preaching and teaching of Biblical Theology must become more normative in the Church. May Biblical Theologians commit themselves to producing a popular presentation of each academic work that they do in the field. I believe that God’s people will be greatly enriched because of it.
One Year Later
I had a week one old son when I wrote that conclusion, so I will give myself some grace. I still completely agree with all of the benefits of BT as described. It is amazing to see how God’s story unfolds and to discover layer upon layer of meaning and purpose.
I must, however, disagree with the uses of Systematic Theology. It seems that I thought then that Systematics was useful for people that tend to think in categories. While that may be true, there is another, more important purpose for Systematics and that is answering questions that are not explicitly answered in the text. Sometimes the text doesn’t even mention a topic, and at other times, the topic may have been mentioned in a couple of different places and contexts, and the systematician helps to bring those texts and contexts together. I still wholeheartedly believe that good systematics rests upon good Biblical Theology, but some questions aren’t necessarily answered in the chronology of the Biblical storyline.
It was really at the end of my time in seminary that I began to see a need for digging deeper into systematics. I did my MA in Biblical Theology (and I wouldn’t change that), and it was only after learning to walk from the steps of exegesis to forming Biblical Theology that I began to realize that the next step (often but not always) is to progress from Biblical Theology to Systematic or Practical or Spiritual Theology. Biblical Theology is most interested in asking the questions, “What does the text say? What does the text mean?” Is is usually then the practice of the Systematician to take that and organize it in a way that helps answer further questions. Or the pastor then takes the next step and asks “If it means XY&Z, then our RESPONSE ought to be what?” So again, we need to think in continuum terms.
Exegesis >>> Biblical Studies >>> Biblical Theology >>> Systematic/Practical/Spiritual/Liturgical Theologies
All of the applicational theologies at the end must be rooted in BT, but we can’t usually stop with BT, for the Word must still be embodied. And that is why training in these other areas is also important, and should be given in conjunction with Exegesis, Bib Studies, and Biblical Theology. Any thoughts?