Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Tripartite Law - N. T. Wright

Precisely because of the emphasis on the unique accomplishments of Jesus Christ, the Old Testament could not continue to have exactly the same role within the Christian community that it had had before. . . . From the start, in the ministry of Jesus and the work of Paul, we find constant reference to the fact that with the fulfillment comes a new moment in the story, a new act in the play. Heavy-handed schemes such as those of Marcion and the theologically cognate ones of some Reformers do no justice to the sophisticated early Christian sense of continuing to live under the whole scripture, albeit in this multi-layered manner. Nor, for that matter, do the pragmatic, rule-of-thumb conclusions of some other writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, who saw the "civil" and "ceremonial" laws being abolished while the "moral" ones remained, ignoring the fact that most ancient Jews would not have recognized such a distinction.

found in N. T. Wright, The Last Word (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 56-7.

As I have been reading N. T. Wright, I came upon this quote and it reminded me of a series I did back in 2008. Here is a link to the "Final thoughts" post which has links to all the posts in the series. Hope it is helpful.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Systems Enslaving Scripture - N. T. Wright

"Once you can make scripture stand on its hind legs and dance a jig, it becomes a tame pet rather than a roaring lion. It is no longer "authoritative" in any strict sense; that is, it may be cited as though in "proof" of some point or other, but it is not leading the way, energizing the church with the fresh breath of God himself. The question must always be asked, whether scripture is being used to serve an existing theology or vice versa."

found in N. T. Wright, The Last Word (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 70.

Unfortunately he describes here a phenomenon which has been far too common for far too long. There are many cherished systems out there, and too many people holding on to their system more tightly than they hold on to Scripture. What if we pledged not to allow our systems to "tame" Scripture, but for our understanding of Scripture to be system free? What if we questioned everything and looked at Scripture with a fresh eye, allowing it to shape our theology, instead of trying to use it to prove our theology? Then we would allow Scripture to energize "the church with the fresh breath of God himself." Will you be the vessel for that breath of fresh air?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Authority: Scripture vs. System - N. T. Wright

I have been reading N. T. Wright's book to prepare for my PhD comprehensive exams (which I will take in 2012 or so), and have been really enjoying it. In Chapter 5, The First Sixteen Centuries, Wright looks at how the use and understanding of Scripture changed over the centuries. Starting with allegory, he sees a tension developing: a tension "between authority and interpretation." Here he asks a very good question:

At what point in this process are we forced to conclude that what is really "authoritative" within such an operation is the system of theology or devotion already believed or embraced on other grounds, which is then "discovered" in the text by the interpretative method being used?
found in N. T. Wright, The Last Word (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 66.

So what do you think? How often have I committed that same mistake? How often have you? What can we do, as Wes asked in the comments to another post, do guard ourselves from that mistake?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Waffle House Systems

My friend and advisor is know for describing what some systematic theologians do with a Waffle House analogy. If you have ever been to a Waffle House restaurant and have ever observed the waffle making process, you might have noticed that while the waffle is cooking some dough tends to spill out and down the sides of the waffle iron. This renegade dough cooks just like the rest and I am sure that it is as tasty as the rest, but just before the waffle is removed from the iron the expert waffle maker takes a knife and cuts this unsightly waffle dough so as to produce a perfectly round waffle. Often, theologians, as they try to produce a perfect system, also take their knife and cut the renegade information that does not quite fit their system. This information is ignored, downplayed, or re-interpreted.

I am currently pursuing a Ph. D. in Systematic Theology at SWBTS (with a minor Baptist and Free church studies). Because of how the program is set up at SWBTS, last year I took reading seminars in systematic theology. During my readings I was often frustrated by how philosophical based and not Scriptural based systematic theology can be (I guess that I am a Biblical theologian at heart, not a systematic theologian). But, what frustrated me the most is that, for some people, their system became more important than Scripture itself. To be fair, when one puts anything in any kind of a system, there are bound to be some pieces that do not fit perfectly, but this is a flaw of the system, not of the raw information.

So here is my challenge: let us commit to not allow systems to define our theology. Let us commit to only allow Scripture to define our theology. Let us not pull out our theological knife and trim what does not fit. Let us make sure that we do not ignore, downplay, or re-interpret anything that does not fit our theology. Instead let us be challenged by what does not fit. Will you join me? Be forewarned, it's harder than you think ...

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