More Books for Christmas

In our last post on new books we listed some top-notch new reference books and commentaries. Today I want to mention seven new books in theology and Christian thought.

I begin with what is becoming an international argument: the relationship of theology and biblical studies. The issue is not only who gets the first or final word, but who sets the categories. Does theology or does biblical studies? Here are three books that are reshaping the conversation and that are right in the middle of this intense conversation:

Markus Bockmuehl and Alan J. Torrance have edited a fine volume. The title is: Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible: How the New Testament Shapes Christian Dogmatics

. Contributions are Ross Wagner, Bockmuehl, Moberly and NT Wright, along with Carleton Paget, Jan Muis, John Webster, Ben Viviano, Alan Torrance, Oliver O’Donovan, Bernd Wannenwetsch and Kevin Vanhoozer.

The last contributor to the previous is the editor of two volumes: Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament: A Book-by-Book Survey
and Theological Interpretation of the New Testament: A Book-by-Book Survey.
These two books provide models and examples of what theological
interpretation looks like.
Here’s the issue: Why did the earliest Christians, say the patristic
period, not read the Bible the way historic critics do? Did they seek
to determine meaning in historical context or did they swoop the text
up into the theological message of the Bible and even extend it? And,
as this discussion always suggests, where does the authority lie? In
the historic context or in the Spirit-shaped theological
interpretation? Well, these are the sorts of questions being raised.
These three books are a good place to start.

But, if you want to see this stuff in action I recommend the beautiful study of how the early fathers read the Bible and how they can teach us how to read the Bible by Frances Young, whose disabled son — Arthur — and whose experience that God is there whether she believe in him or not changed her course of study and faith. She tells this in her book, now about a year old, Brokenness and Blessing: Towards a Biblical Spirituality
. This book is rich in theology, history and authenticity. One of the best books I’ve read of late.

has dreamed up a great idea: pair a leading theologian with an
on-the-ground practitioner. The books are called “resources for
reconciliation”. Two of the volumes I have:

Two well-known leaders, Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier, write about the prophetic witness of weakness in Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness (Resources for Reconciliation).

Katongole (prof at Duke) and Chris Rice (worked with the Voice of
Calvary Ministries and now part of the Duke Center for Reconciliation)
write about justice, peace and healing in Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing (Resources for Reconciliation).

two more books. T.F. Torrance’s lectures and thoughts on Christ and the
incarnation, the subject that he mastered and informed the entire
Christian church in the 20th Century, have now been edited and put
together in Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ.

is done by humans and that means autobiography is at work, so it is
refreshing that Jurgen Moltmann, famous German theologian, has put
together his own story in A Broad Place: An Autobiography.

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  • Jon

    I always look forward to your posts on books…I was wondering about the two book by Kevin Vanhoozer, whether they are abridgments of “Dictionary of Theological interpretation of the Bible”?

  • Deborah

    a prof in seminary introduced us to T F Torrence, he makes my brain itch – in a very good way. Thank you for the book list, I look forward to diving into these over the long winter ahead.

  • Scot McKnight

    You know, I don’t know … I don’t have these books in front of me. Anyone out there know?

  • Samuel

    How would you define the difference between theology and biblical studies? Does one determine the other; are they mutually exclusive or directly related? Searching for some clarity…

  • Scot McKnight

    The difference between theology and exegesis/Bible study: the latter is limited by and to the meaning of the biblical text in its historical context, which includes its own “theologizing,” while the latter tends not to be limited to the text but, as I see this kind of thing going on today, explores the ideas/theology of the text and expands them by connection, new contexts, new social and ecclesial situations etc..
    Trinity is theological; “the Word was God” is biblical.
    This is quite a question and is hard to answer.

  • Luke

    The answer is yes. The 2 books are essentially the essays on all the OT and NT books in the “Dictionary of Theological Interpretation of the Bible.” I personally would rather have the dictionary because it contains much more information and articles besides just articles on the theological interpretation of all the books of the Bible, but I’m sure this would suffice for most people since the dictionary may be too academic for some and the other books are much more mobile.

  • Luke

    I think (correct me if I’m wrong) that up until about maybe 20-30 years ago the biblical studies (exegesis) guys pretty much stuck to the text and the exegetical details without getting in to the theology stuff (they were technicians, as it were). They were concerned with what the sense of a certain word was in a context, how the genitive was used syntactically here, how to diagram this verse, if this were an attendant circumstance participle, etc. The systematic theology guys were the ones that told you what to believe, backed up by their 100 proof-texts. So they did theology (mainly by the proof-texting method of the Bible, but also through experience, tradition, general revelation, philosophy, etc), but the biblical studies guys just stuck to exegesis (this is how it’s been in the academy, I assume, since reformation times). So there were 2 disciplines (theology and exegesis…as if those should be dichotomized).
    However, the biblical theology movement came along pretty strong and basically said wait a minute, theology comes from the text, and we’re the guys in the text every single day, so what gives you the right to decide and teach all the theology stuff? You don’t even know the text, and most of your proof-texts are brutal to begin with! Then we started seeing more and more biblical studies profs coming out with biblical theology books, and within the last 5 years or so I would argue we’ve seen an explosion. However, their theology is different than the systematic guys. Biblical theology tends to focus on the meta-narrative of scripture and large contexts as opposed to isolated verses. Systematics is synchronic, but BT is diachronic. In BT, they embrace diversity and understand progressive revelation and contextualization, so you will see things like theology of the Pentateuch, Johannine theology, Pauline theology, theology of Jeremiah, etc (hence, diachronic). ST is topical (e.g. What does the Bible say about angels? Creation? Predestination? Election? Salvation?), BT is inductive (e.g. what does Paul say about salvation? What does Job say about creation? How does Job different with Genesis? etc).
    Biblical theology basically asks “What did this mean, and as a result of this, what does it mean today?” There is a high emphasis on contextualization and a variety of biblical criticisms as opposed to one or two (e.g. there are major emphases in things such as literary/narrative analysis, intertextuality, speech-act theory, social-sciences, cultural backgrounds, discourse analysis, canonical interpretation, use of OT in the NT, etc). So suffice it to say it’s much more holistic than systematic theology, which essentially seeks to make a propositional statement, back it up with a dozen proof-texts, and talk about how wrong everybody else is who doesn’t agree with you (don’t believe me? See Grudem’s book).
    Systematic guys see the BT movement as a threat, and there is some major vitriol in the academic realm about this. One huge controversy was over Pete Enns at Westminster, where the vote whether to keep him or fire him was completely down departmental lines (ST guys voted to get rid of him, BS guys voted to keep him). This was because he wrote a book essentially saying that many people’s approach to the Bible is unhealthy, wrong, and doesn’t line up with the evidence, and that we (evangelical scholars) have done a terrible job of handling this. He then seeks to move in a new direction (a good one, in my mind), but the reformed systematic guys thought it was dangerous and a slippery-slope to liberalism, so he was eventually canned (to be expected of an institution who interprets the Bible through a 350 yr. old doctrinal statement, I suppose). The ST guys are mad b/c the BT guys are stealing their spotlight, being published more as of late, revising their argument, not being as dogmatic about certain things, etc. Trust me, it’s not the end of this by any means, and this will continue until one of the movements eventually become extinct. Suffice it to say, ST is losing major ground, and BT hears the fat lady warming up.
    This is such a broad question that there are even books out there devoted to it. I didn’t even scratch the surface, so sorry it took so long yet I don’t feel like I explained much. I’d like to hear the thoughts of others.

  • richard

    Not all systematic theology is like Wayne Grudem and is ignorant of biblical theology. Sure, some systematicians can be like that but there are great examples of good systematicians who are brilliant exegetes and take the biblical material very seriously. Colin Gunton, and Hans Boersma are two who come to mind fairly quickly in this area. in particular, Boersma’s book Violence, Hospitality and the Cross blends the insights of biblical theologians with systematics quite brilliantly.
    People also need to remember that for every bad systematic theologian who proof texts and deals with the biblical material poorly, there are bad biblical theologians who often justify bizzare and irresponsible readings of the text and history that have significant negative effects on the doctrinal fidelity of the church. Biblical theologians are often good at blowing apart the work of systmeticians but are often too lazy or cant be bothered putting it back together again. James Dunn’s work on the christology of Jesus springs to mind here, where he essentially denies the preexistance of Christ in Paul but does little to actually explain how this effects theology as a whole. The reader is simply left with a classic “history of religions” perspective on the development of christology.

  • Chris

    Hi Dr McKnight,
    I’m an occasional reader of your blog, but I have never commented before. You mentioned the Bockmuehl volume “Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible”. I personally bought this book for the final section, which I thought would deal with theologies of Scripture. As a former evangelical, I’m trying to find a doctrine of Scripture which is ‘high’ enough that it can be said to be a genuine authority, yet ‘low’ enough to accept the possibility of historical/theological error. Unfortunatley, I haven’t found such a doctrine yet.
    Do you have any recommendations for further reading? Perhaps you have covered it on your blog at some point? Thank you.

  • Luke

    Hey Chris. Since nobody else is answering you, then I will give it a try! I’m not exactly sure what you’re looking for Chris. I’m not sure if you’re looking for a book which fits the characteristics you describe, or if you yourself would like to fit those characteristics through further study and you’re asking for book recommendations to help get you there. I would say the majority of scholarship is as you describe, they just wouldn’t explain it like that. A close study of the scriptures, along with an understanding of how ancient historiography works has caused many to re-evaluate the “historicity” question. Many wouldn’t deny the historicity of these events, but they just don’t look at them in some woodenly literal newspaper account style. The Bible is not a weather report that just “give you the facts,” but it’s written by authors trying to convey a message and tell a story with a particular bent, so naturally there are going to be some things that aren’t “literal” in the sense that we take the word. As far as theological error goes, now you’re getting into hermeneutics. The topics of progressive revelation and the diversity of scripture should help you there.
    As far as books to help you with your endeavor, the first that came to mind is Peter Enns’ work “Inspiration and Incarnation.” For a view that goes even further than Enns, see Kenton Sparks’ “God’s Word in Human Words.” Sparks buys into all the higher critical theories but claims to be Evangelical and hold the Bible as his genuine authority. James Dunn has written a work geared towards NT studies called “Unity and Diversity” that could be helpful, though it’s a bit academic. These are the only three that come to mind at the moment.

  • Your Name

    I think you may be looking for something more scholarly, but I am reading Scot’s Blue Parakeet currently, and it is helping me. I wouldn’t say I am looking for a doctrine of scripture, but, then again maybe I am. What your wrote describing your current position toward scripture is close to mine. I also read Peter Enn’s book that Luke (#10) mentions above. I liked it. But Scot’s point that we are reading the Bible improperly if it is not making us more loving towards God and others really resonates with me. He writes a lot about a relationship with the Bible that will make us more loving.
    God bless you in your search.

  • Chris

    Thank you both of you (and Scott)
    I have read Peter Enns’ book, I think his dicussion of the OT in the NT is excellent and may well be working towards a solution in that area. I will add both the Blue Parakeet and James Dunn to my list (Kenton Sparks is already on there). I understand what you are saying about the Bible needing to be understood in context, not by our 21st century standards, I’m interested in a doctrine that can allow for error even when Scripture has been properly understood in context.
    Happy Christmas!