Is Our Theology Enslaved to the Law?

Is Our Theology Enslaved to the Law? August 6, 2013

How do the various biblical metaphors and word pictures relate to one another?

theology enslaved to lawClick on the Picture For Slide Presentation

For years, I have tried to help people take seriously the importance of honor and shame within the Bible. In Saving God’s Face, I argue that theologians and missiologists have long neglected and even minimized the importance of honor-shame related themes. Consequently, one particular motif––law––has had unparalleled influence in shaping tradition western theology. Undoubtedly, “law” is an important biblical category. However, it’s not the only one.

When I present my ideas to people, I consistently find that they have similar reactions. The more traditional their theology, the more likely I’ll hear this kind of response: “Sure, honor and shame are in the Bible, but you really have to get to law before too long.”

It’s as if they reluctantly admit the fact that honor and shame are biblical themes; yet, the real basis for theology is law. I have never heard someone say, “Sure, law is in the Bible, but we really need to make sure we get to things like honor, glory, shame, ….”

People often act like we have to prioritize one particular biblical theme over all others, as if one’s theology were compromised if he or she stressed something other than law. I’m honestly not overstating my case. I’ve had this conversation more times than I can count.

I’ve created a slide presentation to help clarify the relationship between the various metaphors. I hope people will see that they don’t have to isolate biblical ideas, picking one metaphor at the expense of others. At a practical level, we need a “both-and” mentality.

The implications are incalculable. When we seek to integrate these the entire canon of Scripture, we liberate our theology from the sole control of “law.” In that way, the law can come alongside other themes, providing balance without making us slaves. In addition, there is great potential in developing contextualizations that are more biblical rich and understandable to those who don’t have a traditional western worldview.


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