Also by this author: A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing
Published by IVP Academic on September 7, 2021
Genres: Academic, Non-Fiction, Theology
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The disciplines of biblical studies and theology should serve each other, and they should serve both the church and the academy together. But the relationship between them is often marked by misunderstandings, methodological differences, and cross-discipline tension. New Testament scholar Scot McKnight here highlights five things he wishes theologians knew about biblical studies. In a companion volume, theologian Hans Boersma reflects on five things he wishes biblical scholars knew about theology. With an irenic spirit as well as honesty about differences that remain, McKnight and Boersma seek to foster understanding between their disciplines through these books so they might once again collaborate with one another.
Have you ever listened in on a conversation with two people who were definitely smarter than you? Like, you were smart enough to follow the conversation and understand most of what was being said, but in no way were you prepared to interject yourself into the conversation at all? That’s how I felt through most of the Five Things duology by Scot McKnight and Hans Boersma. The series is written from one profession to the other, with the goal of the two interconnected but often disparate fields finding common ground and learning from the other.
McKnight pens Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew while Boersma pens the opposite Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew. This a bold project because it’s very much within a niche. One side is obviously writing to biblical scholars. The other side is obviously writing to theologians. And if you’re outside those camps, you’re really just a third-party looking in. But as an interested third-party, let me say that I came away from these books with a greater understanding of each profession, how they differ, and how they can supplement and support the other.
First off, I should probably define the difference between the biblical scholar and the theologian. Frankly, if you don’t already know the difference, this may not be the volume for you, but if you’ve stumbled across this review for some reason and don’t know the difference, I’ll break it down for you. A theologian is one who studies God. A biblical scholar is one who studies the Bible, or rather, a portion of it. As such, biblical scholarship is much narrower than theology and also not limited to theology. Conversely, theology is not limited to the revelation of God in the Bible and it is much more expansive than biblical scholarship.
The five things that McKnight wants his theology brethren to know are:
- Theology needs a constant return to Scripture. That is, for Christianity, the foundation of theology should be the Bible. While this might sound elementary to the layperson, I can say from personal experience in seminary that my theology classes were very much about learning with Barth said, or evaluating what Calvin thought, and so on. With theology being so expansive, as God’s revelation comes in many different ways, setting the foundation of revelation as Scripture is important. I also appreciate that Scot addresses the charge of biblicism and correctly parses between a woodenly fundamentalistic interpretation and what he’s advocating.
- Theology needs to know its impact on biblical studies. This is a pretty simple one, but important nonetheless. The average person approaches faith through the lens of theology before the lens of biblical scholarship. Theology is simply more accessible. McKnight makes this argument in a rather circumspect way, evaluating a number of systematic theologians and their Christological beliefs and examining how that impacts biblical studies. Probably the most academic and difficult to follow chapter.
- Theology needs historically shaped biblical studies. That is, proper theology must understand the historical and cultural context of the biblical revelation of God. McKnight gets super specific, naming four recent works by biblical scholars that he sees as crucial for theologians. The majority of the chapter is spent examining Barclay’s definition of grace and its impact on scholarship.
- Theology needs more narrative. Life is story, is it not? Systematic theology often comes to us in lists and categories and definitions. In other words, it’s removed from its context and laid out in what is perceived as a neat and orderly (systematic!) fashion. But removing the narrative leaves us with an analytic theology that misses out on the story of God. McKnight gently reminds theologians that when God wanted to talk theology, he did so through the narrative of Scripture.
- Theology needs to be lived theology. Similar to the fourth point, but still important, McKnight’s final assertion is that theology has to be more than academic—it must be practical, livable, and meaningful. “Theology is multidisciplinary, exegetical, historical, narratival, and—all of it—meant to be embodied in such a way that life is the theology” (115).
Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew presents a thoughtful critique of how theology could make use of biblical scholarship and learn from the expertise of biblical scholars. Despite being a biblical scholar, Scot McKnight is obviously well-versed in systematics and has a deep understanding of how theologians are often trained and the assumptions they often make. It’s a refreshing, if quite niche, volume that lays bare some of the “inner workings” of Christian academia and calls readers away from simplistic, non-contextual systematics that fail to either be grounded in Scripture or constructed in narrative.