Four Views on Moving beyond the Bible to Theology

By Kuruvilla, Abraham | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Four Views on Moving beyond the Bible to Theology


Kuruvilla, Abraham, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Four Views on Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology. Edited by Gary T. Meadors. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009, 364 pp., $19.99, paper.

Readers will no doubt be familiar with Zondervan's Counterpoint series, a debate in print between adherents of differing views on topics of biblical and theological importance and interest. This volume provides a much-needed discussion of Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology. The contributors are Walter Kaiser, Daniel Doriani, Kevin Vanhoozer, and William Webb, each propounding his own model for this move and each chapter concluding with responses from each of the other three authors. Additional "reflections" are provided by Mark Strauss, Al Wolters, and Christopher Wright.

Upon glimpsing the title, I first wondered what kind of "theology" this discussion was about. Biblical? Systematic? Canonical? What destination were the authors attempting to arrive at in this move "beyond the Bible"? Theology for ethics seems to have been the terminus of all the contributors, probably by editorial diktat. However, I found myself wishing someone would have provided more help to the one person in evangelicalism struggling - nay, agonizing! - week after week, pericope by pericope, with the issue of "moving beyond the Bible:" the homiletician. I will return to this issue after outlining and evaluating each of the four approaches.

Let us, then, first turn to Kaiser's "Principlizing Model." According to Kaiser, "[t]o 'principilize' is to [relstate the author's propositions, arguments, narrations, and illustrations in timeless abiding truths." And "we must receive only those meanings authoritatively stated by the authors themselves" (p. 22). While Kaiser seems to assume that these "principles" are "authoritatively stated by the authors themselves," I am not convinced that the Bible is a compendium of timeless principles awaiting a timetranscending person perched upon an Archimedean point to unearth them.

How does one go from text to principle? Kaiser's answer is the "Ladder of Abstraction," "a continuous sequence of categorizations from a low level of specificity up to a high point of generality in a principle and down again to a specific application in the contemporary culture" (p. 24). Paul's employment of Deut 25:4 in 1 Cor 9:9-12 and 1 Tim 5:18 is cited as an example of this ascent and descent. "[Flrom the ancient specific situation (oxen that tread out grain) we move up the ladder to the institutional or personal norm (animals are God's gifts to humanity and should be treated kindly), to the top of the ladder, which gives us the general principle (giving engenders gentleness and graciousness). As we descend the ladder on the other side, we meet the theological and moral principle behind our general principle ('love your neighbor'), to the contemporary or New Testament specific situation (pay those pastors ministering to you)" (p. 25). Kaiser fails to explain where these various principles are located. Presumably, they are situated behind the text.

For Kaiser, cultural issues "intrude" on the text, seemingly a distraction from the principle in (behind?) the text. As he avers, "[P]rinciples . . . must be given priority over accompanying cultural elements" (p. 21). Doriani, in his response, rightly criticizes Kaiser's implicit understanding of the God-given text as a husk that must be stripped away to extract the all-important kernel (principle) hidden therein (p. 54). One would also have to wonder at God's wisdom in giving the bulk of his Scripture in nonpropositional form. Perhaps God would have served himself and his people better had he just adhered to a list of propositions (timeless, of course) rather than messy stories and arcane prophecies and sentimental poetry, all of which turn out to be merely illustrations of underlying principles (behind the text). Vanhoozer is right when he responds: "Kaiser may not go beyond the sacred page, but he certainly goes behind it" (p. …

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