Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew, Scot McKnight, Foreword Hans Boersma. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.
Summary: In an effort to foster understanding between the two disciplines, a biblical scholar outlines five areas for theologians to understand about biblical studies.
A common challenge in the academic world is the need for specialization, which promotes careful research in one’s field, but also increasing ignorance of other related fields. This is true in the world of theological studies as well, and disciplines like biblical studies and systematic theology operate in separate silos. Yet both concern the story of God. In this work, and a companion volume, Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew (review forthcoming), Scot McKnight and Hans Boersma engage in a conversation that seeks to foster greater understanding between the two disciplines.
So here are the five things McKnight wishes theologians knew, and a few of the highlights of each:
- Theology needs a constant return to scripture. While McKnight would not adhere to sola scriptura, he proposes an expansive model in which creeds, denominational beliefs, major theologians, and church and culture all figure into our reading of scripture, and yet always beginning with scripture (prima scriptura). He also distinguishes between good biblicism (Bebbington) and bad biblicism (Christian Smith).
- Theology needs to know its impact on biblical studies. Here, McKnight asks the question of whether it is possible for the church to interpret scripture apart from church dogma and interacts with a number of contemporary examples around Christology where this is evident.
- Theology needs historically shaped biblical studies. Often theology is done without awareness of the historical context of scripture in which a doctrine arises. He notes John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift as an example of where historically shaped study is modifying the theological paradigm.
- Theology needs more narrative. Theology is often creedally or topically framed, yet most of the Bible is narrative and arguably, individual narratives are part of a larger, over-arching story. Should the fact that God has disclosed God’s self in this way shape how we do theology? McKnight would say yes.
- Theology needs to be lived theology. Theology is often divorced from ethics or practice. McKnight argues that scripture itself doesn’t permit this, cites Ben Witherington, III and Beth Felker Jones as good contemporary examples, and offers a treatment of Romans 12-16 in context of the whole book of Romans as doing theology with practice in view.
Boersma in his forward largely agrees with McKnight. He does contend that even McKnight’s prima scriptura inadequately recognizes the influence of tradition on interpretation, which McKnight himself seems to flirt with in his second chapter. I’d love a longer conversation between the two and look forward to reading Boersma.
I think McKnight hits the key issues and offers constructive examples of theological work informed by biblical scholarship. The discussion on scripture and tradition shows the work critically needed here. McKnight’s proposal that specialists in seminaries regularly offer updates in all-faculty meetings of key contributions to their field just ought to be the case everywhere.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.