Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew, Hans Boersma (Foreword by Scot McKnight). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.
Summary: In an effort to foster understanding between the two disciplines, a theologian outlines five areas for biblical scholars to understand about theology as it bears upon the Bible.
In the theological academy the study of scripture and theology are treated as two separate disciplines. Yet each depend crucially upon the other. Scripture sources our theological understanding while theological premises inform our reading of scripture. In this work, Hans Boersma approaches scripture sacramentally, as a means of grace, and not “as a mere repository of historical and doctrinal truths.” This leads Boersma to express his “five things” in the form “No______, No Scripture, devoting a chapter to each of these. Each of the five express theological realities that make possible the grace of scripture.
No Christ, No Scripture. Christ is the heart of scripture, the one to whom the scriptures point. Christ’s presence is essential to its authority. Boersma notes how historical-critical exegesis often brackets out Christ, and thus the one who speaks with authority through these texts.
No Plato, No Scripture. While not asserting that Plato has equivalent authority to Christ, Boersma argues that all approaches to scripture assume some form of metaphysic. If we attempt a pura scriptura approach, we will unconsciously import the prevailing metaphysic of our culture. Boersma asserts the essential character of Christian Platonism is due to its antimaterialism, antimechanism, antinominalism, antirelativism, and antiskepticism.
No Providence, No Scripture. Scripture is an expression of God’s providential care for us as his uniquely authoritative witness to Himself and to the blessed life in relation to Him. God has provided the words of scripture to make present the Word of God, the incarnate Son to us.
No Church, No Scripture. The church and not the theological academy is the primary center for the reading of scripture. This argues against individualist and elitist readings. This nourished by canonical, liturgical, and creedal reading. One of the most soaringly beautiful statements in the book is found where Boersma writes:
“We arrive at genuine Christian teaching only when we have been in the presence of angels and saints and the triune God himself. Only in the presence of divine light of the Spirit do the scriptures begin to make sense to us.”Boersma, p. 107.
No Heaven, No Scripture. Finally, Boersma contends that biblical scholars cannot read scripture without considering its spiritual end, the heavenly contemplation of God in Christ. In this, he argues for the primacy of contemplation over action–that good action can only follow from contemplation. He also offers a trenchant critique of political readings of scripture that fail to originate in contemplation. Rather, he focuses on the cultivation of virtue in life as the fruit of contemplation.
Boersma’s sacramental approach is hardly generic evangelical theology but reflective of his Anglican tradition (he teaches theology at Nashotah House). Actually, this approach is a corrective to Enlightenment-influenced historical-critical exegesis that treats Holy Scripture as one more ancient text to be dissected. His Platonism comes as a surprise but challenges our presumption that we can come to scripture free of metaphysical premises. We cannot, so better to be explicit about them. More than this, his focus on Christ, on God’s providence, on reading with the church, and on the contemplation of heavenly realities all remind us of the joyous gift of scripture, which leads us to the Incarnate Word and His blessed eternal purposes of his people.
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.
Scot McKnight has written a companion volume, Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew which is reviewed here.