Monday, April 21, 2008

Is Evangelical theology, Pauline theology?

Robert Menzies in his book Spirit and Power, co-authored with his father William Menzies, discusses an issue in hermeneutics - the role of narrative in forming theology. Typically, in the past narrative has been mostly viewed as historical and not theological - that instead narrative provides the historical basis for theological formulations. However, in time biblical scholars have come to see what most of the rest of us probably already knew, that narrative is often both historical and theological, history but with a purpose. Interestingly, many have been okay with this in regards to the Old Testament narratives, but when it comes to the book of Acts they break the rules and insist that it is only a historical account of the early church. They contradict themselves.

Anyways all that to highlight an interesting point he makes when interacting with a claim Gordon Fee makes in his book, How to Read the Bible for all its Worth where he states: "unless the Scriptures explicitly tell us we must do something, what is narrated or described can never function in a normative way." (this is footnoted from pg 97 of the 1981 edition - I have no idea if this was changed in response to Menzies or not). So Menzies goes on to respond with a barrage of questions,
"Today, for many, it is difficult to imagine how such a restrictive approach came to be axiomatic for Evangelical interpretation. After all, doesn't this principle sound very much like a canon within a canon? Doesn't much of the theology of the Old Testament come to us in the form of narrative? Didn't Jesus himself often teach by relating stories or parables? Doesn't such a theory tend to reduce the Gospels and Acts (as well as other narrative portions of Scripture) to a mere appendage to didactic portions of Scripture, particularly Paul's letters? (Perhaps this explains the overwhelmingly Pauline character of much of Evangelical theology. When all is said and done, has not Evangelical theology tended to be Pauline theology?) In any event, even the most casual reader cannot help feeling the tension with 2 Timothy 3:16. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness" (pg. 38-39).
So the question becomes, is Evangelical theology indeed, Pauline theology? What do you make of this quote?

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At 7:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its generally true. though postmodernism is pushing more toward the gospels than previously.

as a side note, on the spirit, give me Max Turner over Menzies any day.

At 7:53 PM, Blogger Brian said...

I need to get Max Turner - it was at the school store and so I got it. He has an interaction with Turner in one of his chapters, as also with J.D.G. Dunn. As to Menzies he is attempting to give a more solid theological basis for the Pentecostal experience than "because."

At 12:58 PM, Blogger Brian said...

so is this topic an issue of "who cares?" or "of course it is and it should be"?

At 4:51 PM, Blogger Rhea said...

Well....shouldn't Pauline theology be BIBLICAL theology? If you say "no" doesn't that then require you to believe that somehow Pauline theology doesn't line up with the Bible (or I guess the REST of the Bible)?

And shouldn't evangelical theology be biblical theology?

Anytime I hear about " ___________ theology" I get this feeling that someone has simply taken their X amount of favourite verses and tried to basically explain Christianity in the context of those X amount of verses ONLY.

Why do so many ppl find it so necessary to limit their Christianity so much?

At 5:25 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Well, Rhea, I think Pauline theology should be an element of Biblical theology but not its primary component. Biblical Theology takes into consideration what each of the biblical authors have to say regarding various issues - one traces the theme or topic of interest throughout the Scriptures to gain a more holistic theology not just a partial one. Make sense?

At 2:41 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

The quote has been slightly changed in my 1993 2nd edition of Fee and Stuart's book (p.106) (there is I think now a 3rd edition):

unless Scripture explicitly tells us we must do something, what is only narrated or described does not function in a normative way - unless it can be demonstrated on other grounds that the author intended it to function in this way. [Fee's italics]

But I think you really need to read this in context. His point is that you shouldn't read something like "Judas hanged himself" as an instruction to do the same - and if not that, then why anything else that is "only narrated or described"? There are good ways of telling which things "only narrated or described" should be taken as normative, but careful discernment is needed.

At 8:45 PM, Blogger Rhea said...


I understand what you're saying. If Pauline theology should not be the primary component of Biblical theology, then what should be? Should there even BE only ONE primary component, or should it be more the equal contributions of many different "smaller" theologies?

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Well as I understand it, biblical theology as a discipline focuses on specific themes within the biblical text such as covenant, or love, or grace and traces that theme through the scriptures - Paul wasn't the only one to speak to the issues, so naturally he needs to have a part in the conversation but not dominate it.

If we take prayer for example: we won't look only a Paul's thoughts on prayer but we'll also look at what Jesus says, we'd look at the Psalms, etc. So them we create a biblical theology of prayer and not just a Pauline view of it.

I hope this helps.


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