Wednesday 10 August 2005

Justification and theology

Speaking of theological autobiography, Mike Bird has posted an interesting account of his own developing understanding of “justification” in Pauline theology. Mike is right on the money when he says: “I wish that systematic theologians would learn a lot more about second-temple Jewish backgrounds, Jewish sectarianism, and diversity in earliest Christianity rather than resorting to atemporal theological categories and fancy Latin words straight up.”

This highlights the very problematic fact that, when it comes to “justification,” systematic theology is currently miles behind New Testament scholarship. Worse still, some theologians have responded to recent Pauline studies merely with a reactionary reassertion of orthodoxy; and some have even offered blanket condemnations on certain approaches to Pauline theology, without first having attempted to learn anything at all from such approaches.

Tactics like these reveal an underlying anxiety which has no place in theological scholarship. For if theology takes seriously its own commitment to the primacy of the biblical documents, then it clearly has nothing to fear from the historical study of the Bible.

The way forward is a way of open, constructive and carefree dialogue between theologians and biblical specialists. Naturally, this does not mean that biblical and theological scholars will always be able to agree on every detail—but it means at least that they will be able to listen and learn from each other.

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