Hyper-BT (or The Exegetical Hat-Trick)

In many ways, I’m indebted to the biblical theological (a.k.a. redemptive-historical) movement of the last 75 years (give or take).  I appreciate guys like Meredith Kline and Gregory Beale, for two different examples, but I’m a bit wary of several aspects of biblical theology (see herehere, and here for a few examples).  I think many biblical theologians could use a solid dose of systematics and historical theology to balance things out.  But Carl Trueman can say this much better than I can. 

First, he says, there is the problem of mediocrity when it comes to BT preaching.  “It is one thing for a master of biblical theology to preach it week after week; quite another for a less talented follower to do so.”  Trueman says (and I agree),

“One of the problems I have with a relentless diet of biblical-theological sermons from less talented (i.e., most of us) preachers is their boring mediocrity: contrived contortions of passages which are engaged in to produce the answer ‘Jesus’ every week.  It doesn’t matter what the text is; the sermon is always the same.”

It’s true – quite a bit of BT preaching concludes the sermon by pulling Jesus out of the exegetical hat <poof!>.  Trueman also mentions a second point, connected to the first.

“Second, the triumph of the biblical-theological method in theology and preaching has come at the very high price of a neglect of the theological tradition.  The church spent nearly seventeen hundred years engaging in careful doctrinal reflections; formulating a  technical language allowing her theologians to express themselves with precision and clarity; writing creeds and confessions to allow believers over the face of the earth to express themselves with one voice….”

Trueman also states that the doctrinal conclusions in church theology were [are] by no means void of a redemptive historical point of view.  One more point – his greatest concern, he says,

“…is that it [the biblical-theology movement] places such an overwhelming emphasis upon the economy of salvation that it neglects these ontological aspects of theology.  In doing so, it will, I believe, prove ultimately self-defeating: a divine economy without a divine ontology is unstable and will collapse.”

He says a lot more in this helpful article, of course.  I agree fully with his main point: that biblical theology is a helpful tool as long as it doesn’t become the sole or dominating tool.  In simpler terms, we need to balance biblical theology with tried-and-true systematic conclusions. 

Even Geerhardus Vos (who wrote a book on BT and an ST textbook) emphatically stated that “for anything pretending to supplant Dogmatics there is no place in the circle of Christian Theology.”  I’ll end with a great line from Carl Trueman in another essay (a fictitious dialogue between his version of Sherlock Holmes and Watson).

“Doing theology by using nothing more than redemptive history is like trying to build a house from the ground up, armed only with a hammer.  Futile, old chap, utterly futile.”

Trueman’s quotes are taken from 2.4 of The Wages of Spin and the postscript of Minority Report.  I highly recommend these articles (and these books in general!).

shane lems

2 thoughts on “Hyper-BT (or The Exegetical Hat-Trick)”

  1. I’ve heard some really excellent ‘BT’ redemptive historical preaching and I’ve also heard some ‘BT’ preaching that I think is way over the top. In this regard, there is hardly any agreement as to what constitutes true ‘BT’ preaching even to the point where proponents willingly slander other BT preachers as being completely Christless just because their don’t follow their own inferior (my opinion) version of BT preaching. Thanks Shane

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    1. Yep, I hear you, Keith. Maybe this is too simplistic, but I think the balance Trueman was talking about would help remedy this BT “camp” spirit. When we meet again (hopefully!) some day in person, we can expand on this discussion.

      Thanks for the comment,
      shane

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