Bible - Interpretation

Is The Postmodern Biblical theology Movement Really Biblical?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
The new "Biblical theology", a.k.a. redemptive-historical theology, puts man's wisdom above God's Word.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

The new "Biblical theology" movement, also known as redemptive-historical theology, puts man's wisdom in authority over God's Word, with disastrous results.

A Review

In two previous articles, we discussed the legitimate disciplines of systematic theology and Biblical theology. We saw that the discipline of systematic theology looks at the Bible topically, collecting and organizing - not capriciously, but according to sound principles of interpretation - all the Scriptures pertaining to a particular question. (For example, "What does the Bible say about marriage?")

We saw that the discipline of Biblical theology looks at the Bible "as it comes" - book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, to answer questions regarding the message of a particular book of the Bible and its relationship to the rest of Scripture.

Further, we saw that both methods of studying God's Word are founded on the principle that the Scriptures reveal a single God-ordained, well-ordered, consistent, and unchanging system of doctrine. And we saw that the two ways of studying the Bible must go hand-in-hand, because when we separate Biblical theology from systematic theology we begin looking at the Bible in ways that lead to false teaching.

Un-Biblical "Biblical Theology"

We also mentioned that there has been a movement over the past few decades to create a different kind of "Biblical theology." This movement has proved itself a grave danger to the church. This new "Biblical theology" movement is also sometimes called "redemptive-historical theology." The movement's adherents include many neo-liberals now on the faculties of historically conservative Bible colleges and seminaries. They insist on studying "theologies" in the plural and in semi-isolation - the "theology of Paul" - the "theology of Peter" - the "theology of John" - the "theology of James" - or even the "theology of Jesus."

This new movement relegates the doctrine of Holy Spirit's primary authorship of all Scripture, through His supernatural inspiration of its very words, to secondary status. Human authorship is its primary focus. In such an atmosphere, theologians can stand in judgment of the Scriptures rather than submitting to the judgment of the Word.

Dialectical theology - the false idea that the Bible contains contradictions that have to be synthesized and resolved through human reason - flourishes in this environment. Advocates of the new "Biblical theology" implicitly, and ever more frequently explicitly, deny the overall unity and coherence of Scripture. From there they take only a small step to the false conclusion that there is no single, God-articulated, uniquely valid system of doctrine in the Bible - but rather multiple, humanly-articulated systems of doctrine that can each rightfully claim to be valid even though they contradict one another.

Such thinking produces a theological Tower of Babel. Baptist scholar Dr. Thomas K. Ascol puts his finger on the problem:

If there is no overall unity in the Bible, no coherence in all its parts, then the systematic theologian is on a fool's errand. This is precisely the conclusion of much of the modern theological world....

At the same time that systematic theology was falling into disfavor, the study of Pauline, Petrine, Johannine, etc., theologies was growing in popularity. Thus this kind of "biblical" theology has been heralded as the proper domain of the legitimate theologian and the study of systematics has been relegated to the realm of philosophy (where [multiple doctrinal] "systems" are acceptable).

Such conclusions can stand only when their presuppositions are left unchallenged. For if the Bible is without genuine discrepancy, inconsistency, or error, then the analytical search of its text for a system of truth is not only legitimate, it is mandatory. If God has consistently, albeit progressively, revealed His truth to us in the Scriptures, then it is incumbent that we analyze the whole Bible when seeking to know His mind on any particular point.

It is specious to argue that "biblical" theology is by definition more concerned with the Bible than is "systematic" theology. Both [in their legitimate forms] are concerned with the text of Scripture. It is the comprehensive, coherent teaching of that text which concerns the latter. Careful exegesis is no more valued by one than the other, and neither can be slighted in any thorough study of God's Word.

Systematic theology is a necessary discipline in the pursuit of both knowing and proclaiming the whole counsel of God. It will curb careless exegesis which results in fanciful, contradictory expositions of various texts. Where it is depreciated doctrinal instability prevails, and God's people are robbed of Christian vitality.1

Ungodly Results of the New "Biblical Theology"

And this is precisely the case today in much of the Evangelical church. The modern "Biblical theology" movement is responsible for the denial or compromise of many foundational doctrines. By placing Paul and James at odds with each other, many modern Biblical theology advocates deny the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone. They deny the historicity of the Genesis accounts of creation, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel, and say that the Biblical accounts of these events are merely later versions of pagan myths. They say that the "spiritual" parts of the Bible are inerrant, but the historical parts are not inerrant, as though man has the right to draw lines between the two in the pages of God's Word.

Back to Scripture-Driven Theology

Christian colleges and seminaries, and the church itself, need to return to Scripture-driven theology - the legitimate hand-in-hand studies of Biblical theology and systematic theology, both resting on the Bible-based presupposition that every word of God's Word is inspired, inerrant, infallible, and uniquely authoritative. The Bible alone must be our sole authority and infallible critic in every area of life and ministry.






1. Thomas K. Ascol, "Systematic Theology and Preaching" in The Founders Journal, Issue 4, Spring 1991, reproduced at (as viewed on 11/1/2008).


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