Friday 19 March 2010

Joel B. Green and Max Turner on Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology

Joel B. Green and Max Turner (eds.), Between the Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 256pp., ISBN 9780802845412.

[A version of the following review was first published on London School of Theology’s website in February 2000. It was the heraldic volume to the then forthcoming ‘Two Horizons’ series of commentaries, published by Eerdmans. It’s over ten years old now, but I think many of the essays remain significant early forays into the area of theological interpretation which, of course, has grown exponentially in the time since then.]

The review began by talking at some length about the gap in the academy between ‘Scripture’ and ‘doctrine’, and then went on to note that…

Joel B. Green and Max Turner are among a significant and growing number of scholars who are actively working on ways of bridging the gap, ‘spanning New Testament studies and Systematic Theology’ – as the subtitle of this collection of essays indicates.

In fact, the volume is designed to prepare the way for a ‘Two Horizons’ commentary series, published by Eerdmans and overseen by the two editors, which will seek to help readers ‘(1) to understand individual books theologically in their ancient context and (2) to be able to interpret them competently into the theological contexts of the turn of the twenty-first century’. If the series does the job well, it will succeed in filling a long-standing gap in biblical and theological reflection. So be it.

Some of the prospective commentary writers contribute essays to the current collection, and the volume as a whole explores several different and vital issues:

• Appropriate methodology and models of interdisciplinarity (Joel B. Green).
• The importance of the historical character of biblical texts and ‘behind the text’ issues in theology, as compared with ‘in the text’ and ‘in front of the text’ issues (Max Turner).
• Authorial intention and its theological relationship to divine intention in Scripture (in different ways, Max Turner and Stephen E. Fowl).
• How different commitments of faith shape interpretation and theology, and how we do justice to them in self-conscious and self-critical ways (Robert W. Wall and, with a test-case from a Pentecostal perspective, John Christopher Thomas).
• The methodological issues involved in developing theology from narrative texts (John Goldingay).
• The theological role of the two testament canon in theology (Steve Motyer).
• The question of multiple and competing voices in the canon (Robert W. Wall).
• The impact that tradition and an understanding of biblical authority has for Christian theology (Trevor Hart).
• A sample essay of how the project might be carried out on a given text (N.T. Wright on Galatians).

Some will doubtless complain that consideration of the Old Testament is significant by its absence; others will point out that most of the contributors are New Testament specialists and the project is still being shaped with their specific concerns in mind. Both criticisms are ultimately unfair and, in any case, only serve to invite Old Testament specialists and theologians themselves to get involved in the dialogue. As indeed they are doing.

At a time when increasing numbers of biblical scholars – both Old and New Testament – are becoming aware of the need for theological reflection, and when theologians are likewise looking for more engagement with the fruit of biblical studies, this collection (and the commentary series it heralds) calls all students of God’s word to move, with integrity and humility, from the biblical text through biblical theology to a theological formulation in a way which will speak powerfully to the contemporary church and world.

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