From the Bible to the Bible, via theology

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March 3, 2013 by mattwilcoxen

I was raised in a fundamentalist, biblicist, dispensationalist church–Calvary Chapel. From the time I was three years old, when my mother got saved (I refuse to mock her experience by putting the uncool conversion language in quotation marks), I attended Sunday school and youth group. We sang songs about Jesus and we always read the Bible–verse by verse, chapter by chapter. I later came to a deep personal faith in this same church context. I was 17 years old. I spent the next four years at Calvary Chapels. Eventually, I was driven out of this denomination by two factors: my own upward social mobility (attaining a bachelor’s degree makes one much less likely, statistically speaking, to remain in Calvary Chapel), as well as the utter dysfunction of the churches of which I had been a part. 

During my early- to mid-twenties pursued a Bible degree at Biola University and then an M.A. at Talbot School of Theology (Biola’s seminary). During this time I was exposed to a broader evangelical tradition; let some balk at the juxtaposition of “broad” and “Biola”. Most of my education was in New Testament studies, and a lot of it was an undergraduate-level exposure to an evangelical historical-grammatical exegesis. It was during this time that I got exposed to something “more”–systematic theology. Sure, I had classes by the name, but they weren’t “real theology”–they were just proof-texting and Bible doctrine. No, I got to experience “real theology” when I started reading contemporary theology: Barth, Moltmann, Pannenberg, Robert Jenson, Kevin Vanhoozer, John Webster, and many others. This theology deserved the title “real” I thought because it didn’t consist of simply biblical commentary or proof-texting. It was philosophically-informed, complex, and so on and so forth. I scoffed at the exegetes and their naivete. 

I do not want to retract entirely my discovery of “real theology”. I have since gone on to read more of these theologians, as well as make an acquaintance with St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. As I have become more immersed in all the aforementioned theologians, one thing has slowly happened to me–I feel desperately starved for biblical exegesis. I want to read the Bible again. It’s not that I haven’t read the Bible since my undergraduate days, but it’s as if I had come to think that biblical reflection and commentary was somehow a necessary step to get to real articulations of the truth. I can see now that my preference for “real theology” over the world of biblical exegesis was a profound misunderstanding and an immature overreaction.

So now I sit here doing a PhD on Karl Barth, slogging through page after page of the Church Dogmatics. It’s brilliant, it really is, and there is a lot of Bible in there. I also wade through article after article on my topic, and this too can be really fun. But I have a profound sadness growing within me that I just don’t have enough time to do biblical exegesis. Not even expert technical exegesis, but simple biblical commentary. 

Did I go horribly astray, or was this circular journey somehow helpful? Perhaps I needed this detour in order to move from a dysfunctional and naive biblicism to a more profound understanding of the role of scripture in the Church and the Christian life.

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One thought on “From the Bible to the Bible, via theology

  1. carl sweatman says:

    Thank you for this. It’s good to hear that others are wrestling with such things; for a while I thought I was pretty much alone. My struggle was in the opposite direction as yours: I became so immersed in the exegesis that I began to lose contact with the wider (and sometimes, let’s face it, more interesting) theological discussions and insights. Toward the end of my program, I realized that it happened and tried unbury myself, but I’m not out of it just yet. Trying, though.

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© Matthew A. Wilcoxen and Canon and Creed, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew A. Wilcoxen and Canon and Creed with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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