I have not yet finished this book. Yet I wanted to give readers some idea of what the book is like, as it is one of the more important books to be published this year.
Especially important is his discussion of theological encyclopedia. Again, for those unfamiliar with the expression, theological encyclopedia is the discussion of the inter-relationship and inter-dependence of the various theological disciplines on each other. So, the relationship of biblical theology and systematic theology, for instance (a really hot issue in the secondary lit these days), is an issue of theological encyclopedia. The last important full-scale treatment of the subject was Richard Muller’s The Study of Theology, found in this volume. My overall reaction to Gamble’s treatment is that his practice works out better than the theory. In practice, Gamble is outstanding at allowing all the disciplines to impact one another. He will quote Turretin right next to modern commentaries. In practice, I think Gamble succeeds admirably in being a generalist theologian. His systemati categories are informed by biblical theology, and yet are not inimical to traditional systematic categories.
In his theory, I would agree with a lot of what he says. For instance, he is very clear that all the disciplines are dependent on Scripture. To my mind, no one said this better than Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper argued that all the disciplines are united by their common tie to Scripture: Exegesis explains the meaning of Scripture in individual passages, and starts to tie these threads together; Systematic Theology speaks of the meaning of Scripture as a whole; Apologetics propounds the truths of the aforementioned disciplines to the unbeliever, seeking to undermine the presuppositions of unbelief and show the consistency of Christian presuppositions to the Christian worldview; Church History examines the impact of Scripture through the ages; and Practical Theology examines the outworking of Scripture in people’s lives. The principle of inter-dependence is itself dependent on the one uniting fact of Scripture. Gamble would definitely agree with this.
I would differ with Gamble on some of the details of how this works out in the specific inter-relationships of disciplines. For instance, Gamble wants to restructure Systematic Theology so that the loci are more closely based on biblical theology. He seems to imply that traditional systematic theology’s categories are not categories derived from the biblical text itself, although he usually stops short of saying this. Nevertheless, Gamble is careful to distance himself from an attempt to swallow up ST in BT. I have zero objection to letting BT influence ST. However, I see no particular problem with ST as it has traditionally been formulated. I hold that ST, in turn, has to be allowed a place at the table in exegesis and in BT. We do not come to exegesis or BT in a presuppositionless way. Furthermore, those presuppositions are systematic theological in character. In the forthcoming Festschrift for David Wells, I will be arguing that Vos himself struck just this happy balance (Vern Poythress has also argued this in a recent WTJ article).
I have so far read through chapter 14 (through page 276). I have certainly enjoyed it greatly, and have found his discussion stimulating. It will not be possible to discuss issues of theological encyclopedia without consulting Gamble’s highly nuanced positions.