The Rift Between Exegesis and Systematic Theology

Some exegetes believe that systematic theology (ST) has no place in exegesis. There are various reasons why people might believe this. Some might believe that ST would artificially narrow down the valid exegetical possibilities (horror of horrors!). Others believe that because ST is not their specialty, that therefore they cannot venture in to that field when they are doing their exegesis. Still others believe that exegesis is for the academy, while ST is for the church (and never should the two meet!). I will answer these objections one at a time.

To the first objection, I would answer that ST never narrows down the number of valid exegetical possibilities. One must define “valid exegetical possibilities.” For some exegetes, this would mean (in line with reader-response criticism) that they can understand the text to mean whatever they want the text to mean. So, when one comes to the text in Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man that He should lie,” a valid exegetical possibility for the reader-response critic might even be “God is just like a human, and is quite capable of lying; in fact, He often does.” What exegetes fail to realize in this regard is that we already have a ST grid of our own that narrows down interpretive options. So, the question is not whether we will have an interpretive grid, but which grid we have. The people who claim not to have a grid are the ones with the most fiercely narrowing grids of all. The reason for that is that they are not even aware of their own grids. And it is the invisible grids that are the most pernicious.

This also answers the bit about ST not being someone’s field. If one is a theologian, then ST is part of what we do. Period. Just because an exegete might not have read all the ST’s ever written in history does not mean that he is exempt from engaging the aspects of theology that fall under the rubrics of ST. ST is not just for the specialist. We all do it anyway. The question is whether we will be honest and upfront about doing it, or whether we will pretend that we are not doing it, when we really are.

Thirdly, exegesis is, most obviously, not just for the academy. Actually, most exegetes recognize this. Some merely think that their own exegesis is for the academy, and not for the church. The gulf between academy and church is particularly huge and disturbing. One expects the gulf with unbelieving scholarship. However, even some exegetes who believe in Christ as Lord and Savior also posit a huge gulf between academy and church, thus refusing to love what Christ has loved. I do not understand how believing scholars can do their work for the academy and not for the church, unless they are motivated by the fear of man, and the idol of prestige and honor among men.

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1 Comment

  1. November 24, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    […] is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is pastor of Momence OPC in Momence, IL.  This article is used with […]


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