Exegesis and Doctrine

D. A. Carson addresses the gap that exists between exegesis and doctrine in his recently published book, Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 11.

Moreover, for some time I have been thinking through the hiatus between careful exegesis and doctrinal formulations. We need both, of course, but unless the latter are finally controlled by the former, and seen to be controlled by the former, both are weakened. The ‘Son of God’ theme has become one of several test cases in my own mind.

The intimate connection between exegesis and doctrine is critical. In a previous day, there was such an emphasis on propositional truth scientifically determined that it came at the expense of the story. Moreover, one’s doctrinal formulations were equated with Scripture. In our present day, related to the postmodern turn and in response to modernism, there is such an emphasis on the story experientially determined that it comes at the expense of propositional truth, such that the discipline of theology or formulating doctrine is called into question, by some, and by others it becomes relativized such that the best one can do is simply refer to theologies (plural).

Though a focus on the story is a helpful corrective in many ways, it is my concern with the postliberal reading of Scripture, i.e. an emphasis on the story (that consists of historical events that may or may not be true) that has affected/influenced Evangelicals. This emphasis on story has come simultaneously with the rise of the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS), a necessary corrective to the historical-critical method of exegesis, which places the Scriptures back in the church with the people of God, not only in the academy. But for some this has become an over-corrective such that ultimate authority resides in the church not the biblical text. With these helpful moves, it is necessary to affirm that the ultimate authority resides in the Scriptures, along with some clear hermeneutical guidelines, as, for example, those espoused by Kevin J. Vanhoozer in many of his works, cf. e.g., “Introduction: What Is Theological Interpretation of the Bible?,” in Dictionary of Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005).

Though Carson acknowledges that he addresses the current translation disputes, his ultimate goal for this book is stated as follows, which finally centers in Jesus Christ, the telos of exegesis and doctrine:

This book . . . is meant to foster clear thinking among Christians who want to know what we mean when we join believers across the centuries in confessing, ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in his only Son Jesus, our Lord.’

May it be so!

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