WHERE IS THEOLOGICAL CONTINUITY FOUND: TEXT OR CONTEXT?–Part 3

(Remember these ideas need more development, I have developed a lot since first writing this.)

Interpretation and translation based on the author-intended meaning of the text forms the basis for biblical theology. Biblical theology, correctly understood, provides the foundation for understanding the Bible cross-culturally. The Bible is both a theological book and a multicultural book. The theology of the Bible, as revealed by its recurring themes (continuity) and fulfillment of promises (discontinuity) in the grammar, syntax and lexicology, outlines the framework for theological understanding between cultures (continuity) and theological distinctives within a culture (discontinuity). Systematic theology overlaps with and is founded upon biblical theology; however, systematic theology looks at the Bible in relation to cultural questions and needs.[1] Therefore, certain forms within systematic theology will change from culture to culture. On the contrary, biblical theology understands the Bible as a continuous whole—the Old Testament as promise and prophecy, the New Testament as fulfillment and expectation[2]—without neglecting the differences between the parts. However, theologically speaking, the context of the reader is not continuous with the text. Many fail to distinguish between the communication of the text and the theology of the text.[3]

The theology of the text (biblical theology) is understood through examining three processes: inner-textuality (cross-referencing between two texts by the same author); in-textuality (cross-referencing within one text); and inter-textuality (cross-referencing between texts by different authors).[4] The doctrine of inspiration teaches that God used human agents in composing his texts. The prophets, those that had come to live according to God’s perspective and who spoke for God, were responsible for the writing, collecting and editing of scripture.[5] The period of canonization marked the church’s recognition of God’s perspective through the text of the Bible.[6] It is precisely because of canonization that the context of the reader is not included in the inter-textuality of the Bible.[7] This protects the church from local theologies that have a great amount of discontinuity with the Bible and with other communities. The problem with many Christian anthropologies, including Kraft’s, is that the starting point for cultural understanding is the context (whether of the writing, or the writer, or of the reader), not the text. Kraft is willing to change his theological perspectives not if the text informs him so, but if other outside, contextual authorities prove to him that he should.[8] This is not to deny that understanding the worldview of a receptor culture is vital for cross-cultural communication,[9] as Kraft aptly argues. Kraft’s extensive anthropology is valuable for the Christian communicator to read as a tool for understanding differing contexts. Even so, contexts are not the beginning points for theology.[10] Stephen Grunlan and Marvin Mayers analyze the relationship between the Bible and culture and come up with four possible combinations: Cultural Absolutism and Biblical Relativism (Situation Ethics); Cultural Absolutism and Biblical Absolutism (Traditionalist); Cultural Relativism and Biblical Relativism (Antinomian); and Cultural Relativism and Biblical Absolutism (Mutual Respect).[11] The fourth option, Cultural Relativism and Biblical Absolutism, holds the Bible as the common ground between cultures. If the Bible is the common ground between cultures, then biblical theology provides meta-cultural truth[12] and establishes the basis for cross-cultural communication and theologizing.


[1]Grudem, 21-37.

[2]Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology: A Proposal (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 52-55.

[3]For example, Van Engen and Shaw, Communication God’s Word in a Complex World, 157-175.

[4]Sailhamer, “Old Testament Theology,” 56-60.

 

[5]Ibid., 1-17.

[6]Frei, 17-50.

[7]Cf. Thiselton. See note 16.

[8]Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1996), 112-113.

[9]Stephen A. Grunlan and Marvin K. Mayers, Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 20-22.

 

[10]Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness, 93.

 

[11]Grunlan and Mayers, 252-262.

 

[12]Ibid., 258.

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