While reading through John Barclay’s article Pure grace? Paul’s distinctive Jewish theology of gift (Studia Theologica, 2014 Vol. 68, Issue 1, 4–20) in preparation for his visit to our NT seminar here at the University of Aberdeen, I ran across this great quote that pretty much sums up the task of a Biblical/Pauline scholar.
“If we can disencumber Paul of some of the accretions to his theology of grace – some of the additional perfections that now might obscure rather than illuminate its original purpose – and if we can recover and restate its primary significance, both thoroughly Jewish and thoroughly distinctive, we might find ourselves in possession of a valuable tool for social critique.” (17)
I found the phrase “some of the additional perfections” interesting as if seems (based on his argument that has led up to this statement) to really get the the heart of the methodological difference between Biblical Studies and Systematic Theology, at least the modern incarnation of these two disciplines.
The discipline of Systematic Theology, especially its evangelical strain, seems to place a high value on theological concepts that have developed over time within the Church context as guided by the Holy Spirt. The discipline of Biblical Studies, especially its evangelical strain, seeks to look at the biblical text in its historical and sociological context, attempting to understand the author’s original intent behind the words to his audience. Neither discipline, as far as I am concerned, should be content with these introductory tasks or what could be held as stringent methodological constraints. In short, neither one is more “right” or “scholarly.”
Sadly, there appears to be a distinct methodological arrogance on both sides, the very antithesis of the setting in which discussion between these two disciplines should be taking place, the university. The solution, or a least an introduction to the solution, should be interdisciplinary communication, a communication that strives to value the seemingly opposite methodological approach. Who knows, we may even be pleasantly surprised and find out that we have more in common than we originally thought!