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Carson’s 7 Elements of NT Theology

The variety of views on biblical theology current in the academy are interesting, perplexing, and at times daunting. Finding the most faithful methodology for reading Scripture as both historical and theological is perhaps one of the most pressing Christian academic pursuits today. D. A. Carson’s article on NT Theology lists seven elements that he believes are essential for NT Theology.[1]

Seven Elements
Picture taken from http://www.tiu.edu/resize_image?id=1bace056-f707-4ac5-a2ad-c66bb1129f9e&w=250
1) Theology cannot be left out (contra Baur), nor can it be divorced from history (contra Bultmann).

2) Supernaturalism is a must.

3) The NT canon is the content of NT theology. Those who cannot undertake a whole biblical theology should always keep the wider picture in mind so that their more specialized research can contribute to the task of the creating the entire picture.  The biggest issue here is “whether there is a continuous story line around which the canonical books are clustered and to which each book makes its own contribution.”

4) History is a must. Special features are progress, process, historical continuity and multiformity.[2]

5) Understanding literary genre is a must.

6) NT theology must be tied to faith; it cannot be divorced as its own discipline from all others (like systematic theology) as it did post-Gabler.

7) Post-modern views of history, whereby meaning is created by the historian, must be rejected.  We can enjoy true knowledge without absolute knowledge.

A Few Remarks: 

I agree with #2, but N. T. Wright also notes that one should approach the biblical documents as a supernaturalist in order to study history from the worldview of those being studied. This may not convince the devoted historical-critical scholar, but I think Wright is correct that we will most understand the biblical documents when we assume their worldview.

In #3, Carson asks whether “there is a continuous story line around which the canonical books are clustered and to which each book makes its own contribution.” This question anticipates G. K. Beale’s NT Theology (A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New), in which he first traces an OT story line for 100 pages and spends the rest of the book showing how that story line and its themes unfold and are fulfilled in the NT. I think this is a major step in the right direction.

I agree with #6; biblical theology should not be divorced from the Christian faith.  A. Schlatter called such an approach an “atheistic method.” Although two questions arise. First, which disciplines do we dialogue with while doing biblical theology? Second, how much do we allow those disciplines to control our analysis of the biblical documents? I think particularly of Augustine’s City of God, in the second volume of which he traces and interprets the biblical history from Genesis to Revelation. His proto-biblical-theological method uses several disciplines and principles to guide his exegesis and historical analysis, including the Rule of Faith, empirical knowledge, philosophy, science, an exegetical method akin to what we would call grammatical-historical exegesis (although with flares of allegory here and there), reason, and systematic theology. I wonder whether biblical theology today should learn from Augustine and develop a richer arsenal of historical and theological tools. But if we integrate these (or some of these) tools, as Augustine and others did, are we still doing “biblical theology?” Perhaps not as defined by Gabler, but who cares? “Biblical theology” is only the name of a method and is defined variously within the academy. If we end up not doing “biblical theology” as defined by this or that scholar, it should not worry us. What is important is to find the best method for reading Scripture historically and theologically without minimizing either element, whatever that method may be called.

Your thoughts?


[1]Carson, D. A. “New Testament Theology.” Pages 796–811 in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and its Development. Edited by Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1997.

[2]Following G. Vos, “The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. R. E. Gaffin (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1980), 15.

*Picture taken from Trinity’s website, http://www.tiu.edu/resize_image?id=1bace056-f707-4ac5-a2ad-c66bb1129f9e&w=250

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