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What Is New Testament Theology?

Author: 
Dan O. Via (Author)
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Description

Does New Testament theology rightly deal with the documents of the New Testament or with something outside the text, such as the unfolding of early Christian religion, the events of salvation history, the historical Jesus in particular, or an understanding of human existence? Is New Testament theology a strictly historical project, a dialectical interaction between historical interpretation and hermeneutical concerns, or solely a hermeneutical program?

This lucidly written volume by a prominent New Testament theologian not only describes how New Testament theology has been and is being done, but provides critiques of the major approaches from the past century. Especially important are his discussions of Rudolf Bultmann, Hendrikus Boers, N. T. Wright, and postmodernism. Beyond critique, Via offers his own proposals for doing New Testament theology.
ISBN: 
9780800632632
Price: 
$17.00
Release date: 
June 21, 2002
Pages: 
160
Width: 
5.50
Height: 
8.50

Excerpts

Excerpt from Chapter 1

In 1979 Hendrikus Boers published an excellent book in this series under the same title as that of the present work. His treatment of the issues, however, has been out of print for several years; therefore, it seems worthwhile to ask the question again, in the context of the same series: What is New Testament theology?

Boers's Contribution
It is appropriate here at the outset to indicate in a very summary way something of Boers's contribution and my relationship to it.

Boers refers to the practice of theology in a way that suggests two possible levels of formality. Building on Alfred North Whitehead's definition of philosophy, Boers defined theology as "a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience concerning matters relating to God can be interpreted" (1979:13). In Scholasticism, Christianity developed an understanding of theology that was close to the definition just mentioned (14–16).

Boers uses the adjective theological to refer in a more general sense to every statement about God or every religious expression insofar as it may constitute material for theology in the first sense (13).

I am inclined to think that most of the theology in the New Testament itself belongs to the second level, while most scholarly treatments of New Testament theology belong in a broad and inexact sense to the first. My concern in this book is to consider the diverse ways in which various New Testament scholars in recent decades have sought to bring the incipient theological potential in the New Testament to disciplined, structured expression.

Boers gives a helpful analysis of Johann Philip Gabler (1753–1826), who is generally credited with having established biblical theology as a separate discipline, independent of dogmatic theology. Boers discusses three illuminating distinctions that Gabler made and uses one of them to structure his own analysis of twentieth-century New Testament theology (Boers 1979:24–35).

Religion is divine teaching in ordinary, simple language while theology is a human achievement, a systematic and sophisticated development. Religion is concerned with the unchanging, but theology is contingent and changing (Gabler 1980:135–36).

The purpose of biblical theology is to mediate between biblical religion and dogmatic theology. Its subject matter is the former, but its method is theological, a systematizing of the teachings of biblical religion. The conclusions of biblical theology should be free of dogmatic determinants. It is a historical discipline that seeks to clarify what the biblical texts taught in their historical context. Dogmatic theology, on the other hand, has a present, didactic purpose, philosophizing about all matters related to God—on the basis of pure biblical theology, but contingent upon the ability and cultural setting of the theologian. Thus dogmatic theology is always changing. Biblical theology is not an end in itself but is intended to provide a basis for dogmatic theology (Gabler 1980:137–39, 142).

True biblical theology is a systematic description of all the elements of biblical religion. Pure biblical theology identifies and eliminates contingent elements in biblical religion, leaving only a system of unchanging concepts as a basis for dogmatic theology.

Boers then categorizes William Wrede, Wilhelm Bousset, Johann Weiss, and Adolf Schlatter—despite real differences among them—under the rubric of true New Testament theology. I will discuss Wrede in chapters 3 and 4 below. Boers takes Rudolf Bultmann and Herbert Braun as exemplars of pure New Testament theology. ...

Transition to the Present Work
I will not deal with all of the figures that Boers discusses, nor will I use his organizing principle. His fine contribution, while out of print, is available in libraries.

Perhaps the primary connecting link between Boers's discussion and mine is the importance of Rudolf Bultmann. It is, of course, the case that many New Testament scholars and theologians consider Bultmann to belong to our recent past and not to the contemporary theological and hermeneutical dialogue. There are, to be sure, significant ways in which Bultmann's program needs to be criticized, reworked, and amplified. This will be brought out in later chapters. But there are also themes in Bultmann's works that we forget at our peril. And one can cite important voices that, although they are critical of Bultmann, take his contribution to be of such a magnitude that we can still build on it and/or should be in dialogue with it (Soelle 1974; Jones 1991; Adam 1995a; Donahue 1996). Reginald H. Fuller judges that while the historical reconstructions in Bultmann's Theology of the New Testament are now dated, the theological questions that it raises are still very much alive (Fuller 1989:567). ...

Table of Contents

  1. The Legacy of Hendrikus Boers
  2. The Structuring of New Testament Theology
  3. New Testament Theology: Extra-textual of Textual?
  4. New Testament Theology as a Historical Project
  5. New Testament Theology as Historical and Hermeneutical
  6. New Testament Theology as Hermeneutical: Postmodernism
  7. Reprise: History, Hermeneutics, and Postmodernism
  8. Conclusions