Doing Justice to the Scriptures

Not long ago, I audited the New Testament History and Theology course, taught by David Chapman, which is one of the free seminary courses that Covenant Seminary makes available through its Worldwide Classroom. Chapman is a Phd/Cambridge type of guy who relies heavily on Ladd’s “Theology of the New Testament.”

George Eldon Ladd, "Theology of the New Testament
George Eldon Ladd, "Theology of the New Testament"

Ladd was known for his “his obsessive commitment to establishing his place at the table of scholarly and academic discourse,” (cited in a new biography of George Eldon Ladd). It seems that he accomplished this, according to the updated introduction to this work by Donald Hagner, by employing “the historical-critical method (of hermeneutic), but in a modified form that allows him to remain open to the possibility of the transcendent and thus enables him to do justice to the content of the materials being studied.” (p. 19)

Thomas Schreiner, "New Testament Theology
Thomas Schreiner, "New Testament Theology

I haven’t read Ladd’s book yet, though this work “has well served thousands of seminary students” since its publication in 1974. And along these same lines, I’ve been working my way through Thomas Schreiner‘s “New Testament Theology,” which Steve Hays described as an “exegetical theology“.

Schreiner’s method is a “thematic approach” and an “inductive” study of the New Testament. As he describes it, he “wrote three drafts without consulting any secondary sources.” Prior to writing the book, however, he was already the author of a number of commentaries, including works on Romans and 1 and 2 Peter and Jude. “I proceded this way so that I would be compelled to work inductively from the biblical text instead of deriving my outline or general train of thought from others.” He did, of course, subsequently consult the “secondary sources.” His bibliography is 47 pages long, and it alone is a wealth of New Testament scholarship.

Schreiner’s method takes from the text only what is there, and builds a consistent, coherent theology from what the writers gave to us. Ladd, and Chapman following him, take Schreiner a step further, considering historical information as background to what the writers wrote.

Both of these works, however, rely on a practice of exegesis, working to extract from a text what is there, not to work to put something back into the text, as Catholic writers must do (from the top down, this is official Catholic policy).

In some of the coming blog posts, I’m going to try to explain this more fully.