Evangelical sausage-maker theology

Step 1: insert the Bible

Step 2: crank the handle, and grind the Bible into a series of propositions.

Step 3: arrange the propositions into nice neat pristine doctrine.

This ‘sausage maker’ approach to theology is, laments Michael Bird, the theological method of ‘most evangelicals’ and it amounts to little more than a ‘naive biblicism’.

This was certainly a ‘default’ perspective that I held for years. I subconsciously assumed this rationalistic dissection of the Bible was the way to do theology and didn’t really know any differently.

I guess you could say I’m a recovering biblicist. How about you? 😉

There are a couple of assumptions floating around such a theological methodology:

– the Bible is all you really need to do theology

– the main purpose of theology is to distil propositional truth to be believed

– the actual form of Scripture is a bit like a complex riddle to be un-coded and sorted out into neat logical categories

The problem is that this sort of theology ‘de-stories’ the Bible. It detaches it from an overarching narrative and flattens its variegated genres and sub-plots into a uni-dimensional source book of truth. It gets pretty sterile pretty quickly.

Bird mentions Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology as an example of such biblicism – a sort of theology, despite some strengths, that is ‘derived from a concordance’. Gotta admit it is not one of my favourite theology books.

Vanhoozer gets quoted

“Scripture is not simply a propositional shaft to be exegetically mined and theologically refined like so much textual dross to be purified into systems of philosophy or morality. On the contrary, both the form and content of the New Testament are elements in the divine drama of revelation and redemption.”

And Bird puts it this way in arguing against naive evangelical biblicism:

“We take Scripture with the utmost seriousness, but we do Scripture a disservice if we attend only to it. It is Scripture understood in the light of the regula fidei that will enable us to bring together the Christian canon and the Christian community in a fruitful exchange. Similarly, we need to believe propositions about God, but our theology is about more than propositions, for it encompasses our relationship with God, our mission in the world, and our performance of the drama that we find ourselves in as Christians.” (80)

Bird’s method in constructing an evangelical theology is to;

  1. Define the evangel
  2. Relate the gospel to the main foci if Christian theology (God, person and work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, humanity, church, last things etc)
  3. Embark on a creative dialogue between the sources of theology (the primary authority of Scripture, but also tradition, natural revelation, engagement with cultural context and so on)
  4. Describe what the loci look like when applied and appropriated in light of the gospel – when theology is not only believed cognitively but lived.
  5. Engage in a continuing spiral between theology and practice: learning is applied, but in the application new things are learnt and more questions arise. So we do more theology by listening to Scripture, traditions and teachers and so on.

So Bird says he is offering ‘simply the first steps toward thinking aloud about how we perform the divine drama in the communities of faith we find ourselves in.’

My comment, theology in this sense is not ‘fixed’ but ‘alive’. It is developing, growing, questioning, exploring and learning because this is what life is like.

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