Scripture Controlled Theology

Earlier this year, I covered the brilliant work of Dr. Haley Goranson Jacob on the meaning of glory from her 2018 book Conformed to the Image of his Son: Reconsidering Paul’s Theology of Glory. On pages 225 to 226 she refers to some very insightful comments by Dr. Dane Ortlund on how we interpret what glory means in Romans 8:30.

As Jacob puts it, Ortlund is commenting on the differences between “systematicians” and “biblical theologians”, which represent the distinction between the two main approaches to doing Christian theology. Therefore, the reason why his comments matter so much is that they are not only applicable to the passage in question but rather to how we interpret the Bible and do theology in general, not only among scholars but for every Christian. Jacob quotes Ortlund and then writes,

Rom 8:30 should first (not only) be read through a disciplined lens of biblical theology, in which we strive to let the text inform our system rather than (in an unhealthy way) our system inform the text. To be sure, it is not only impossible but undesirable to read any given text without a systematic framework. Yet our mindset must be one of self-consciously letting the text tinker with the framework rather than the framework with the text.

This is a sentiment that I wholeheartedly echo, along with his further
recognition of the importance of “the need for theological formulation that is self-consciously controlled by the text, context, and thought-world of the biblical author, rather than importing connotations of specific words or concepts (such as glorification) into the domain of biblical theology.” Ortlund is, of course, speaking to the previous distinctions between systematic and biblical approaches to interpretations of glory and glorification. But I find his important words applicable within the field of biblical scholarship itself and, more specifically, within Pauline scholarship. What I have argued throughout this book is just this: that “importing connotations of specific words or concepts (such as glorification)” into the domain of Paul’s epistles—epistles with different contexts, themes, and messages—can only lead to an oversight of what is actually a highly varied application of δόξα [Greek for glory] and δοξάζω [Greek for glorify] throughout his epistles.

These short paragraphs capture the essence of how I think Scripture should be interpreted. To the best of our abilities, we should let Scripture speak for itself, which means being wary of reading our own ideas into the text. While it is impossible to come to the text without any preconceived notions, as Ortlund puts it, we should let “the text tinker with the framework rather than the framework with the text”.

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