Oxymoron 101: “The Bible Without Theology”

Perusing used book stores in South Texas is not quite like doing so in the Shangri-La of used (theological) book stores, that being Grand Rapids, Michigan. One can still smell the  racks of 19th Century commentary series available at Baker Book House….the biblical dictionary/encyclopedia sets lining the walls at Reformation Heritage Books…and the treasures at Credo Books in an old warehouse antique shop downtown. The “Religion/Philosophy” section at Half Price Books pales in comparison, although a treasure may be found if one looks hard enough, such as F.F. Bruce’s New International Commentary on the New Testament volume on Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians for $3(!).  Perhaps one of the brethren at Grace Community Church has a lead on a good bookstore or two in San Antonio…. ;)ff bruce

Having access to quality books at good prices was something we did not take for granted because many do not have such access. Almost every used book store will have titles, however, which are less than worthwhile (Reformation Heritage is the exception. They have absolutely no lightweight stuff in their new book section, nor is there any pap in the used book selection. Highly, highly recommended). Whilst perusing the selections at Half Price Books today, I ran across a book that, shall we say, is not one I will move to the front of the wish list ahead of Turretin or Bavinck. The book?

bible-without-theology“The Bible Without Theology.” Yes, it’s true. “The Bible Without Theology.”

If ever there were an oxymoron, this is it.

Let’s see, when does the Bible become a book of theology? We must wait until Genesis 1:1 before theology enters the Scripture:

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

If ever a statement of theology was written in history, that is it. If the Bible is a book without theology, then it must by definition be a book without God. And, from the descriptions on the back of the dust cover, it may well be a book without God. “He…challenges scholars’ assumptions of Scripture as monotheistic…” It is not just “scholars” who read Scripture as monotheistic – it has been the clear understanding of the people of God from the beginning that God’s revelation of himself is one which is monotheistic and in no way polytheistic.

Then, the author “proposes treating biblical narrative as myth rather than historical fact.” Once one opens up that can of worms, one cannot hold to any truths at all if narrative passages are not in fact narrative, but mythological. Were Adam and Eve in fact removed from the Garden? If a narrative passage such as that is mere myth, then what meaning could a prophetic passage have such as we see in Revelation about  a form of return to Eden with the coming of the New Jerusalem – is that beyond myth? Did Cain kill Abel? Did the Israelites really cross the Jordan? Where does this end?

Also, the author assumes that only that with whom he differs have presuppositions: he “advocates stripping away the theological and historiographic biases that underlie modern biblical scholarship in order to arrive at a nontheological historical reading of the Bible.” A “nontheological historical reading of the Bible?” Yet, he brings no “biases” to the interpretive table? Not having read the book, I would assume there is a fair degree of hyperbole in the title, possibly meant as an attention-getting means for those disaffected with theological study. Even so, what appears to be implied here is that nobody has gotten the meaning of the Bible correct until the author of this book came along. Nobody? Well, when one removes “theology” from the study of Scripture and when one determines narrative passages to be mythological, well, then, one probably can have a Bible without theology. In that case, then, what one ends up with is neither the Bible nor theology.

Theology is not something to avoid for the one who claims to have bowed the knee to Christ – it is something which will enhance worship and which will result in affirming Paul’s “Oh, the depths of the riches” concerning God in Romans 11. Praise God that he (God) desires us to be students of theology – to be students of him, as we are also children of his!

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One response

  1. I have not read the book being reviewed, but I wonder whether his point is that we should study the Word of God without a theological lens or a preconceived systematic theology. If that is his premise, then I would add my hearty amen. Christianity suffers from “spoon-fed” believers. If someone else didn’t feed them, they would starve to death. Put away all your wonderful 19th century library. Pick up the Word of God and learn how to feed yourself with the aid of only the Spirit of God. John 14 promises us that He will teach us “all things.”

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