Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wheaton Theology Conference - Wright's Non-Answer to the $50 Question

In the Q&A/Response time Wright critiqued Vanhoozer's presentation of justification as insufficiently Jewish. A narrative has to be imparted to Paul because Paul hints at such a narrative (a Jewish one). Our formulation of justification has to be rooted in that narrative. Fair enough. Vanhoozer asked Wright, then (and this is a paraphrase), what role does he assign to systematic theology? How can it dialogue with him more effectively? Wright did not utter a syllable in response. The silence was deafening. It seems that (and I'm not basing this solely on his non-answer here - I get the same vibe in his book Justification) he views biblical theology to be a superior discipline to systematic theology with the former feeding the latter and that's it. There's no reverse feeding.

I am troubled by this. Both Vanhoozer and Wright rank among my greatest influences. I was thrilled when Vanhoozer asked the question because my hope is to see an interchange between the disciplines and I was hoping to hear a fruitful discussion about what that could look like from my favorite systemetician and my favorite biblical theologian. I also am especially disappointed because (and this may not always be evident from my writing) I intend to go into the field of systematic theology. Part of what these formative years are for me is to figure out how to put those two disciplines together in dialogue because the two have been separated for far too long. And again, I do wonder if this doesn't reveal what I sense, an anti-systematic theology sentiment in Wright.


  1. I have to be honest, the non-answer makes me smile.

    I think if more systematicians were like Vanhoozer, Wright would be more open to engaging the discipline. As it is, he sees it as standing in the way of reading the Bible on its own terms. To be quite frank, he'd be right on many fronts. Systematic Theology is, for many, a static discipline. So while it could seem like Wright is pushing out systematics, he'd probably argue "they did it first" (if this were a 1st grade fight).

    Personally, I think the better answer is for biblical theologians and exegetes to get into systematics more to challenge those in that discipline (and, I suppose, be challenged). I know Carson has been approached about writing a systematic theology, but he's said he simply doesn't have the time nor the life expectancy to pull it off. That's a shame, because I'd love for an exegetically trained scholar to do something like that. I guess that'll be your job...

    By the way, if I knew that we'd be doing this, I'd say you should have set up a message board to have these conversations. Oh well.

  2. That's an interesting point, and I think you're seeing precisely what I am trying to do. My goal is to get as good as I possibly can at exegesis and use that to do systematics. I was deeply moved when I read Hauerwas lament in an essay that he didn't know how to do exegesis. That felt like advice to me that it would be a wise idea to get good at it.

    Yes Systematics is stuck. Look for Graham Cole's Systematic theology in several years. He's going to try to write it on the shoulders of biblical theology. I think it will be a good move forwards.

    My question still remains, though. How does a systmatician help the exegete? I'm not sure what the answer is.

  3. Yes, in retrospect a bulletin board would have been nice.

  4. I was there and don't remember the deafening silence. If anything his reply did not meet to some people's expectations. But in essence his reply was to have more dialogues like this.

  5. Perhaps, maybe the silence was just defining to me, but I thought it was very noticeable that he didn't engage the question when he engaged the question that everyone else posed of him.