Review: Wrede and Schlatter

Morgan, Robert. The Nature of New Testament Theology: The Contribution of William Wrede and Adolf Schlatter. Studies in Biblical Theology, Second Series 25. Naperville, Illinois: Alec R. Allenson Inc., 1973. 196pp. Out of print.

Introduction
Robert Morgan’s The Nature of New Testament Theology is a helpful introduction to the contemporary debate about what is the essence of the discipline of New Testament theology. The book consists of three essays. The first essay is an introduction by the translator Robert Morgan, and in it he sets the following two essays in the context of the larger academic discussion. The second and third essays represent opposing positions concerning the nature of New Testament theology. On the one hand, William Wrede proposes that New Testament theology is a purely historical pursuit and should be sharply distinguished and separated from the discipline of dogmatics. On the other hand, Adolf Schlatter argues that although the disciplines of history and dogmatics must be distinguished, they must not be separated in the study of New Testament theology. The following review will summarize and critique each essay in turn and conclude with some final remarks.

Robert Morgan

Summary
Robert Morgan’s introductory piece attempts to place the essays against their
historical backdrop and to relate them to subsequent studies of the subject.[1] Morgan’s discussion of Bultmann’s practice of New Testament theology shows clearly how Bultmann follows Schlatter’s approach to New Testament theology, even if he does not share the same critical position. “Bultmann. . . has done the most to recover the unity of historical and theological uses of the New Testament” (36). Sachkritik “criticism of what is said by what is meant” (42) is the historical-theological method that Bultmann employs in his New Testament theology. According to Morgan, this method “allows the tradition to remain intact; it ‘gets around’ obstinate pieces of tradition by re-interpretation, instead of removing them” (43).

Critical Evaluation
Unfortunately, the prose in Morgan’s essay makes for very dismal reading; Morgan’s presentation moves slowly and often repetitively.[2] However, his discussion of Bultmann’s method of doing New Testament theology is probably his greatest contribution.[3] Morgan’s essay also hints that he is perhaps more sympathetic with Wrede’s view than with Schlatter’s.[4] In any case, Morgan’s contribution is a helpful introduction to understanding Wrede and Schlatter.

William Wrede

Summary
Wrede’s essay urges a renunciation of theology if favor of a thoroughgoing historicism. For Wrede, the task of New Testament theology is the task of doing history. “The first thing which must be required of anyone who wishes to engage scientifically in New Testament theology is, accordingly, that he be capable of interest in historical research” (70). The prevailing procedure in his day was to study the biblical documents in abstraction from their historical contexts in order to collect and systematize doctrine. This approach is completely unacceptable to Wrede because it inevitably casts the interpretation of the text into the mold of the interpreter’s theological presuppositions. When theology is the goal, the “personal theological viewpoint of the scholar” comes in and “obscures things” (70). When the study of the New Testament serves a theological purpose, “Biblical theology will be pressed for an answer to dogmatic questions which the biblical documents do not really give, and will attempt to eliminate results which are troublesome for dogmatics” (69). Therefore, Wrede insists that, “New Testament theology has its goal simply in itself, and is totally indifferent to all dogma and systematic theology” (69).

The second part of Wrede’s essay argues against the “method of doctrinal concepts” which, “sets out to reconstruct as exhaustively as possible the thoughts of every individual writer – i.e. his ‘doctrinal concepts’” (73). Wrede maintains that the doctrinal concepts approach fails to differentiate among the sources and flattens out of the varied terrain of the Bible. He loathes, “the undifferentiated attention to detail which is unable to recognize, as it should, the difference between what is historically important and what is not” (81). He argues that this method “does violence to the document” of the New Testament and “provokes caricature” rather than genuine history (75, 82). To remedy this faulty method, Wrede recommends a new approach which would treat the New Testament documents as sources for, “the historical development of the earliest Christianity which lies behind them” (89). Therefore, “The appropriate name for the subject-matter is: early Christian history of religion, or rather: the history of early Christian religion and theology” (116).

Morgan is correct in saying that it is, “Wrede’s theological presuppositions which are crucial in considering the implications of what he says for the nature of New Testament theology” (9). Wrede is truly a man of his time, thoroughly steeped in the dogmas of enlightenment naturalism and its anti-supernatural presuppositions. For Wrede, reason is the measure of all things. His opening paragraphs smack of an epistemological viewpoint that has since become passev. Truly, Wrede’s critic of the older non-historical approaches to New Testament theology is indeed warranted. However, his conclusion that theology has nothing to do with the academic pursuit of the New Testament is certainly a non sequitur. His anti-supernatural bias motivates his rejection of theology as having any part in the study of the New Testament. Ironically though, he appears to have no knowledge of his own controlling presuppositions. The very thing that he criticizes the theologians for, he is guilty of himself. This hypocrisy undermines his argument that history is unconcerned with theology.

Adolf Schlatter

Summary
Adolf Schlatter’s essay is an attempt “to formulate the principles which have directed” his own pursuit of New Testament theology (117). His first aim is to refute the widely held view (Wrede’s view) that New Testament theology should be practiced separately from dogmatics, “to make New Testament theology independent of dogmatics is an illusory fiction” (117). He outright rejects the notion that New Testament theology is only an historical pursuit. For Schlatter, New Testament theology consists of a dialectic between the historical verities of the Bible and the dogmatic results of theology. History and theology are to be practiced in tandem and should never be separated in the study of the New Testament, “there is always bound to be a further task alongside the historical one. That is the dogmatic task” (118). This is not to concede (as Wrede claims) that the objective pursuit of the New Testament is compromised by the intrusive theological presuppositions of the scholar. On the contrary, Schlatter rejects the rationalistic notion that a person can be truly and objective,

“The modern historian, on the other hand, lays the ideas which determine him on one side, saying that they are his own business and not affected by his science. In fact, however, they do inevitably exercise influence, though this is now concealed by the fiction of a merely historical purpose. They are therefore untested and ungrounded, and often enough even the historian himself is unconscious of them. . . It is therefore clear that the historian’s objectivity is self-deception, and that the convictions which influence him have a dominating influence upon his work” (124).

For Schlatter, the key to honest, scientific inquiry is not the “self-annihilation” of one’s beliefs about the subject-matter (125). On the contrary, rather than pretending to be objective, he recommends a profound self-awareness of one’s own relationship to the subject-matter, “we shall in fact only get free of an rise above our presuppositions by paying conscious and rigorous attention to them” (127). Because the study of the New Testament involves the simultaneous task of history and theology, and because its subject-matter is the Christian church’s text, New Testament theology, “strives to achieve the sort of knowledge which gives a positive basis to the faith of the community and the individual” (130). New Testament theology is in the service of the church’s mission.

Critical Evaluation
Adolf Schlatter was a man who was decades ahead of his time. His rejection of enlightened claims to objectivity puts him in the avant-garde of the philosophical rebuttal of modernism. He is able to approach the biblical text with great integrity because he does not pretend to be a disinterested observer, but is honest about his own relation to the subject matter, “So in every piece of work done according to the norms of historical science, the writer and the reader should be aware that a historical sketch can only take shape in the mind of a historian, and that in this process the historian himself, with all his intellectual furniture, is involved” (126). His rejection of naturalism and all its dogmatic methodological presuppositions allows him to argue for a fundamental unity in the Bible. It also allows him to argue for the possibility of the inspiration of the scriptures and for a canon. Therefore, because this document is God-given, Schlatter rightly contends, “Our relationship to the New Testament is one of subordination” (132).Schlatter is able to approach the New Testament in a way that is not antithetical to the documents themselves, “The word with which the New Testament confronts us intends to be believed, and so rules out once and for all any sort of neutral treatment. As soon as the historian sets aside or brackets the question of faith, he is making his concern with the New Testament and his presentation of it into a radical and total polemic against it” (122). All of this makes his argument extremely compelling.

Conclusion
William Wrede’s proposal that New Testament theology should be conceived as a purely historical pursuit and should be sharply distinguished and separated from the discipline of dogmatics should be rejected. However, his insistence that the Bible should not be abstracted from its historical context is helpful. Adolf Schlatter’s argument that the disciplines of history and dogmatics should not be separated is a welcome corrective to historicism run amuck. History and theology ought always be practiced in conjunction with one another.
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[1]I. Howard Marshall, review of The Nature of New Testament Theology, by Robert Morgan, Expository Times 84 (1973): 377-78.
[2]James D. G. Dunn, review of The Nature of New Testament Theology, by Robert Morgan, Theology 77 (1974): 653.
[3] Ibid., 653.
[4]Marshall, 378.

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Review: Stuhlmacher’s “How To Do Biblical Theology”

StuhlmacherStuhlmacher, Peter. How To Do Biblical Theology. Allison Park, PA: Pickwick Publications, 1995. xli + 95pp. $15.00.Introduction
How To Do Biblical Theology consists of a lengthy introduction by Scott Hafemann followed by five chapters by Peter Stuhlmacher of Tübingen.[1] These five chapters are the English version of a series of lectures that he delivered at Asbury Theological Seminary in 1993 and at Yale Divinity School in 1994 (ix). When this monograph was published, Stuhlmacher had already published the first volume of a two-volume set on New Testament Theology. This smaller book spells out the methodological foundation of his larger work.[2] In the first chapter, Stuhlmacher argues for a canonical approach to biblical theology. Chapter two contends that the preaching of Jesus (found in the four gospels!) should be the starting point for New Testament Christology. In the third chapter, he explains how the testimony of Paul and the Johannine school fit into New Testament theology. The fourth chapter describes the formation of the Christian canon, its center, and its interpretation. And chapter five concludes with a summary and overview of his methodology.

Continue reading Review: Stuhlmacher’s “How To Do Biblical Theology”

Review: Stuhlmacher’s “How To Do Biblical Theology”

Stuhlmacher, Peter. How To Do Biblical Theology. Allison Park, PA: Pickwick Publications, 1995. xli + 95pp. $15.00.

Introduction
How To Do Biblical Theology consists of a lengthy introduction by Scott Hafemann followed by five chapters by Peter Stuhlmacher of Tübingen.[1] These five chapters are the English version of a series of lectures that he delivered at Asbury Theological Seminary in 1993 and at Yale Divinity School in 1994 (ix). When this monograph was published, Stuhlmacher had already published the first volume of a two-volume set on New Testament Theology. This smaller book spells out the methodological foundation of his larger work.[2] In the first chapter, Stuhlmacher argues for a canonical approach to biblical theology. Chapter two contends that the preaching of Jesus (found in the four gospels!) should be the starting point for New Testament Christology. In the third chapter, he explains how the testimony of Paul and the Johannine school fit into New Testament theology. The fourth chapter describes the formation of the Christian canon, its center, and its interpretation. And chapter five concludes with a summary and overview of his methodology.

Summary
Hafemann’s introduction is a description of “Stuhlmacher’s understanding of the classic Lutheran theme of the righteousness of God, seen both in relation to current German academic discussion and in the context of his New Testament theology as a whole.”[3] This lengthy essay serves as a primer to Stuhlmacher’s view of the theme that he considers the central, unifying concept of biblical theology: the righteousness of God. Hafemann notes that, “Any evaluation of Stuhlmacher’s program for doing biblical theology must therefore come to grips with this foundation [Stuhlmacher’s view of the righteousness of God], as well as with the subsequent historical and theological judgments which are built upon it” (xxxvi). Hafemann summarizes Stuhlmacher’s view as follow: “the righteousness of God is the demonstration and display of the power of God as the creative, forensic, and salvific work of God on behalf of his creation in the midst of history” (xxxv).

Chapter one commences with Stuhlmacher’s contention that in the planning and realization of biblical theology one must regard the Old and New Testaments as a unity. According to Stuhlmacher, the necessary “division of labor” (1) that characterizes the study of Old and New Testaments has resulted in an erosion in the belief in the “unity of the two testaments” (2). Stuhlmacher observes that this specialization of the disciplines has resulted in a hermeneutic that rarely, if ever, contemplates the theological congruity of the entire bible. Thus he argues for a methodology that takes into account the witness of both testaments—a canonical approach to biblical theology.

In the second chapter, Stuhlmacher assumes the task that Jeremias never completed: taking the preaching and message of Jesus as the starting point for New Testament theology.[4] He makes the controversial proposition that the “Gospels must be the basis for any description” of Jesus’ preaching (17). In this respect, Stuhlmacher jettisons the approach that New Testament scholars have utilized since the time of F. C. Baur—that is, taking Paul and his letters as the starting-point of critical inquiry into the New Testament.[5] “Jesus is only understood correctly when he is understood on the basis of his divine mission, his passion, an his resurrection,” and these events are to be found in the Gospels.

In chapter three, Stulmacher describes how the Pauline and Johanine testimony fit into biblical theology. Paul formulated his gospel as the message of salvation concerning the righteousness of God in Christ (33). This message did not develop gradually as some suggest, but “the crucial content of the apostle’s gospel of Jesus Christ and the justification of sinners through faith in this Christ was alone the result of the revelation at Damascus” (33). The main contribution of John to biblical theology is the formulation of the “Logos-Christology” (44). “Christ who overcomes the enemies of God at the end of time, is the personification of the word of God” (45). For Stuhlmacher, even though Paul and John use different language, they share a common confession: “God reveals himself in the world only through his only Son, who is the Christ; only through his sacrifice and resurrection from the dead is salvation in the last days made available” (48).

In Chapter four, Stulmacher discusses the formation of the Christian canon, the theological center of the canon, and the correct method for interpreting the canon. Among other things, Stuhlmacher contends that scripture must be understood as it wants to be understood (64). Chapter five closes with a summary and overview of Stuhlmacher’s methodology.

Critical Evaluation

With respect to the twentieth century debate over the nature of New Testament theology, Stuhlmacher clearly belongs in the tradition of Adolf Schlatter.[6] For Stuhlmacher, New Testament theology “cannot read these [canonical] texts only from a critical distance as historical sources but must, at the same time, take them seriously as testimonies of faith . . .Accordingly, when drawing up a Biblical Theology . . .historical and dogmatic aspects will overlap” (1). Stuhlmacher’s perspective on this point is a helpful one, for it promotes a hermeneutic that suits the intention of the biblical texts themselves. As Stuhlmacher is fond of saying, this hermeneutic interprets the Bible “as it wants to be interpreted” (1). Stuhlmacher’s arguments to support this point are based on the self-claims of the canonical texts which assume a normative status for their interpretation of Jesus’ life and message. New Testament theology, “must go beyond the dimension of historical statements and become a witness to the truth itself” (67). Stuhlmacher avoids the landmine that dooms many New Testament theologies at the outset: the false disjunction between history and dogmatics.

Another valuable aspect of Stulmacher’s methodology is that he commends a proper deference to the Christian canon as the primary source for biblical theology. Modern critical methods of Biblical interpretation leave much to be desired in that they frequently posit a fundamental disunity between the Old and New Testaments. The point of view promotes the idea that if the Old Testament has a theological center, it is certainly not in line with the New Testament. To read the Old Testament Christologically would be to impose one’s dogmatic presuppositions onto the biblical text and to suppress its historical meaning. Stuhlmacher shows that “to formulate one center for the Old Testament and another for the New . . .overlooks the fact that the Old and New Testaments stem from one complex canonical process” (62). The canonical process (which includes the formation of the LXX) indicates that all the biblical writings testify to God’s one act of salvation through his Son in behalf of all people (62).

Stuhlmacher does leave one with questions concerning the status of the LXX as a canonical document (61). Does Stuhlmacher really hold the LXX to be a canonical text? If so (as he acknowledges [61]), this begs the question of the place of the Apocryphal books in the formation of biblical theology. If the formation of the LXX is really an integral feature of the canonical process, then it stands to reason that the whole LXX should be included as source material for biblical theology. Perhaps Stuhlmacher would claim for the LXX what he claims for the canonical books, “the biblical books divide themselves into central and secondary writings with respect to this center” (63). Whatever the case, because his methodology depends upon the recognition of a complex canonical process, he needs elucidate the place of the LXX in this process and the status that it now has alongside the canonical books.

Conclusion
Overall, Stuhlmacher’s How To Do Biblical Theology is a welcome corrective to the popular tendency to introduce false disjunctions into the practice of biblical theology. Critical scholars of the Bible would be aided by adopting his procedure of using the Christian canon as the starting point of biblical theology. Likewise, his argument for the fundamental unity between the testaments is equally helpful. Whether or not one agrees with his description of the content of biblical theology, one would do well to imitate his method of doing biblical theology.
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[1]James Leslie Houlden, review of How To Do Biblical Theology, by Peter Stuhlmacher, Expository Times 107 (1996): 151 passim.
[2]Scot McKnight, review of How To Do Biblical Theology, by Peter Stuhlmacher, Ex Auditu 11 (1995): 161.
[3]Houlden, 151.
[4]McKnight, 162.
[5]“Baur saw, and here his intuition was perfectly correct, that the starting-point of all critical study of the New Testament must be the Epistles of St. Paul. These are the earliest Christian documents which we possess; here we come directly into contact with the life of the earliest Christian communities, and it is only through them and their faith that we can penetrate into the mysterious world of Jesus Christ, and of those events which lie at the origins of Christian faith” (Stephen Neill and Tom Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament: 1861-1986, 2nd ed. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988], 24).
[6]With respect to the twentieth century debate as to whether or not New Testament theology is a purely historical inquiry or also includes dogmatic considerations, Schlatter states, “to make New Testament theology independent of dogmatics is an illusory fiction” (Adolf Schlatter, “The Theology of the New Testament and Dogmatics,” in The Nature of New Testament Theology, ed. Robert Morgan [Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson Inc., 1973], 117).