Miniblog #99: There’s No Separating Theology from History & Culture
Back at Toccoa Falls College I remember having a terrific conversation with one of my professors after class. We were discussing the joint role of history and culture within biblical hermeneutics and a proper theological methodology when a fundamentalist classmate chimed in, “History is boring and culture is corrosive. I stand upon the timeless Word of God alone!” In one of my less tactful moments I replied, “The only thing that troubles me more than you being a senior Bible and Theology major is that you’ll be a pastor in two months. God help that congregation.”11.Wish I’d handled that a bit differently in retrospect, but I stand by the thrust of the criticism. I had on my mind Herbert Butterfield’s comment that “Christianity is an historical religion in a particularly technical sense that the term possesses—it presents us with religious doctrines which are at the same time historical events or historical interpretations.”22.Butterfield, Herbert. Christianity and History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950), 46. I passionately agree and would nuance the point only to insist that the same is true of culture. Atemporal and/or acontextual Christianity isn’t wrong; it’s utterly nonsensical. To even slightly lessen its historical nature in favor of some sort of theoretical, culturally-detached, theological abstraction is, to my mind, not only a fundamental misrepresentation but an outright abuse of the faith.33.The faith handed down to us, no less. One can no more edit out culture or history while retaining authentic Christianity than one can lessen Christ and retain Christianity.44.By the way, this works as an analogy on a couple levels since Jesus is a historical figure who was incarnated, lived, died, and was resurrected within a particular cultural context. To say that one is going to depend upon Scripture in isolation is to completely ignore the most basic issues of biblical interpretation or to reveal ignorance of even an elementary understanding of Scripture’s redemptive narrative. Either way, that person is a fool.5 There’s simply no separating history and culture from theology. It seems to me that the real issue is how we ought to discerningly navigate that complicated relationship.5.Speaking of the Bible, 1 Timothy 3:2 and 2 Timothy 2:15 should make clear that no such man (or woman) should hold a leadership role within a local church.