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Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew

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The disciplines of theology and biblical studies ought to complement each other in the study of Truth. Together, they help us form a more wholesome picture of what Scripture teaches us. With greater knowledge and insight, we have deepened our understanding of both systematic theology and biblical theology. Unfortunately, the bridges of understanding between the two disciplines have not grown correspondingly. This has led to unhealthy comparison and sometimes, willful playing down of each other by proponents of either party. While most professors and theologians see the disciplines as complementary, this is often more theoretical than in reality. Apart from the professional respect offered to one another, we need a third angle to help bridge the gaps that may exist. Who could best do that? This is where two eminent professors and authors from each of these disciplines could do. By bringing forth five major things they wish the other side would know, they not only highlight the unique strengths of the particular disciplines concerned, but they also form five bridges of understanding.  In the spirit of mutual encouragement, cross-disciplinary learning, sprinkled with dockets of humour, Professor Hans Boersma points out the purpose of theology, which is: "to use the Scriptures as a means of grace in drawing the reader to Jesus Christ." This Christocentric reading ought to circumvent the tendency to overemphasize historical studies. More importantly, this should lead us toward sacramental communion with God, in Jesus. Whether it is cheekily done or not, Boersma uses a common phrase "no Scripture" to highlight the key things before the biblical scholar's favorite distinction. He then lists the following five compelling things he wishes biblical scholars should know: 
"No Christ, No Scripture"
"No Plato, No Scripture"
"No Providence, No Scripture"
"No Church, No Scripture"
"No Heaven, No Scripture"
The first chapter aims to remind us that Jesus is the reason for the Scriptures. It is a foundation of Scripture. What might surprise some readers (especially the sola scriptura camp) is how the author could even put anything before the Word of God. This leads to some kind of a "circular reading" about which comes first, Jesus or the Bible? Recognizing the tendency for theological conflict, Boersma gently reminds us that he is referring more to the "formal authority" rather than the "actual authority" we often put in the name of scriptural authority. In other words, it is less about what we say but more about what Scriptures actually mean. Simply put, Christ must be the starting point instead of our historical tradition. The second chapter looks at the need for "prior metaphysical commitments" as our interpretive lens of Scripture. Knowing the controversy among some scholars over the use of Platonism as an interpretive lens, he assures us that such a hermeneutic used within a certain framework would help us articulate better the truth claims in Scripture. The third chapter maintains the necessity of divine providence not just in inspiring the Word of God but to enable our understanding. The fourth chapter takes on an ecclesiological approach, to emphasize that Scripture if it is to be understood well has to be interpreted within a Community. He highlights the places of canon, liturgy and creeds as crucial tools for biblical exegesis and community worship. The fifth chapter showcases the end of it all: God's love, reminding us once again that Scripture is revealed for us for a reason: Showing us the way to God. 

My Thoughts
There are three things I like about this book. First, it is the clearly articulated thesis statements by Boersma as anchor points. This is necessary due to the sizeable amount of nuanced arguments throughout the book. The author understands how his views could easily be misunderstood. That is why he often examines his own statement from a biblical scholar's perspective. In doing so, Boersma comes across as one who is not only convicted about his theological stance, he invites those from a biblical scholar background to come alongside his theological underpinnings and to consider the truths from both sides. The anchor headings capture very well the essence of where Boersma is coming from and gives the reader the needed reference point to read his arguments easily. 

Second, Boersma is right about the primacy of interpretive lens. By supplying the five different lenses here, he is showing us once again the complexity of biblical interpretation. Every one of us comes with a certain hermeneutic built inside us. Only with humility and openness to the Holy Spirit's guidance can we approach the Scripture to learn of it as what God intended for us. There are definitely more than five things that theologians wish biblical scholars knew. Perhaps, this book could spearhead more constructive interactions between scholars and theologians of both disciplines. 

Finally, I appreciate the candour and camaraderie between Boersma and McKnight as they write the foreword for each other in this complementary series of books. The embedded humour within ought to give readers an openness to learn from both disciplines in a humble and intelligent manner. In fact, they pave the way forward for a better understanding of Scripture itself. These days, we need to build fewer walls and more bridges. When we argue, we need to do so with love and gentleness. Just like 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us about the need for love to underline everything we say or do, we can debate intellectually without shouting one another down. Readers should read both this and McKnight's books to get a fuller picture of the whole project. 

Hans Boersma (PhD, University of Utrecht) is the Order of St. Benedict Servants of Christ Chair in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House. He is the author of several books, including Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition, Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church, Sacramental Preaching: Sermons on the Hidden Presence of Christ, and Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry. He previously taught at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, and he is an ordained deacon in the Anglican Church in North America.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of InterVarsity Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
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It should be stated upfront: I am not the target audience for Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew by Hans Boersma. One of the last things I’d consider myself is a “biblical scholar.” Theology may be my love language, but the idea of studying the original languages and historical contexts? I know these fields are vital, but the thought of sitting through a class on Greek or Hebrew, let alone Ancient Near Eastern history? It’s like a machine that dispenses shrimp. In theory, it sounds great. In application….well…depends on where you get the shrimp from, and how they’re stored, I suppose.

Horrible analogy aside, on paper this book is not addressed to me, nor may it appear to be addressed to you. However, by the first few pages, I found myself captivated by Boersma’s writing, the same way it captivated me when I read Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross so many years ago in seminary, which is why I requested this book from Netgalley to begin with. By the time I finished Five Things, I became convinced this book really is meant for the church at large, because despite the title, Boersma presents five things every Christian can benefit from.

Full review will be live on 9/6/2021 at
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Hans Boersma presents to us a well written explanation of his top 5 items, as a theologians, he would like biblical scholars to know when it comes to scripture. I wouldn’t say this is a response book to the previous reviewed “5 things biblical scholars wish theologians knew” as they appear to be written in matching timelines. However in the fact they work to serve each other it can be seen as a response writing (as can the other mentioned book).

This book is very in depth on it’s 5 points, and may I add has a very structured and in depth introduction. This makes it easy for the reader to understand and appreciate where Hans is coming from, creating a path to follow in order to make conclusions on the importance of theology in studying the scriptures.

However, like its counterpart, the book is long. Almost exhaustingly long. As a reader I do value books that give detail and reason, but some of what is written within could have been explained in much shorter portions. I get this is a strictly academic offering, or at least it feels this way, I simply think some portions could have been shorter in content and still be very rich.

This said if you are looking for a book to express the need for theology in your study, it’s worth reading. Just don’t expect to do so in one sitting, take your time and pick through each point to discover it’s value.

*I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. These are my personal thoughts.
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This book challenges the pure sola scriptura and historical-critical method of discovering the meaning of scripture. This is an academic level book. I have a post-graduate degree in theology and at times found it difficult to understand the author's argument (especially concerning Christian Platonism). That said, I have enjoyed the book and agree with his overall thesis - Scripture is unlike any other writing, it is sacramental, having a supernatural origin and effect and needs to be approached as such! I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Providence and the place of the Church in interpretation. I was also encouraged by the author's affirmation of Lectio Divina. Boersma argues that the meaning of Scripture is found in the gathering of the people of God and not in the clinical tools of the academy.
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I loved this book, however, full disclosure, I do have a degree in theology so a lot of this book was just me going “yup, definitely” and “oh gosh, that’s just what I felt/have wanted to say”, because though I agree with Boersma that the distinction between the disciplines of theology and biblical scholarship is not as rigid as it seems, or sometimes appears as, there is definitely a distinction. He addresses some of the elements very well in this book and helped me pinpoint why I as a student, when I took courses that leaned toward the biblical often found it a pretty jarring experience. The only thing I can compare it to is the experience of going from a philosophy class to one on the history of ideas. Very different experience.

To be honest, though I loved this book, I am looking forward to reading the second book a bit more, I.e. the one where the roles are reversed and biblical scholars tell theologians five things they wish they knew, because I have a feeling that is where I might really learn something new. Maybe. Or at least open my mind to another perspective, which is good. 

This book is divided into five chapters with somewhat provocative titles centered around a main theme, there is “No Christ, no Scripture”; “No Plato, no Scripture”; “No Providence, no Scripture”; “No Church, no Scripture”; and “No Heaven, no Scripture”.

My personal favorites were chapters 2 and 4 which dealt with metaphysics and the Church, though they were all deeply engaged in patristics which I really appreciated. It also engaged very delicately with these matters, pressing why certain things were, or have become, an issue in biblical scholarship (from a theological perspective) and how it has lost an otherworldliness and shifted towards a too dominant this-worldly focus, a focus that isn’t inherently  bad but that has unintended consequences and makes the field seem a bit lost in its direction and purpose.

I made so many bookmarks reading this and I can’t wait to get my hands of a physical copy, because with books like this I really need them in my hand and where I can make notes and underline and think (my apologies to book purists). Once I do, and the book is released in its final form, I will probably add to this lengthy review with some specifics because I would also like to contemplate it in comparison with the second book, mentioned above, in order to consider my own biases towards Boersma’s perspective,

Now, who is this book for?
The title made me think it was primarily for academics invested in this field, after reading it I must say that it can definitely have a broader appeal - a) it is short and the structure accessible, b) it is not bogged down by footnotes, though there are some, c) there is jargon but it is generally explained in an accessible manner (not like some books I have where you will have to have a basic reading comprehension of Greek, Latin, or German, to get through it) though I may be a poor judge here.

But for the uninitiated reader who wonders what these disciplines do differently, this is a good read to try to get into it. But maybe that is just me hoping it will open more eyes to the likes of Gregory of Nyssa, Irenaeus, Origen, Athanasius, etc 

A thousand thanks to InterVarsity Press and NetGalley for this pre-release copy, can’t believe I have to wait till September for the print *makes note to remember this* but I look forward to it!
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You really need to read the companion volume by Scot McKnight to get the full context of this discussion, but there plenty of great insights to read, to ruminate on and consider on their own. Certainly a book for academics, but well worth getting.
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