Why the Bible matters for theology

Ted Grimsrud

Probably the class I teach that I enjoy the most is Biblical Theology of Peace and Justice. I had an especially good group of students this semester, and I am sorry that our time together is coming to an end. We do a quick run through of the Bible, starting with Genesis and ending with Revelation. We focus on big themes that relate to peace and justice—some of the problematic texts such as the Joshua conquest as well as texts that more directly point toward pacifism and antipathy toward power politics.

The Bible is of course way to big and complex to be covered in just one undergraduate semester-long class. We have to skip a tremendous amount of important material and surely over-generalize as well as over-emphasize some parts in relation to others. But, still, I think many good things happen in this class and it provides students with an interpretive framework that at least in some cases sticks with them and helps them as they do more studying and thinking.

Even though I follow a similar outline each time I teach the class (I think this is the sixteenth time I have taught it—we always read John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, and Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers), I still find each opportunity to do this class a time myself to think new thoughts and make new connections. One huge factor, of course, is the different make up of students who always have questions and observations different than their predecessors. It is also the case, though, that no one can fully master this material. Each time I work through it, I see new things.

I want to write a little here about what I am especially noticing this year. This class is actually listed as a “theology” and not “biblical studies” class (I wish this were not the case) because, I suppose, my main areas of teaching are theology and ethics. Though I think this class should have a BIST rather than THEO prefix, I also recognize that I teach it more as a theologian than a biblical studies scholar. And I can’t help but think about the Bible in relation to what we could call “doctrinal theology” (as I elaborate in my book Theology As If Jesus Matters: An Introduction to Christianity’s Main Convictions). What I have realized this semester is that the reason I, as a theologian, care about the Bible so much and do so much of my constructive theology based on the Bible is because the Bible is, we could say, “this-worldly” in a way that later Christianity and Christian theology are not. Continue reading “Why the Bible matters for theology”