Michael Bird posted these ten theses from Kevin Vanhoozer’s paper, have a copy of Kevin Vanhoozer’s paper entitled “Interpreting Scripture between the Rock of Biblical Studies and the Hard Place of Systematic Theology: The State of the Evangelical (Dis)union,” delivered at Gordon-Conwell for the Renewing the Evangelical Mission conference, in honor of David Wells.

“The ten theses,” Vanhoozer writes, “are arranged in five pairs: the first term in each pair is properly theological, focusing on some aspect of God’s communicative agency; the second draws out its implications for hermeneutics and biblical interpretation.”

  1. The nature and function of the Bible are insufficiently grasped unless and until we see the Bible as an element in the economy of triune discourse.
  2. An appreciation of the theological nature of the Bible entails a rejection of a methodological atheism that treats the texts as having a “natural history” only.
  3. The message of the Bible is “finally” about the loving power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16), the definitive or final gospel Word of God that comes to brightest light in the word’s final form.
  4. Because God acts in space-time (of Israel, Jesus Christ, and the church), theological interpretation requires thick descriptions that plumb the height and depth of history, not only its length.
  5. Theological interpreters view the historical events recounted in Scripture as ingredients in a unified story ordered by an economy of triune providence.
  6. The Old Testament testifies to the same drama of redemption as the New, hence the church rightly reads both Testaments together, two parts of a single authoritative script.
  7. The Spirit who speaks with magisterial authority in the Scripture speaks with ministerial authority in church tradition.
  8. In an era marked by the conflict of interpretations, there is good reason provisionally to acknowledge the superiority of catholic interpretation.
  9. The end of biblical interpretation is not simply communication—the sharing of information—but communion, a sharing in the light, life, and love of God.
  10. The church is that community where good habits of theological interpretation are best formed and where the fruit of these habits are best exhibited.

Vanhoozer made this quote about pastor-theologians:

Seminary faculties need the courage to be evangelically Protestant for the sake of forming theological interpreters of Scripture able to preach and minister the word. The preacher is a “man on a wire,” whose sermons must walk the tightrope between Scripture and the contemporary situation. I believe that we should preparing our best students for this gospel ministry. The pastor-theologian, I submit, should be evangelicalism’s default public intellectual, with preaching the preferred public mode of theological interpretation of Scripture.

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4 thoughts on “Vanhoozer: Ten Theses on Theological Interpretation”

  1. Paul Johstono says:

    I suppose the second, fourth, and eighth theses are the most likely to make anyone uncomfortable? I doubt the second would bother anyone reading this blog, but I actually feel a bit convicted. Trained in a secular context, I can see myself interacting with the text through a “natural history” mindset from time to time. It’s probably helpful to be aware of that possibility, and guard against any slippage in our own hermeneutic.

    If the second leads me to think I need to be careful, the fourth makes me quite happy. Any enjoinder to disciplined historical inquiry by evangelical Christians is most welcome, so long as we are able to do so well. Thick descriptions, especially of ancient contexts, are notoriously difficult and prone to erroneous conclusions. We need to be able to be content with incomplete thick descriptions, the opportunity for error increases the thicker a description gets. I suppose that only underscores the importance of thesis 10.

    The eighth was the one that struck me closest to home (or rather, closest to the home of some sin). As a confident young Calvinist it’s rather easy enough to approach catholic interpretation with a surfeit of skepticism that too often tests tradition against my own conclusions rather that seeking interpretive assistance. Worse still, I find it even easier to ignore it altogether. The thesis makes sense (within some set of limits that probably has something to do with the transition from the little to the big “c” in catholic), but Vanhoozer himself is a bit unclear with it. Does he list his “provisions” in the paper? Or go into more detail as to what it means to acknowledge superiority?

  2. Juan says:

    Justin, could you post the paper entitled Interpreting Scripture between the Rock of Biblical Studies and the Hard Place of Systematic Theology: The State of the Evangelical (Dis)union? If not, how could I get it? Thanks.

  3. Jason says:

    Somebody needs to tell our theologians that they really don’t write very clearly. There’s scholarly prose (historians are the best at it), and then there’s the kind of writing in sentences which require so much unpacking that only a select few will be patient enough to stay the course. It’s time for our theologians to work harder toward writing for a broader audience. That being said, the substance of what Vanhoozer writes is good–as usual.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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