Sinclair Ferguson on “Evangelical Scholarship”

“…as evangelical scholarship grew strong, two things were happening.  There was a – perhaps naïve – conviction that if a new race of biblical scholars could be produced then theology – particularly systematic theology – of an evangelical kind would benefit from the knock-on effects.  What was sometimes overlooked was the fact that Scripture is not pre-theological nor is biblical interpretation a-theological.  It contains its own theological controls, its own “form of doctrine” (Rom. 6:17) to which believers are committed by the gospel.  The theology taught in Scripture in turn provides as underlying framework for exegesis and biblical theology.  The unity of Scripture makes that possible and in fact demands it.  Sadly, however, the adage that scholars were “simply following the text” did not always take account of the fact that the text ought never to be isolated from its theological framework.

Without these theological controls it was only too possible for scholars who believed that they were simply following the text of Scripture where it led not to recognize the fact that the lenses they often wore for their work were ground in the historical-critical laboratory.  Furthermore, much academic work involved entering the stream of scholarship at a particular point in the river, learning the rules, and playing according to them.  The river offered few signs warning of the danger of the rocks that lay just under the water’s surface.  The presuppositions expressed in a methodology can too easily be overlooked.

Over the decades, “new” positions have emerged in evangelical biblical scholarship.  Those who developed them continued to affirm that these approaches were consistent with a confession of evangelical faith.  What was too often overlooked was how similar were the methods now used, and the conclusions now drawn by “evangelicals,” to those of nineteenth-century scholars who were the father figures of non-evangelical and eventually anti-evangelical scholarship over a century ago.”

A sad tale to be sure – and one that many refuse to recognise but a very important warning for believers engaged in academic study, especially biblical studies.

2 Responses to “Sinclair Ferguson on “Evangelical Scholarship””

  1. Steven Carr Says:

    I took a class, not too long ago, that was taught by a woman that was not very friendly to the classic Reformed faith. We butted heads several times over the interpretation of certain passages. She, of course, thought I was bringing my theology to the text; whereas she was “simply following the text.” It did no good to point out to her that my theology was based upon solid biblical exegesis, and that, if true, could be used in interpretation according to the analogia fide. The plain fact of the matter was that she didn’t like my theology, and therefore didn’t like my exegesis. I also loved the fact that she kept saying “your theology” as if the theology of the confessions was entirely thought up by myself.

  2. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Steve

    Sorry for the delay responding – too many 12 hour days at work! Yes, it is amazing how many people oppose exegesis and theology, not realising that the two feed into each other and exegesis occurs within the context of the regula fidei.


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