A Methodological “Confession”

Bless us, Father, for we have sinned. It has been 1600 years since Augustine’s Confessions, but we have forgotten that the true test for interpretive virtue is love for you and love for our neighbor. In our zeal to bring about unity we have neglected patience and the cultivation of interpretive virtues. We have instead placed our hopes in methodology and the power of unaided Reason. Mistakenly, we thought that your gift of reason needed not your guiding voice; we have thought that the hermeneutics of suspicion can reveal our sins and that the power of politics can correct them. We avail ourselves to the mercy and grace that is available through your Word, who is the apex, the τελος, and the interpretive key of your revelatory activity in the world. We submit ourselves to Him, and entreat you to work through your Spirit to confront us with your Word, so that we might stand subservient to Him, and not to Lord over Him as though He needed our methods. Help us to be circumspect and patient in the carrying out of our service as ministers of reconciliation.

Dr. Elizabeth Sung, Concerning Method and the Systematic Theologian


“If systematic theologians are to fulfill their distinctive vocation—enabling the people of God to ascertain (supremely from Scripture, subsidiarily from the sources of Christian tradition, reason, and experience) the fitting “conceptual terms and social forms”12 for performing the gospel within the ever-changing conditions of the novel contexts in which they find themselves—such reflection must engage many matters about which the Scriptures speak either negligibly or nothing at all directly.13 In such cases,the available data will underdetermine theory. But given the historical and literary integrity of the biblical writings as instances of specifically situated cultural-linguistic discourse, as well as their primarily religious interest in the restoration of the divine-human relationship and their consequent christological-soteriological focus,14 a relatively slim array of explicit biblical utterances on a given subject is no necessary indicator of its importance as an object for theological analysis. The latter manifests the more occasional and sapiential-existential (as compared to systematic and theoretical) character and orientation of the biblical writings; it does not express an intrinsic disinterest in or devaluation of matters related to human sociality (on which more below).”

12 Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), 344.
13 E.g., metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical theories, not to mention the proliferation of complex twenty-first century social phenomena, possibilities and problems.
14 That Christology and soteriology are principal, unifying canonical interests is seen in paradigmatic texts such as Luke 24:26, 44-48, which recounts Jesus’ own practice of typological interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures with reference to his person and work.