A rant about the poor relation between NT studies and systematic theology
I’ve been going over my exegesis of 1 Corinthians 1:3 and 16:23 (‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’, and ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you’) today, and my thoughts were provoked in unusual directions.
In relation to the nature of the ‘grace’ in these verses, many modern commentators such as Fee, Schrage and Thiselton rely heavily on Bultmann’s (cf. his Theology of the NT) distinction between grace as ‘event’ and grace as a quality or disposition within God. Thus, even a theologically aware exegete such as Thiselton writes that grace, in 1:3, ‘constitutes an event rather than a disposition’ (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 81). However, a theologian reading Thiselton’s words would very likely, and I think rightly, accuse him of theological naivety.
What is the big deal? Not only do many modern commentators wrongly draw this distinction between grace as ‘event’ and ‘disposition’ from Dunn (citing his earlier work rather than his more nuanced later presentations), they, more importantly, seem to by-pass the hugely important theological debates in direct relation to such matters.
The whole issue of hermeneutics over objective trait of God, event over attribute, aseity over God pro nobis, economic over immanent or essential trinity, of course find themselves within the debates surrounding the disagreements between Barth, Bultmann and their respective students. And in this context, Jüngel’s God’s Being is in Becoming finds its voice.
But all of this seems far from the minds of modern exegetes. Why? Surely, if God’s grace is an event in 1:3, this is not to be framed as ‘rather than a disposition’ as Thiselton and other do. Suddenly, many even conservative commentators inadvertently find themselves in bed with raw existential and hermeneutical interpretations of the significance of God’s activity and human subjectivity! However, with Barth, one can instead insist that because the grace in 1:3 (and 16:23) is an event, it is also true of God. The economic God of grace is the immanent God of grace!
This is only one example of a far deeper problem within the theological guild, the division between theologians and exegetes. I once again refer my readers to the mostly forthcoming Between Two Horizons commentary series, and the introductory volume: Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology.
Perhaps Ben Myers is right to ask: ‘So could it be a sign that God’s eschatological kingdom is breaking into our midst when even New Testament scholars are now beginning to read Barth’s Dogmatics?’!!