regret

I just returned home from a talk given by Miroslav Volf at Eerdmans’ bookstore—and I want to relay a story he shared. Volf said that once he was having dinner with his dissertation supervisor, Jurgen Moltmann. Moltmann is widely held to be the second greatest living theologian, next to Pannenberg (note that “greatest” does not necessarily mean “orthodox; you can be significant and not be orthodox).

Moltmann was reflecting on his career, and he told Volf that if he had to do it again, he would spend more time with the Scriptures. That struck me as an odd omission for a theologian. Volf explained that Moltmann is a creative theologian who takes many of his cues from culture, and that is why he neglected the Bible.

There may be a reason for it, but it’s still remarkably sad. There are so many disciplines that theologians have to master—such as the languages, history, and philosophy—that it’s easy to overlook the Bible. But as Moltmann discovered a bit late, that is one regret which we cannot afford to have.

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  1. Yes, Mike. I agree with you here. At the same time isn’t it interesting that theologians like Pannenberg and Moltmann, along with Barth are at the fore when it comes to a creativity which brings theology alive in the present? (I heard Dr. Crawford say that should Jesus tarry, five hundred years from now the one theologian who will be remembered of the twentieth century will be Karl Barth) Or is that more than less because their theology is influenced by culture more than the word? I’m not sure myself, though I tend to see the Spirit present in so much of what little I’ve gathered from them, and from others influenced by them. (Bonhoeffer I would probably want to add to this list)

    It is good that in the end Moltmann recognizes and acknowledges this, a sign that the Spirit must be helping him in his work. Of course not putting the work of theology on any par with scripture, though we must do that work as the church in the world.

  2. By the way, it was great to see you there, Mike. Sorry you didn’t have a seat where we were, where the fans weren’t even heard (or didn’t matter), and Volf was loud enough and clear.

  3. I saw this advertisement at my good friend’s blog at Baker Books.

    This is perhaps the saddest revelation ever. I could not help but recall John Hick’s testimony on his moving away from orthodoxy early on, giving up his commitment to Scripture, and giving in to the plurality of expressions from the Real an Sich. When the baseline goes, we’ve nothing to anchor our commitments.

  4. It’s not that the theology isn’t anchored in the scriptures. I take it as it is harder to find time to actually meditate on Scripture. Like Wittmer said, there are so many demands on theologians (and philosophical theology people like me) that it’s hard to read the Bible as the Bible instead of as a textbook. I have heard people in Seminary talk this way also, that so much time is spent studying scripture that it becomes tough just to meditate on it.

  5. This reminds me of the essay of Stanley Hauerwas in an essay published in The Word Leaps the Gap. In it he laments that as a systematic theologian that he doesn’t know how to do exegesis. I’m hopeful that the upcoming generation of Systematic Theologians is better prepared to know and engage exegetically with the Scriptures.

  6. Marcus, Probably a most valid point, but we need exegetes, people who specialize in that, and we need the systematic theologians and other theologians who can draw out from the work of others, I would think.

    I do think everyone period needs to be thinking through scripture and its meaning all the time.

  7. It is easy for pastors to fall into this same trap of spending too little time in the Scriptures. Maybe it has less to do with culture and more to do with church organization and meetings, but the trap remains basically the same. What a tragedy for a minister of God’s Word to spend so little time therein.

  8. Two comments:

    1) What theologian would be worth their weight in salt, if, at the end of their life said, “Yeah, but I spent too much time in the Word”?

    2) Aspiring theologians who express interest in studying how to exegete Scripture are accused of “Diffusion of interest”.

  9. For those who love Jesus, the ways of Jesus, and the kingdom, there is never enough time spent in the biblical text.

    There is also never enough time to love, to give home to others, to feed the poor, to do justice, and to love mercy.

    Life is too short to do all the amazing things we hope for…

    Grace & Peace.

  10. Randy,
    It almost sounds like what you are saying is that life is too short to be an academic. Some are called to teach and some are called to go to the mission field, but both are doing acts of justice, mercy and charity.

    I hope I mis-read your comment.

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