I have been revising my Church and Context module recently (teaching begins next week). I wanted to follow up on a writer that Tim Keller leans on in Center Church - Richard Lints (see my review of Center Church here). In his The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon of Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) Lints discusses at length the important issues involved in theological method. Among other very helpful insights into the processes by which we formulate doctrine Lints makes the important point that theological prolegomena are properly postdogmatic, rather than what one might intuitively suppose to be predogmatic. This is because the prolegomena themselves are theological. It is only after, or in the process of theologizing that one can truly formulate one’s prolegomena (279-80).
In Lints’ approach the theological framework should be determined by the flow of redemptive history:
A theological framework ought to be shaped through the careful and purposeful reading of the revelation of God’s redemptive activity. It is only when that is understood that a theological vision will develop. It is by that vision that we can understand the proper identity of the modern individual and the modern community of interpreters and the proper place of the modern era in redemptive history. As we come to understand the theological framework of the Scriptures, we can use it to interpret our own place in the historical unfolding of the redemptive activity of God. (312)
This framework is worked out as one proceeds from exegesis to biblical theology. Systematic theological categories must be fitted into this redemptive theological framework. Systematic theology, then, emerges out of the theological framework. The appropriation of a theological vision, by contrast, is the next step and comes out of the interaction of the theological framework with the cultural context (285-86). Or, as Keller, expounds Lints, “a theological vision is a vision for what you are going to do with your doctrine in a particular time and place” (Center Church, 18).
I appreciate the concern that Lints has not to allow a “concern for ‘relevance’ ... to dominate the theological framework” but I struggle here to understand how a systematic theology can emerge out of a biblical theology without being expressed in ways peculiar to a certain culture. It is systematic theology in a particular language and is therefore, an ethnotheology, rather than a metatheology. It seems to me then, that, using Lints’ categories, theological vision must be one and the same as theological framework.