Quick Questions For/About Helm

I just expressed appreciation in my last post for what I felt was a very helpful point on Paul Helm’s blog, Helm’s Deep.

I confess I don’t get one thing, however: why does Helm dismiss BT (replacing it with ET!)?

I’d go so far as to maintain that the systematic theological task does not need biblical theology or any of its friends. What we do need is exegetical theology. I gain some encouragement to assert this from something that John Piper says. ‘Behind each of those actions is the assumption that there is something about God’s righteousness that explains why he acts as he does. What is that? I do not ask it for speculative reasons but exegetical ones.’ (63) Exegesis shows (Piper believes) that ‘What we find therefore in the Old Testament and in Paul is that God defines ‘right’ in terms of himself. There is no other standard to consult than his own infinitely worthy being’. (64, Piper’s emphasis).

But Piper doesn’t dismiss BT. In his helpful introduction to The Future of Justification, he observes some problems with BT (namely, that we should not import categories from the historical milieu into our exegesis, thereby distorting it). But he calls BT “an essential part of responsible exegesis and theology” (34). I agree. I think it is helpful to understand Paul and James, for example, on their own terms before trying to fit them together. They must be fit together—and they do fit! But BT is how I get to that fit.

Someone enlighten me as to what Helm is saying!

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

1 thought on “Quick Questions For/About Helm”

  1. I’ll hazard a guess here. By Exegetical Theology I believe Helm means to convey the theological method advocated by BB Warfield in an essay which can be found in the standard collection of his works. (Those volumes are in my office and sadly I cannot recall the exact volume right now.) Though I cannot recall the title of the article I do remember it being straightforward with regard to its contents–something like “Exegetical Theology and Systematic Theology.” Warfield argues here, as I recall, that individual books of the bible make particular contributions to systematic theology that must be derived from exegesis. Ironically, the version of BT that Helm critiques allows BT categories to run roughshod over Scripture in its context (Wright’s reading of 2nd Cor 5:21 comes to mind as an example). The systematic, narrative categories trump exegesis. Helm is saying, I think, that BT needs to be built on solid exegesis rather than letting narrative categories run roughshod over individual texts of Scripture taken in context.

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