Valuable Dissertation Interaction

I got some helpful replies to my dissertation post from some of you good readers, including one from a theologically careful friend who said,

Interesting topic.

My first thought: Is this methodologically flawed? It seems kind of like attempting to suck “the theology of x” out of a writer’s occasional letter.

I’m sure you’ve thought through this. I’m curious what your answer is.

I replied:

I see significant continuity between your objection and that of Dr. X (and, after I started this e-mail and had to table it for a while, from Dr. Y). X said,

I also find the application of Paul’s exhortation to imitation as an across-the-board paradigm dubious. Neither of the cited passages relates the call to his emotions, but to his actions or priorities. Did Paul (and the Spirit) mean for us to mimic everything about Paul? His emotional propensities? His personality? His taste in food?

To answer this, I could start by saying that I think Bryan Chapell’s warning against “Be-Like-So-And-So-Bible-Character” messages is excellent. Noah and Moses and David and even Joseph are not necessarily placed in the Scripture as models for our own behavior. They were actors in God’s grand BT drama (thanks to Goldsworthy for that point). But I think Paul is different because of his repeated calls for believers to imitate him (1Co 4:16; 11:1; cf. Eph 5:1; 1Th 1:6). In that last reference in 1Th, Paul specifically mentions emotion as an evidence that the Thessalonians had become imitators of him. And in 1Cor 4, the example he seems to be referring to in context includes “when reviled, we bless.” That is not merely volition and action but certainly includes emotion! And, simply put, emotions are such a fundamental part of anyone’s life I have a hard time thinking that Paul referred only to his actions when he called for believers to imitate him. He even said that without love (which must not be equivalent to volition or action because you can give away all your goods and still not have it) he is nothing. I have to believe that I can derive truth from Paul’s example in Acts and in the Epistles.

As for deriving his theology of emotion from his occasional letters, I would call that a valuable methodological caution and not a fatal flaw. If Carson can model his prayers after Paul’s I think the great deal Paul has to say about right emotion can be at least instructive, even if I can never arrive at a complete Pauline theology of emotion. And Paul’s practice and his theology are obviously inextricably tied. So it seems perfectly fair to ask questions like, “How could Paul be so bold in Acts?” and “What made Paul rejoice in his weakness?” Those questions produce theological answers.

I confess that the particular form of your objection didn’t make me think of any warning I’d received before. It sounds to me like something you might be thinking of a specific source for. If so, I’d be glad to know.

Thanks for the interaction! I do appreciate it very much.


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.

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