In light of this series on Creative theology, I thought it worthwhile to sit down and talk with some quality theologians who are presently doing good creative theological work. I was pleased to be able to interview Dr. Michael Bird for this series. You can read more about Dr. Bird here, and you should check out his blog. In this post Dr. Bird answered some basic questions about his creative theological approach.
What role does Scripture play in the formation of your theology?
Scripture should be the primary source and main authority by which we do theology. Since Scripture is a mode of divine revelation it is the “norming norm” of theology. I say that because we believe that in Scripture we hear the voice of God speaking to us through human authors. Now Scripture is not our only authority or only source for theology, but it must always be primary.
How do you keep Scripture at the center of your theological development?
Well, when you have a question or problem the first thing you do is ask, “What does Scripture say about this or towards this?” Now obviously Scripture does not answer all questions like “What should I think about stem cell research?” or “Who should I marry?” But Scripture will always contain some principle, trajectory, or framework from which we can draw on to address a contemporary situation.
Is it important to look at old doctrines from fresh perspectives? Why or why not?
I’m a little hesitant when people have “new doctrines,” but a fresh look at an old topic can always be very helpful. I genuinely believe that God has new light to shed on his word (not necessarily a new word) for us. As the church continues to seek the will of God, apprehend the mind of Christ, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and continually reforms itself in conformity to the word of God, we can discover exciting a new ways of expressing the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. We can learn how to play that old-time religion in a new key or with a new musical arrangement.
Your Evangelical Theology is a great example of creative theology. Where did that idea come from? How has it been received? What do you hope it contributes to the larger realm of systematic theology?
Thanks for the compliment. For me, the chief driver was the idea – that I thought was rather self-evident –that for an evangelical the evangel should be at the forefront of our theological thinking. The gospel should be the center, boundary, and integrating point of our theology, both in development and in application. A few people had said similar things each in their own way (e.g., Karl Barth, Stanley Grenz, Kevin Vanhoozer), but no one to my knowledge had embarked on a concerted effort to make the gospel the dominating motif in a systematic theology. So I decided to have a crack at it. The reception on the whole has been very positive. A few people have quibbled over the odd point here and there – they don’t like how I placed the doctrine of humanity after the doctrine of salvation, complained that I need to understand Karl Barth better, I should have had more on the Holy Spirit etc. – but most critics have acknowledged the validity of making the gospel the center of theology, even if they would prefer I executed a few points differently.
How do you try to balance creativity and orthodoxy in your theology?
Orthodoxy isn’t some kind of narrow barbed wire electric fence that keeps me from running into the green fields of heterodoxy. Orthodoxy is more like the fence around a gigantic electrical pylon to keep me safe from it. For me “orthodoxy” is the sign around our faith that says, “Individuals go beyond this point at their own peril.” There is plenty of room within orthodoxy to be creative, to think, re-think, and re-express the faith given in Scripture, canonized in the creeds, and articulated in the confessions. So as a theologian, I want to play within the safe zone, but in that zone there’s a lot of playground to have fun spinning around on!
What theologians do you believe are doing some of the most creative yet orthodox work today?
Of course it’s very subjective, but I’m a big fan of Kevin Vanhoozer. He is great on the whole idea of theology and hermeneutics. Graham Cole (a fellow Aussie) is insightful on atonement and christology. Oliver Crisp is a very sane and clear guy, good on atonement. I also like Bruce McCormack, the preeminent American Barthian scholar with evangelical roots.