Muller on Theology -- By: John M. Frame

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 56:1 (Spring 1994)
Article: Muller on Theology
Author: John M. Frame

Muller on Theology*

John M. Frame

* Richard A. Muller, The Study of Theology: From Biblical Interpretation to Contemporary Formulation (Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation 7; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991. xvii, 237. $14.99.

Richard Muller is certainly one of the most impressive scholars writing today in the fields of history of doctrine and systematic theology. Therefore, news that he has addressed the question of theological method properly arouses our expectations. In some respects, this book did not disappoint me: it is learned and erudite, it provides a useful compendium of much ancient and recent wisdom on the subject, and there is very little in it with which I literally disagree. On the whole, however, I found the book deeply unsatisfactory, for reasons which will appear later.

The book is important, both in its achievements and in its shortcomings. Positively, it formulates, more concisely and clearly than ever before, the thinking which underlies much (possibly most) evangelical and Reformed theology in our time, a pattern of thinking which is arguably very different from the pattern which was dominant fifty years ago. Negatively, the book’s weaknesses reveal potentially fatal flaws in that theological mentality and therefore hard questions that every contemporary Reformed or evangelical theologian must ask.

But first, we must see what Muller wants to tell us. He begins by posing the much-discussed question of the relation of theory to practice in preparation for the ministry. As a foil, he presents the extreme view of one unnamed recent D.Min. graduate (I will call him “Elmer,” for I want to refer to him from time to time) who scorned all theoretical, academic study, and who complimented his D.Min. program because it required “no theological speculation, no ivory-tower critical thinking, no retreat from the nitty-gritty of daily ministry” (p. vii). In contrast, Muller notes his own seven-year experience in the pastorate, in which “everything I had learned both in seminary and in graduate school had been of use to me in my ministry” (p. viii). How, then, can we show that the traditional academic disciplines really are relevant to the pastoral ministry? Or should we simply abandon those disciplines, as Elmer would prefer?

Muller thinks we can best answer these questions by carefully reviewing the nature of the traditional fourfold theological curriculum: biblical, historical, systematic, and

practical theology. Like E. D. Hirsch, Allan Bloom, and others in the field of general education, Muller advocates in theological education a renewed appreciation of traditional models and content, not only to cre...

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