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Jon Ruthven

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Jon Ruthven is a Professor of Systematic Theology at Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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Articles > Charismatic Theology > Can a Charismatic Theology be Biblical?

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Can a Charismatic Theology Be Biblical?
Traditional Theology and Biblical Emphases

Jon Ruthven


Biblical theology has demonstrated a sharp divergence in emphases between the New Testament and traditional systematic theology in the areas of hermeneutics, the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God, soteriology, and faith, among others. Within traditional systematic theology, these doctrines evolved toward a common characteristic: the denial or evasion of their inherent charismatic significance. By contrast, the more objective discipline of biblical theology shows the New Testament emphases within these doctrines to be somewhat more charismatic. Scientific interpretive procedures comprising content analysis, widely used in communication research, show objectively, and even more strongly, the dominant charismatic emphasis within these NT doctrines. The consequence of this approach is that a strongly charismatic theology is also, centrally, a biblical theology, normatively binding on all who claim scripture as their primary principle of religious authority.

Introduction and Statement of the Problem

    In many Evangelical minds, the expressions, "biblical theology" and "charismatic theology" are not intimately associated. Following categories from the Reformation and the early Enlightenment, conservative Evangelicals distinguish sharply between a "Word" or, a doctrine/scripture-based theology (their own), and an "experience" based collection of tenets which grounds the charismatic movement. These days, however, charismatic theology is no longer limited to a second-blessing, tongues-speaking appendix to the traditional Protestant ordo salutis, i.e., vocation, regeneration, justification, sanctification and glorification. [1]

    This paper does not attempt to argue directly for the legitimacy of the charismatic movement or its experience, [2] but rather to note that we Evangelicals who commit ourselves to an inerrant scripture as the foundation for faith and practice must face the theological implications of the biblical emphases within key doctrines with respect to their charismatic content. In this paper, after a review of traditional hermeneutics, we sample only a few of these doctrines: the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God, soteriology and faith.

    Any study of Christian theology demands that at some time the theologian ask a basic question: "in terms of ultimate religious authority for Evangelicals, what is the relative status of scripture and tradition?" Behind this question lies a prior question, how did our theological systems attain their present geography of emphasis?

    To distill an enormous answer into a sentence or two, we would postulate that historically conditioned polemical and apologetical questions, based on problematic philosophical assumptions, were asked of the biblical text. The answers, in large measure, were drastically shaped as they appropriated the presenting assumptions. The result was the creeds and the further evolution of traditional theology: a series of answers to questions the scriptures rarely emphasized or even directly addressed. From their original position as manuals for coping with specific philosophical/theological challenges, the creeds evolved into the central agenda and structure of Christian belief. Indeed, they became the very outline of systematic theology. The process, of course, did not stop there; theologians continually posed questions from their own historically-conditioned experiences and concerns, which were then answered viathe intellectual and conceptual tools of their times.

    This leads us to ask, "If tradition and scripture portray substantially different emphases within certain doctrines, then which portrayal should we declare as normative for theology?" I would suggest that today we stand at a crossroads, a forced choice, between the profile of emphases based on more objective results of biblical text analysis, as against the profile of emphases deriving from a long evolution of theological tradition. Distasteful as it is to us Evangelicals, we must confess that the emphases within our theologies are probably more shaped by ecclesiastical traditions than by courageous, systematic analyses of scripture.

    Hence, this paper asks not, "what does the scripture say " about these doctrines (a conflict does not lie significantly at this point), but rather, "what does it emphasize?"

    The thesis of the paper, then, is that when objective measures for determining emphasis, e.g., content analysis, are applied to the New Testament text, the orientation that emerges in these key doctrines is profoundly and emphatically charismatic.

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