Scripture and Theology

On Bauckham’s criticism of Moltmann’s exegetical method

The November 2000 edition of International Journal of Systematic Theology includes Stephen N. Williams’ review of Richard Bauckham, ed., God Will Be All in All: The Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann, a book I commended here. One of the things Williams’ review highlights is a tension between Bauckham and Moltmann’s exegetical method. Williams writes:

‘Substantively, the most glaringly problematic response is to Bauckham’s essay on time and eternity. This lengthy essay, it should be said, contains constructive material on eschatology and aesthetics which is well worth pondering. In its midst comes a complaint worded with surprising strength, that ‘what little exegesis’ Moltmann offers on the things of time and eternity ‘tends to be remarkably ignorant and incompetent’ engaging in ‘exegetical fantasy’, a ‘substitute for disciplined exegesis’ (pp. 179f.). Moltmann’s reply reveals what is perhaps the Achilles’ heel of his whole theology. Bauckham, he says, is a New Testament scholar and he is not; Bauckham is thus ‘bound to a literal exegesis and committed to the colleagues in his particular field’ whereas he himself must develop his own theological relationship to the texts; he (Moltmann) is a ‘hearer of the texts’ who ‘becomes a friend of the texts, who discusses with them what they are talking about’ but, unlike the biblical Richard Bauckhams of this world, the theologian, or theology, ‘is not subject to the dictation of the texts, or the dictatorship of the exegetes’ (p. 230). One does not need to hold a remotely traditional position on the role of scripture in theology to find the spectre of conceptual chaos looming over Moltmann’s formulations on this point. He has left himself with much to do in a future volume on norms and method in theology’.