Ten Principles for the Use of Scripture in Theology

Using Scripture

The following is minor paper completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course ST 7505 Use of Scripture and Theology taught by Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL in December, 2015. Please note that the focus of this paper (and the class) is not hermeneutics, but the use of scripture in making dogmatic and moral theological proposals.


  1. One’s use of scripture for dogmatic and moral theology must be in keeping with the nature (ontology) and purpose (teleology) of scripture itself.[1]
  1. One’s use of scripture for dogmatic and ethical theology must share the very aims of scripture itself (and, by extension, theology), lest it distort and subvert the very nature of theology. This means that a proper use of scripture—in line with the very equipping-aims of scripture itself—must be, for example:
    • Theological (directed towards knowledge of and relationship with God), answering, “How does this text enhance knowledge of God and foster appropriate relationship with God?”
    • Doxological (directed towards the worship of God), answering, “How does this text fuel the worship of God?”
    • Mathetesical (directed towards Christian living), answering, “How does this text form disciples (mathetes)?”
    • Ecclesiological (directed towards the life of the church), answering, “How does this text shape God’s people to realize its calling?”
    • Missiological (directed towards equipping for mission), answering, “How does this text equip God’s people for mission?”
  1. If one’s use of scripture to authorize theological proposals is actually going to authorize those proposals with the authority of scripture itself (a derivative authority), one’s use must be born out of the very claims—which, one must remember, are communicated in a variety of ways through a variety of discourse forms[2]—of scripture itself (the locus of authority). Consequently, one’s appropriation of scripture for dogmatic and moral theological proposals must be based on the purpose, intent, or underlying reasoning of Biblical content, not its accidental, attendant, or purely descriptive features.[3]

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Goodreads Review of Proving Doctrine: The Uses of Scripture in Modern Theology by David Kelsey

Proving Doctrine: The Uses of Scripture in Modern TheologyProving Doctrine: The Uses of Scripture in Modern Theology by David H. Kelsey

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I get the impression I am less enamored with this book than others I know.

First — No doubt, Kelsey excellently and insightfully frames the discussion of what it means to “be Biblical,” and “use scripture to authorize theological proposals,” etc. His posing questions and identification of the issues involved in this task of moving from scripture to theology are fantastic. However, I am less impressed and satisfied with his assessment of how one might go about answering those questions or navigating those issues. I would recommend John Frame’s critical review (http://www.frame-poythress.org/review…). Frame summarizes my thoughts well: “Kelsey has written something which deserves to be criticized at this length. He has elevated discussion of these matters to a new height of sophistication. His insights are indispensable, his mistakes eminently worth thinking about.”

Second — For a book that seeks to bring clarity to the discussion–and it certainly does much of that!–I think the book ironically suffers from being somewhat unclear and vague at points.

In short, I have rather mixed feelings about this book. That is why I gave it 2 stars–“it was ok.” I certainly benefitted from reading it. And it has definitely launched me on a new adventure of thinking through these issues.

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