Interdisciplinary Method in Christian Theology

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Name: Hany Nabil Sadik

Course Name: Interdisciplinary Method in Christian Theology- ITM101
Date: 13/2/2011
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Fernando Canale: Interdisciplinary Method in Christian Theology
Submitted by: Hany Nabil Sadik ( (
Advisor: Dr. Samuel Galloza

Course: Interdisciplinary Method in Christian Theology- ITM101 (assignment A)
Submission date: 13 / 2/ 2011

I. Introduction
Since the Reformation; many different theological schools and independent disciplines have come to exist within the Christian theology, it is absolutely clear that this variety have created today a great deal of confusion and despair among many contemporary Christian theologians; while on the other hand some other theologians think that this diversity and confusion may be solved finally- in this postmodern era- by a kind of an universal theology. For this reason recently many theologians have approached the issue of theological method in order to overcome this confusion; some of the most notable names are John Macquarrie (1966), Gerhard Ebeling (1975), Wolfhart Pannenberg (1976), Randy L. Maddox (1984), Avery Dulles(1992).
In fact confusion and diversity are not the only problems that modern Christian theology is facing today, but also the problem of ‘Increasing Specialization’ that was caused by the information explosion; which made it impossible for any theologian or theological discipline to grasp the whole theological knowledge. For this reason we have now many specialized theological disciplines each is unfamiliar with the other specialized disciplines, and this over-specialization have caused a serious threatens to the unity of theology. One way to avoid these threats to the unity of Christian theology is to form an interdisciplinary methodology. The aim of this article is to consider the setting and conditions that should be kept in mind when working out a proposal for an interdisciplinary
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theological methodology. In order to reach this aim; I will to deal first with some broad issues involved in the study of theological methodology, the notion of method, its conditions, and then I am going to explain the causes of variety of method, after that I am going to study the necessity of an interdisciplinary methodology. In the last chapter of the article I will explore the basic profile the disciplinary landscape adopts when taking seriously the sola Scriptura principle (which states that Scripture alone is the authority for doctrine1).
The pages of this article were written to argue theologians and scholars from various disciplines that formulating a working proposal for an interdisciplinary theological methodology is extremely essential.

II. Notion of Method
Today the idea of method becomes associated with scientific method; in our case we should avoid this kind of scientific experimental idea of method; knowing that it only signifies one face of the applications of method. The word “method” comes from combining two Greek words:  (with, in), and  (way, path), in this way it literally means or “in the way.”, but to reach to a complete and satisfying definition of method we must regard one of the most distinctive characteristics of method and that is action, therefore method is doing something according to certain rules or procedure in order to reach a certain goal.
Theoretical reflection on method attempts to describe and explain the rules, and procedures that were applied in order to reach an intended goal, and the purpose of this description is to make it available to anyone who is trying to reach the same goal. A reflection on method certainly produces a discourse on method, and this discourse on method makes the various processes required to reach a
1 David K. Bernard, A History of Christian Doctrine, Vol. 2, p.28, PDF,
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specific intended goal accessed by anyone who would follow the same pattern of activities. Then the question of method explores the operations which the Christian theology requires to reach its goals.

III. Conditions of Method
In the previous chapter we learned that method is an action or motion, then when we want to figure out the factors that determine the contents of method; it is useful to know that according to Aristotle we are chasing the causes of method, while according to Kant we are after the conditions of method. There is a combination of causes and conditions at the bottom of most processes; therefore to understand any process one should be familiar with both its causes and conditions. The cause of any method is the person who is doing that method; in Christian theology it is the theologian doing the process through which this theology is accomplished. Actually theological methods are not dependable only on this subjective efficient cause (the theologians), but also on other conditions which the theologian should regard, and these conditions are the material, formal, and final conditions. These four conditions are derived from the Aristotelian four causes of movement. The material condition is the material which is given to the theologians to work with (revelation); the formal condition is the model which the theologians follow during their work with the material (hermeneutics), the final condition is the goal they are targeting to reach by their work (subject-matter of theology).
Also according to the perspective of fundamental theology, there are four principles of theology: the cognitive, hermeneutical, methodological, and teleological principles. These principles also a correspondence to the four Aristotelian causes of movement, and therefore the four conditions of theological method. The cognitive principle is the principle which discusses the source of revelation; and it is related to the material cause or condition, the hermeneutical principle discusses the way theologians should follow to interpret the material they had; and it is related to the formal cause or condition. The methodological principle discuss the plans which the theologians will follow to
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achieve the goals set by the teleological principle, and it is related to the efficient cause, while the teleological principle is surely related to the final cause.

IV. Variety of Methodologies
There are two main types of varieties in theological methodology; and they are: the structural variety and the hermeneutical variety. The structural variety has to do with the variety of goals set by the teleological principle of theological method, while the hermeneutical variety has to deal with the diversity of the ways by which theologians interpret the cognitive and hermeneutical principles.
The structure variety is healthy; it is flowing from the wide river of the richness and complexity of the object of theology, so it don’t deconstruct the unity of theology or produce contradicting theologies, on the other hand the hermeneutical variety is so destructive to the unity of theology because it flows from the river of human thinking, and different ways of human interpretation; thus it produces different contradicting versions of theology.

V. Necessity
In fact the need of an interdisciplinary theological methodology is a recent need in the history of Christian theology; this is due to the late existence of its condition; which is the formation of different theological independent disciplines, namely the Systematic, the Biblical ( Old , and New Testaments), the Practical, and the Missiology disciplines. According to Pannenberg; Systematic theology was not identified as an independent theological discipline till the appearance of Peter Abelard’s major work ‘Sic et Non’ (Yes and No)2, while for the case of Biblical theology; not until the times of the Protestant Reformation or even later, that it began to be identified as an independent theological discipline. It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that Practical theology became an independent theological discipline, and by the year 1897; Missiology which is considered
2 Peter Abelard (1079-1142), article published: 3/17/04,
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the most recent independent theological discipline appeared as an independent discipline. For the reason of the developing of these five major independent theological disciplines; now developing an interdisciplinary methodology became increasingly necessary. The interdisciplinary nature of theological science is needed due to the existence of theological encyclopedia, which can be defined as:” a label used in theological circles to refer to the various disciplines involved in the study of theology”3.
There is also another reason for the necessity of interdisciplinary methodology; and that is the fact that no single person is capable to posses the whole knowledge of the science of theology.

VI. Setting the Stage for an Interdisciplinary Methodology: Levels and Disciplines
Recently some theologians published important contributions in the field of theological encyclopedia; we will summarize briefly in this chapter the main ideas of Richard Muller’s proposal; which approached the subject matter form a view of theological education.
By giving a room for the sola Scriptura principle; Muller argued in favor of the usefulness of the famous fourfold model of theology (Systematic, Biblical, Historical, and Practical theology) in creating a hermeneutical application. Muller tried in his clever proposal to overcome the fragmentation of today’s theological disciplines, and restoring the unity of theological discourse by setting its foundation on the solid rock of the hermeneutical application of this traditional fourfold model of the theological encyclopedia.
While I agree with Muller’s dissatisfaction with today’s theological model, I find myself dealing with the issue in a different way; as I deal with the interdisciplinary methodology as a dialogue between representatives from each of the different theological disciplines; and grounded on the sola Scriptura principle. I have discussed earlier the historical formation of the different independent theological disciplines, and now I would like to argue about their scientific right to exist; for any science to exist; it must have primary data to be defined as an independent science; this rule can be
3 Fernando Canale, Interdisciplinary Method in Christian Theology, P. 381,
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applied to the theology, the way which disciplines and theologians look at the Scripture and inspiration- revelation principle makes them vary, in this article I argue that the primary data of theology is the Scripture4 , building on this fact we can approach the second condition which vary the different disciplines; and this is the subject- matter of theology, according to the previous fact of the authority of Scripture; the ultimate subject-matter of theology is knowing God, and the Salvation of men (see John 17: 3), and of course this subject-matter cannot be achieved only theoretically but it includes a practical element that cannot be ignored. By taking this last reality in to account, one can realize that the core object of theology includes at least two main levels; and these are: the theoretical level and the practical level. The theoretical level includes biblical and systematic theologies, while the practical level includes ministry, mission, and administration. These are the core disciplines of theology according to my approach; while when compared to Muller’s proposal of the four fold model would only differ in one main thing; and that thing is that it didn’t consider the historical discipline as a core discipline in the theological science, this is because when the sola Scriptura principle is applied the historical disciplines of church history and traditions falls outside revelation for Scripture is the only authoritative source of theological data, and not human writings.
It is important -when the sola Scriptura principle is taken seriously- to recognize a third level in the Christian theology and that is the foundational level, or the level of foundations. This level criticizes the principles or foundations of theology including the cognitive, the hermeneutical, the methodological, and the teleological principles, discussing their philosophy and ideas, and contents in the light of biblical revelation. So there are three core levels in Christian theology- when the sola Scriptura principle is recognized- and they are: Theoretical level, Practical level, and the Level of Foundations.
As stated before on the theoretical level, there are two main disciplines: the biblical theology discipline (which is specialized in exegesis and interpretation of the biblical text, therefore it is the
4 Thus Scripture holds a cognitive privilege that entitles it to become the authoritative source of theological data
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science of the text, based on exegetical methodology), and the systematic theology discipline (which is specialized in the dogmas, doctrines, and ideas of the living text of reality, it had adopted many philosophical methods to reach its targets), both disciplines have struggled independently to search for the truths of Christian theology, and both have also accused each other of being on the wrong road. By recognizing a new level of foundation which function is to review and criticize the foundations and principles working within the different theological disciplines, many problems in both systematic and biblical theology can be solved, and a place for understanding and cooperation between the two theoretical levels can be achieved on the road of exploring the truths of Christian theology. That is not all, for all theoretical levels- in the light of the sola Scriptura principle- have to realize that the ultimate goal of theology (knowing God, and the salvation of men) cannot start and end within the confines of theoretical levels, but it need the contribution of a practical level in order to reach its target, while for the practical level I have to say that they alone cannot reach the target of theology without the help and contribution of the theoretical levels. Interdisciplinary theological methodology, therefore, must embrace the three levels of theology, and is required to help theology reach its ultimate objectives.

VII. Conclusion
Method was, and is always present in the task of theological work. Method doesn’t exist alone, but it depends on other three principles of theology: the cognitive, the hermeneutical, and the teleological principles. The variety of theological methodologies is due to varieties in any of its basic principles. In modern times the principle of sola Scriptura had been ignored, therefore many different modern philosophical ideas were used by the hermeneutical principle, but as we enter a Postmodern era, we find that post- modernity is giving a room again of building on the sola Scriptura principle, and therefore reconstructing our theology, as the sola Scriptura principle is applied again, the need of an interdisciplinary methodology in Christian theology rises too, all different theological disciplines
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(including the theoretical and practical levels) should cooperate and contribute in shaping the possible effective interdisciplinary methodology that can have the chance to perform in the work of Christian theology.

Understanding the book
This article is a kind of a complicated theologically argument, the author of the article is surely a profound theologian who is illustrating his working proposal on interdisciplinary theological method, which is fairly a well articulated logical proposal. In his introduction- which is considered as the first chapter of the article, the author explained two main reasons for the necessity of an interdisciplinary theological method; and those are:
– The existence of many different independent theological disciplines within the science of theology today; which results in great contradiction and confusion.
– The increasing specialization within the science of theology, which made every independent discipline living and working in its own island, and isolated from other disciplines.
At the end of his introduction, the author summarized what he would do in the next chapters of his article; stating the purpose and aim of it (article).
In the second chapter which was headed ‘ Notion of Method’, the author defined clearly what is meant by the concept ‘ Method’ and he also discussed the reflection on method, and its resulting discourse on method and their meanings.
In the third chapter: ‘Conditions of Method’, the author explained the conditions that controls any method; in this he used the terms of the Aristotelian four causes of motion to aid him clearing his point, and explaining the conditions of theological method. He also illustrated the relation between the four Aristotelian causes of method and the four fundamental principles of theology, and consequently the four conditions of theological method.
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In the short fourth chapter ‘ Variety of Methodologies’, the author showed cleverly and clearly the two main types of varieties in theological methodology; which are: the structural variety and the hermeneutical variety, their roots, and their effects on Christian theology.
The fifth chapter was an explanation of the necessity of the interdisciplinary theological methodology; which is based on the two previous reasons mentioned earlier in the introduction; in this chapter the author discussed the historical formation of the different independent theological disciplines.
In the long titled and the longest chapter of his article, the author in the sixth chapter discussed the proposal of Richard Muller (a famous conservative theologian) on interdisciplinary theological methodology, and then he illustrated his own proposal on the same issue; showing the major agreements and disagreements between the two proposals, and supporting his views by fundamentally adopting the sola Scriptura principle.
At the end of the article the author wrote a short conclusion; in which he mentioned the great need of the cooperation between the different independent theological disciplines in order to work out the suitable interdisciplinary theological methodology which can function within the Christian theology business.

Positive effects and agreements
First I have to admit that the author is very systematic and logic in his whole article portions, in the introduction he cleverly explained what his article is all about, and what it discuses and why. Then in every chapter he used logic, history philosophy, theology, and many things to deal with the issue.
The first thing that I find myself agreeing with the author in, is that the importance of having a kind of relation and cooperation between the different theological disciplines, because they seem to me as if they are scattered, and everyone is struggling and working by his own, and this is not the spirit of
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Christianity; specially Godly conservative theologians, they have to be concerned about attaining a loving and uniting attitude toward each other, even if belonging to different disciplines. In this they are not only integrating their resources and intelligences, but also obeying the clear order of the Scripture in the epistle to the Philippians which states:” then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”5 (Phil.2: 2).
In the forth chapter of the article the author discussed the two main types of varieties in theological methodology: the structural variety and the hermeneutical variety. I agree with the author on the disastrous results of the hermeneutical variety on Christian theology, and I see that this hermeneutical variety will cause theologians to fall into an unstable reality of who God is6. I agree also that hermeneutics of theologians should be exposed and reviewed in the light of Scripture not to be left to human philosophy and latest ideas.
Building on the previous agreement; I liked the idea of the Level of foundation within the Christian theology, which is some kind of a correcting agent or in other words a reforming level , in my opinion it is essentially needed in the science of theology today; because of the reality that theologians are humans and so they are sinful, weak, and are normally doing mistakes, they are also capable of being affected by new ideas and science theories or latest philosophies, so for this reason this level is needed to correct and criticize, and discuss all their woks and contributions in the light of Scripture.
I agree with the author in taking the sola Scripture principle as the basic pillar of his proposal on interdisciplinary theological methodology, and I favored the omission of the Historical principle from his proposal as it belong to the human hermeneutics not to God’s revelation, while I see historical studies and tradition as an important aiding tool in understanding the meaning of
5 New International Version,
6 Samuel Galloza, The Modern Shift, article published: September 2010,
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Scriptures, I have to admit that in many cases; they were elevated to higher level of authority than they should be.

Negative effects and disagreements
Although, the author was very systematic and logic and he adopted the sola Scriptura principle in his proposal, he was too dependable on human thinking and philosophy on defining method and its conditions, and he rarely quoted verses from the bible, while he had quoted too much from theologians and philosophers.
The article itself is not easily understood, it is full of complicated philosophical ideas, hard theological expressions, and quotes -which broke my concentration while reading the article- and this resulted in taking a lot of effort and time to understand, summarize, and to write my paper.
In the second chapter ‘Notion of Method’ when the author tried to define ” Method” he said at first that he will not open a philosophical discussion on method, then in the following lines of the chapter he used a long and complicated philosophical terms in defining ‘Method’ and its conditions.
The article also depended too much on Aristotle concept of motion, and had referred to postmodernism to justify its adoption of the sola Scriptura principle which seems to me as relying on human philosophy in order to depend on scripture!!! And of course this provoked me; as it elevates the role of postmodernism above the Scriptures itself, this is not acceptable, and contradicts the sola Scriptura principle which the author regards.
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In our modern times; there is surly an obvious confusion in the field of Christian theology, many different independent theological disciplines are functioning today; nearly each discipline is isolated; and working by its own with no relation or cooperation with the other theological disciplines. While these disciplines have the right to exist independently (according to historical and scientific principles), their isolation is causing a great deal of weakness and scattering within the science of Christian theology. Therefore an interdisciplinary theological method is needed to bridge the gap between disciplines; also the information explosion of our age is another reason for the rise of the need of this interdisciplinary method in today’s Christian theology.
Conditions of Method
To understand the nature of interdisciplinary method; we got first to understand what is meant by method, it is related to motion guided by a certain purpose, or in more clear definition : it is doing something according to a certain procedure in order to reach a certain goal. Method is dependable on its conditions (the conditions of method are corresponded to the conditions of motion) and these are the material, efficient, formal, and final conditions.
Variety of Method
There are two main types of varieties in theological methodology; and they are: the structural variety and the hermeneutical variety, the structural variety is Ok; it has to deal with the different kind of goals set by the theologians to shape the material condition, while the hermeneutical variety is caused of the variation of interpretation adopted by theologian while working their theology; and this variety is affected by many streams of human thinking and modern philosophy; so it is not Ok and has a disastrous effect on the unity and meaning of theology and the concept of God.
Levels and Disciplines
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By approaching the issue of interdisciplinary theological method as a dialogue between representatives from different theological disciplines, and by applying fundamentally the sola Scriptura principle on the proposal of an interdisciplinary theological methodology; we should regard three main levels in theology as a science: the Theoretical (including Systematic and Biblical theology), Practical, and Foundational levels. The foundational level or the level of foundation is needed in order to act as a criticizing level in which all foundations and principles of theology (the hermeneutical, the methodological, and the teleological principles) are reviewed and discussed in the light of Scriptures.
Finally, Today different theologians are facing a critical historical challenge; either they remain scattered, confused and endanger of losing the meaning and object of their science, or they could cooperate and contribute in shaping the possible effective interdisciplinary methodology that can have the chance to perform in the business of Christian theology.
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Bernard K. David. A History of Christian Doctrine, Vol. 2. P.28. PDF.
Canale Fernando. Interdisciplinary Method in Christian Theology. P.381.
Galloza Samuel. The Modern Shift. Article published: September 2010.
New International Version.
Peter Abelard .1079-1142. Article published: 3/17/04.


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