Impressionist Theology

01.21.2012 by Kevin Hale


In the early and middle 19th century the Academie des Beaux Arts served as the gatekeeper for the art world in Paris. Preferring more classical works of art focused on historical figures and scenes, religious episodes, and portraits,the Academie repeatedly excluded the looser, brighter works of the artists who came to be known as the Impressionists. While the impressionists were highly concerned with the composition of their works, they traded recording the minute details of a subject for seeking to capture the “impression” of a scene. Whereas many of the works preferred by the Academie appear as encapsulated, frozen scenes ofhistory communicated via perfectly ordered detail with little insight into what had happened before or what was yet to come, many of the Impressionists’ works appear as brief, changing moments quickly and loosely captured by the artist as scenes from a larger, ongoing story.

While the analogy can certainly be overstated, similar trends in theology can be traced out. One could say that what Impressionism is to art, Biblical Theology is to theology. It is not the case that the Impressionists were better artists or more truly painting than the artists of the Academie, rather their focus was different.  In many ways, to understand art, one must be able and willing to hear from both schools. Similarly, it is not the case that biblical theologians are more truly speaking of God than systematicians, rather, their focus is different. Whereas systematicians communicate wonderful truths about God via carefully worked out theological detail, biblical theologians seek to explain the particular scenes and themes of Scripture in relation to the larger contexts in which they are found. As with art, if one is to understand theology, one must be able and willing to hear from both the systematic and the biblical theologian.

The subject of this blog, as you may now be guessing from the title, is Biblical Theology. My desire is to tell the story of Scripture again and again, showing how the different scenes work together to tell the one overarching story and showing how this Bible story defines and interprets our own stories. Along the way, I will have to wrestle with questions of hermeneutics, and I will take full advantage of systematic language and categories where they are helpful. However, if you are looking for a scholastic defense of some particular orthodoxy, you will be dissatisfied. I have a story to tell.