This is Vanhoozer quoting Miroslav Volf on the practical implications of studying systematic theology. “Miroslav Volf rightly says that ‘at the heart of every good theology lies not simply a plausible intellectual vision but more important a compelling account of a way of life.’ The ultimate purpose of theology is not to produce pristine systems but ‘to serve a way of life.’ To be precise, Christian theology serves the way of Christian discipleship by striving to understand God’s own way in our world, what Barth calls ‘the way of the Son into the far country‘. In short, theology is the attempt to understand and respond to God’s story. Only recently, since the 1980’s, has systematic theology seriously grappled with the implications that Scripture is less a storehouse of facts than a realistic narrative that renders personal identity: of God, Jesus Christ and Christians.
Systematic theology cannot properly make sense of narrative with the tools of linguistic and conceptual analysis only. Reading Scripture theologically needs imagination, ‘the faculty which makes sense of things, locating particular bits and pieces within larger patterns’. Whereas analytic exegesis breaks Scripture up into fragments, the imagination is more synthetic; its business is to grasp the pattern of the whole. Moreover, to the extent that theology serves a way of life, imagination locates everyday reality withing biblical text. To live so that the biblical world is one’s primary interpretative framework is an imaginative, practical and spiritual enterprise. As I argue below, facilitating that kind of interpretation is the true aim, and glory, of systematic theology.