August 8, 2020

Theology of Nursing: Defining Biblical Theology for Theology of Nursing

About a week ago, I mentioned analogies between theology of nursing and various domains of Christian theology. One of the comparisons I proposed was related to biblical theology. However, that term calls for definition. So, I’d like to unpack it with respect to nursing.

Millard Erickson (1985, pp. 23-25) describes three senses in which the phrase biblical theology has been used, two of which are particularly relevant to this discussion. The first meaning of the phrase, in reference to a Christian movement of the 1940s to 1960s, is not particularly relevant, either to Erickson’s discussion or to ours.

A second meaning, which Erickson lists last, pertains simply to theology which is biblical. This relates to biblical teaching as the foundation of theology. In this sense, a biblical theology is one which exemplifies fidelity to these teachings. In reality, any theology that can be described as biblical should strive to remain faithful to biblical teaching.

There are elements of unity and diversity within Christian theology as well as within nursing. It’s only natural that these same elements should be present within theology of nursing.

Beyond these two meanings of the phrase biblical theology is a third one which requires more extensive treatment. According to this sense, biblical theology refers to the theological content of the Old and New Testaments–or the First and Second Testaments, if you’ve adopted the more recent designation utilized by some Christians.

Erickson notes that within this broad definition are two approaches. The first is a purely descriptive approach which presents the theological teachings of the biblical writers. In this frame of reference, the religious beliefs reflected in the biblical literature are described. To the extent that there is diversity among the biblical writers, one might even refer to “biblical theologies” rather than to “biblical theology.” This diversity-attuned sense has been referred to as “true” biblical theology. This is in contrast with “pure” biblical theology, which engages the task of identifying and presenting universally valid and unchanging biblical teachings. In contemporary discussions, true and pure biblical theology have been referred to as descriptive and normative, respectively.

As a working definition of biblical theology as it relates to nursing, I’ll be combining the second and third senses of the phrase just described. However, the second sense, referring to fidelity to biblical teaching, is essentially a goal that goes without saying. So, for the most part, when I use the phrase biblical theology, I’ll be thinking of the third sense, the duality between true and pure biblical theology.

Why does this matter? It matters because there are elements of unity and diversity within Christian theology as well as within nursing. It’s only natural that these same elements should be present within theology of nursing.

These thoughts leave me with several questions. Is there a source for theology of nursing that serves the same function(s) as the Bible does for Christian theology generally? If so, is there only one such source, or are there multiple sources? How are they functionally equivalent to Scripture? Is the Bible one such source? In other words, is it a source for both Christian theology and theology of nursing?

I hope to seek answers to these questions in the future on Morning Vitals. I fully recognize they only scratch the surface of theology of nursing, and I believe the exploration will be well worth the effort.


Erickson, M. J. (1985). Christian theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

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