Kevin Vanhoozer admits that “initially, it is easier to say what theological interpretation is not rather than what it is” (DTIB, 19; cf. Gorman, Elements of Biblical Exegesis, 145f.; Peter Kline, “Prolegomena,” Princeton Theological Review 14.1 (Spring 2008): 5). He specifies some things that it is not: “Theological interpretation of the Bible is not an imposition of a theological system or confessional grid onto the biblical text.” It is not, “an imposition of a general hermeneutic or theory of interpretation onto the biblical text.” And it is not, “a form of merely historical, literary, or sociological criticism preoccupied with “(respectively) the world ‘behind,’ ‘of,’ or ‘in front of’ the biblical text” (DTIB, 19).
Marcus Bockmuehl probes the issue with a question: “Is there perhaps some sense in which the living and lived word of Scripture shapes both exegesis and theology reciprocally, and in which dogmatics articulately engages and in turn illuminates the hearing of that word?” (Bockmuehl, in Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible, 8; cf. Vanhoozer in DTIB, 20).
Theological interpreters answer Bockmuehl in the affirmative: interpreters must refuse to sequester theology from exegesis. This means the text is read as Christian Scripture by those within the Christian church. Furthermore, theological interpreters read the Scripture as addressed to them as Christians (and not merely addressed to communities in the past) for the purpose of spiritual transformation (and not merely as ancient texts to be analyzed) (see Gorman, 146f.).
Thus theological interpretation maintains two key emphases. First, it holds that exegesis should shape doctrine and that doctrine should influence exegesis. Second, it holds that theology is ultimately about faithful living.