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Thoughts on Family Worship #2

August 25, 2011

OK, perhaps I should have titled this something else, because it’s not really about family worship, per se, but rather in reference to a criticism I made about systematic theology in my previous post on family worship (and the subsequent comment by someone who wished me to expand on my criticism)  – which you can read here. The short story is that I used to have a fairly high view of systematic theology – owned a number of books, I did – but over the years I have become less enamored with it. This is partly due to my changing interests, but a big part is due to my still developing belief that systematic theology is not as helpful as I once thought it was. That’s not to say that some systematic theologies are not helpful at all. Used properly, they can be a great help in studying particular theological subjects, but this only serves a small portion of what any true student of the Bible actually needs for his education.

Frankly, one of the bigger problems I have with systematic theology is that every systematic theologian is coming from a particular presupposition that affects their whole system. Of course, this can be said of every branch of theology, but I think this especially applies to systematic. Speaking of branches of theology, this is another gripe I have: There are a number of legitimate and important branches of theology that get shoved to the curb because of systematic theology’s popularity – especially in the academic community. As I was researching this last part, I ran across an excellent article that pretty much sums up my feelings about systematic theology. You can read the whole post here, but here is the section that is the most pertinent to my particular discussion:

“Second there is Systematic Theology. We have to be careful with this discipline, because the Bible does not “contain” a system, and there is no one “system” of the true religion. If we say that the Bible contains a system, then we reduce the Bible to that system, and exclude from consideration things in the Bible that do not seem to fit our system. Our minds are not infinite or mature enough to grasp how all of the Biblical revelation fits together with all of human history and inquiry. The only “system” in the Bible is the Bible itself, all of it, exactly as it is written. God is three and one. Instead of one “system,” we should be open to various “perspectives,” to more than one “system,” by which we can rightly organize the data of theology.”

“No systematic theologian tries to summarize and systematize the whole Bible. We do not find chapters on hair or clothing in Systematic Theology — though these are important areas of concern in the Bible itself.”

“What Systematic Theology actually does is summarize and reflect upon great issues that have arisen in the history of the Church. We can divide these into Dogmatic Theology, dealing with things that must be believed, and Polemical Theology, dealing with areas of difference between groups of Christians. Of course, Systematic Theology also deals with creeds and confessions, and so Creedal or Confessional Theology is a kind of mixture of Historical and Systematic Theology.”

“The areas of concern to Systematic Theology have arisen progressively in the history of the Church. The early church was largely concerned with saying who God is and who Jesus Christ is, against heresies, thus giving birth to Theology Proper and Christology. The Western medieval Church was largely concerned with how God has redeemed humanity from sin and death, and thus began more intense reflection on the nature of man (Anthropology) and of salvation (Soteriology). The Protestant Reformation was concerned with how that salvation is given to sinners, and thereby raised into fuller consciousness the study of the Holy Spirit (Pneumatology) and of the Church (Ecclesiology and Sacramentology). Questions about the last things and of the nature of the afterlife (Eschatology) have been debated all along, but are coming into greater prominence today.”

“In all of these areas, Systematic Theology translates the language and content of the Bible into a new language designed to deal with errors arising from pagan thinking. At the outset, for instance, it was necessary for the Church to define God as the creator of the universe, and not fall into the pagan notion that God is merely the highest part of some “scale of being” within the universe. One way or another, all early Church heresies are infected with this pagan notion. The Bible does not address this question directly, but provides the data and concepts that the Church translated into new language to address these questions. In contrast, Biblical Theology is concerned with how the Bible uses its own internal language to address the questions that are internal to it.”

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