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Viva Systematic Theology!!

Everyone who is reading emerging/post-modern Christian thought knows that systematic theology is in danger of becoming passe. While I agree that there are some weaknesses to systematic theology, it is still plays an essential role in the life of the church. Christianity Today has published a good article summarizing the debate and coming to the same conclusion.

For those who are not overly familiar with the discipline of systematic theology, there are traditionally several basic points of systematic theology.  The goal of the systematic theologian is to study the Bible and determine what the Bible says about these categories: God (theology), Humanity (anthropology), Christ/Spirit (Christology, pneumatology), Salvation (soteriology), the Church (ecclesiology), and the Last Things (eschatology).  Some will also include Angels/Demons (angelology/demonology) and more modern systematic theologies always begin with the doctrine of Scripture.

One of the criticisms of systematic theology is that it imposes an external method of ordering/discussing God that is not found in the Bible. The Bible, it is commonly pointed out, is written as narrative, not as a series of theological propositions. This is absolutely correct. However, this does not mean that systematic theology is wrong. Afterall, throughout the history of the church, Christians have “systematized” the teachings of the Bible. I think we see the beginnings of this in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Philippians 2:6-11, and Colossians 1:15-20. We see in in the very early church in the Apostles’ Creed (which came to form around 340 AD but was likely in process around 100 AD). This process continues in Nicea (325/381 AD) through the present day. So, contrary to some people’s opinion, systematic theology is not the result of modern, Enlightenment thinking, it is a result of the church!

Another criticism of systematic theology is that it elevates too many concepts to level of “dogma” (established belief, Christian essentials).  For example, some people have decided that being “pre-trib, pre-mil” is the only acceptable Christian eschatology, while others have decided that being “amil” is the only acceptable Christian eschatology.  Both are incorrect to claim that it is “the only acceptable Christian eschatology” because the Bible is not quite this dogmatic (I think the Bible is merely dogmatic that Christ will return, there will be a resurrection of the dead, and there will be a new heavens and new earth).  So it is true that this happens (a lot), but it is more the fault of the individual than systematic theology itself.

I conclude that systematic theology has always been, remains, and always will be an indispensable part of the Church.  Long live systematic theology!! (and speaking of systematic theology…I need to write another post about the Canons of Dort…)

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  1. mike
    April 21, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Everyone holds to some form of systematic theology. Those who insist that they do not invariably hold poorly developed, unexamined ones.

    I remember an anecdote that Neal Plantinga shared with our class. Some eminent scholar, upon hearing that Neal taught systematic theology, said that he didn’t know what that was. Neal replied, “That is a surprise, coming from someone so learned.”

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