Friday, March 03, 2006

Some thoughts on the relationship between systematic theology and biblical theology

Some thoughts on the relationship between systematic theology and biblical theology

Systematic theology entails the abstraction of Scripture's teachings from one another for the sake of learning the various doctrinal strands of the Bible so that we become properly aware of Scripture's diverse teachings. However, what so easily happens is that young theologians get in the habit of making real these abstractions. Diversity trumps unity. Making real these abstractions eventuates in separation. But Scripture does not present its teachings this way. Scripture entangles the various strands together in such a way that to unravel them into individual strands, separating them from one another, turns Scriptures' teachings into an entirely different form. The multiform, multichromatic, and multi-textured teachings of the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, takes on monoform, monochromatic, and mono-textured qualities when we unravel the strands from one another and present them isolated and separated from one another.


J. B. Hood said...

Good words, professor.

"Diversity trumps unity"--I think what I've seen is the reverse of that. An articificial unity trumps diversity, producing a monoform, monochromatic view of the Scriptures which they themselves resist. A classic point is the righteousness with which we're clothed in Rev 19:7-8. I sometimes quiz people on that, and I've never heard anyone get that right before...

A. B. Caneday said...

J. B.,

You're right. I could have and probably should have stated the reverse also. Truly, under the influence of systematic theology many impose an artificial unity onto the Bible and trump its diversity. This was what I was getting at with my sentence about "multiform, multichromatic, and multi-textured" features of Scripture.

The point I was making with my "diversity trumps unity" statement, within the original context where I made the statement is that systematic theology tends to isolate certain doctrines by names or titles as though the multiple biblical designations, such as all those for salvation, fit neatly into their diverse little pigeon holes such as justification, reconciliation, sanctification, glorification, etc., etc. When systematics tends to govern, these abstractions tend to become reified. Biblically conceived, these all are aspects of a seamless whole.

You make an excellent point, though by pointing out the reverse error also.


Ben Myers said...

Very good post, and I completely agree with you. But I think you've described systematic theology in a caricatured way -- admittedly some bad systematic theology is still done like this, as an attempt to harmonise the Bible's teaching; but the better systematic theologians (e.g. the ones who engage seriously with the biblical texts from a historical-critical perspective) take great efforts to avoid that kind of procedure, and they have no interest at all in developing any kind of doctrinal harmony.

So I think your point is a very good one -- but it's exactly the point that good and sensible systematic theologians have been making for a very long time!

A. B. Caneday said...


I agree with you that my characterization could be faulted for caricaturizing systematic theology. You are right. The better systematicians have avoided the pitfalls that younger theologians tend to make when they reify systematics' abstractions.

It's nice to have you stop by to visit my blog.

Mathaetaes said...

Dr. Caneday,

I have experienced some of this in my Systematic Theology courses at Sem. The problem I have noticed is that when some of these strands are separated out and "based on" such and such a text, strange philosophies and explanations soon follow. Now this does not happen all the time, but enough that it just about sends me into a fit. There doesn't seem to be a lot of Biblical Theology going on around here. Thanks for the post.