On Systematic Theology

I’ve been reading Created in God’s Image by Hoekema for my Anthropology course this semester. Being about a third of the way in I’ve come up with a working definition of systematic theology:

Systematic Theology is the art whereby various people embellish and harmonize – doing what may colloquially be called “filling in the gaps” – what the Bible says and subsequently claim the embellishment or harmonization to be taught within the Holy Scriptures.

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9 thoughts on “On Systematic Theology

  1. Interesting. but essentially, everyone has theology. The only question being if is it good or bad theology. An underlying weakness of systematics is the modern assumption that God can be explained and understood through a series of logical deductions, equations which sound the depths of God’s essence and character.

    Everybody fills in gaps. You do. I do too.

    The space between what we can know and what we wonder about is too vast.

    Stumbled onto your page doing a search “Theology, art”. http://www.lafonderie.org

  2. Jim,

    I won’t disagree that all people have theology. However, as I’ve talked about in other posts my problem really isn’t theology. My problem is systematic theology because it attempts to fill in gaps that the Bible just doesn’t fill in.

    I’d say we all want to fill in the gaps to a greater or lesser extent – the difficult thing is being willing to allow our own theology to reflect the Bible, and live in tension with itself.

  3. curious response? as a davis alum. (’97) i’ve also wrestled greatly with your “dismay” of systematic theo., etc. just a question though…what specifically (or who?) are the gaps that are being filled in? what topics in particular? i agree with the tension and see its value but also wonder if the bias of the individual colors the end result (i.e.-church govn’t, eschatology, etc.)

  4. tjl – I think that the problem comes in here: once we have a system things must fit within the system. By nature systems seek equilibrium. Will Hall, another Davis alum, first got me thinking in this way. Once we have a system that is seeking equilibrium that system is trying to destroy tension – tension does not contribute to equilibrium.

    So, as an example: Open Theism. A reformed systematic theology would say “it can’t be. God knows all, sees all and controls all (either directly or through the removal of common grace in various situations).” But a basic reading of the Old Testament will show that God changes his mind, if not often, then at least on occasion. In fact the Prophetic Voice is partially concerned with changing God’s mind (see Brueggemann, VanGemeren, etc). In addition, the text seems to indict in the Garden that God was not initially aware of the sin of Adam and Eve. Of course we explain this by basically saying that God was humoring them when he asked “Who told you that you were naked?” But the text doesn’t say that. I’m all for allowing the text to speak. But as part of that we, the interpreters, need to let it speak and let it stand – tension and all.

  5. ok…i hear what you’re saying. though i think open theism is a poor choice to use as an example. though it may appear that GOD is changing his mind he only does so within the working out of his will (eph. 1:11) and for his eternal purpose. so when his rejoicing turns to grief we can say, as the biblical writers do, that he has changed his mind. though i’m very careful to say that he has only changed in his relationship with individuals; not his eternal plan for human history which he is actively executing.

  6. *shrugs* I would respond – not meaning to be mean or unkind – but I would respond that you are seeking balance via your systematic theology. Yes, God knows all. Nevertheless, he – at times – changes his mind. I’d prefer to leave it at that. To explain more is to go further than the text goes.

    Am I making sense? The text stops at “…and so God changed his mind” (cf, Moses changing God’s mind about wiping Israel out). I’d like to stop there.

  7. i’m not sure i’m personally seeking balance as much as i’m reading other passages of scripture that help (analogy of faith, etc.) discuss other aspects/layers of GOD’S character and eternal plan. so, in a sense, you are making sense, but i see a slippery slope developing with that approach to scripture. just an observation.

    i’ve only been lurking for a few weeks and haven’t really delved in to your other posts as i should. honestly, i was going to contact you because i live in lancaster, ma and was hoping to move back to the tri-cities area to plant a missional church (mostly reactionary to my education via davis, baptist heritage, etc.). =)

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