Thursday 9 March 2006

Critiquing systematic theology

This week there have been two interesting critiques of systematic theology—one at Weekend Fisher, and another at Biblia Theologica. I agree entirely with both these posts, although in both cases it is not really systematic theology itself, but only bad and dilettante systematic theology that is being critiqued. Good dogmatics does not aim either at system-building or at constructing a “harmony” of the biblical witness. Instead, guided by the witness of Scripture, good dogmatics attempts to speak faithfully of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.


Weekend Fisher said...

Thanks for the link!

revdrron said...

Greetings Ben,

I examined the links and comments under each post to this post and, now, I’m compelled to ask: While attempting “to speak faithfully of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ”, is there a possibility of discovering a systematic knowledge of God anywhere? If so, where? and by what means? If not, what difference does dogmatics make in a world where speech concerning God can come from any & every portal?


Anonymous said...

Put a few examples on the table and I suspect that Ben and FK's one-mindedness wouldn't last a minute. Obviously the discussion turns on exactly what one means by "systematic theology", but if we're not just shooting fish in a barrel, and if the term is to have any purchase in ordinary usage, it surely has to include not only Roman and Protestant scholastic theology, but also the work of Rahner, von Balthasar - and Barth himself! - and also - on the contemporary scene - the work of Pannenberg, Moltmann and Jenson. I suspect that Ben and FK are not so one-minded about these "systematic" enterprises, very different from each other, but undoubtedy sharing what Wittgenstein would call a "family resemblance".

Weekend Fisher said...

The closest you'll come to a true knowledge of God is through Christ. Many studies of systematic theology acknowledge that on paper, then proceed to try to gain knowledge of God in other ways. One of my hopes with my blog is to show what a Christ-founded "systematic theology" would look like.

To the question whether it's possible to discover a systematic knowledge of God anywhere and if so where, the answer is: 1) yes, 2) Christ. My point with the original post is that when Christ says "I am the truth" it's a real paradigm-shift for us in the way we typically think about truth, but it's a necessary paradigm shift if we want true knowledge of God.

One thing I *don't* want is the watered-down "Jesus is what you need (so shush about theology)" line that I've seen a few people take. I don't expect you to take anything on the few opening salvos I've got on my blog, but be patient with me and my blogging schedule, and we'll see what happens. But you will see that I'm completely serious about knowing theology through Christ or not really knowing it. Grace, wisdom, predestination, freedom -- the authors of the Bible tied all these to Christ (though I am giving away half of my drafts list). Definitions have to rest on something, otherwise they're assertions. You can build a theology with the only assertion being Christ, and him as the foundation for all else. I'd contend that, if that's not the approach, then the theological foundation is mislaid.

Take care & God bless

Anonymous said...

Certainly the whole purpose of (systematic) theology is to keep the church on the straight and narrow in its worship and proclamation of "Jesus as Lord" - which is also the assumption from which systematic theology must begin if it is to be systematic theology at all: faith speaking on faith as coherently, consistently and comprehensively as possible. (Robert Jenson called it "an irremediably hubristic enterprise" - and then got on with it!)

But I would suggest that the systematic theologian is spoiled for choice as to where she actually begins her project. Perhaps with the resurrection of Christ, perhaps with the Trinity, perhaps with pneumatology, ecclesiology or even anthropology, indeed perhaps with eschatology (why not?) In fact, Gerhard Sauter (in Reasoning Theologically for the Church [2005]) is surely right to suggest that "Dogmatics might begin with any topic." If conscientious it will surely find its way to other foci, for they are all ultimately interlinked, as are the events in the Christian grand narrative (summarised in the regula fidei), again from which a narrative systematic theologian could begin anywhere in medias res.

Ben Myers said...

I think you're exactly right, Kim. There is an old and very profound theological saying: "methodus est arbitraria" (the method is arbitrary).

Weekend Fisher said...

"Where to begin" and "what is the foundation" are separate questions. I could begin with ecclesiology and found it on Christ, or I could begin with ecclesiology and have some other founding principle as the touchstone. There are many choices of foundations, but not all foundations are equally valid. It's like Kim was saying, "Jesus is Lord" must be the bottom line (paraphrasing). But it is not always.

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