Monday, March 06, 2006

The stumbling block of the average systematic theology

Systematic theology aims to organize the truth. The Bible's truth is cleaned of all extraneous matter and distilled into definitions and propositions. These definitions and propositions are then the building blocks of systematic theologies, often rigorously and logically defined.

Logic is a good thing, but the logical process does not necessarily lead to truth. If you do not start with the right premises, you do not get the right conclusion, logically enough. "Garbage in, garbage out" as they say in my line of work. If you want your logical results to be true, your starting point must be true.
"I am the truth." -- Jesus
Jesus' saying does not compute in most syllogisms about knowing God. In fact, it is opposed to our natural way of thinking about truth. The truth is the sum total of what can be known, the highest transcendent perception of reality. The truth is where all decent thinking must begin and towards which all decent thinking must aim.

Jesus challenges us to understand God through him, to begin our systematic theologies with him, to start with him as our premise and end with him as our aim. Our natural thinking hardly knows where to begin with a venture like that. So we take an easier road -- but that road is not the way we were meant to travel.

In our reasoning about the things of God, if the first premise is not Jesus, the last conclusion will not be fully Christian. Jesus is our foundation, and we build from there.

I am not against systematic theology. But if we assume that Christ is the truth, then the best theology would begin and end with Christ; the best theology would center around Christ. The best "systematic theology" might very well be a biography. In the Bible, God has given us the right kind of book. Our systematic theologies are like a child's notebook, where we copy down pieces we do not yet fully understand. The more fully we understand, the more closely our systematic theologies resemble the Bible.


Ben Myers said...

Excellent post. Along similar lines, Karl Barth sharply criticises the concept of "systematic theology". Barth even insists that theology should not be "systematic", since theology does not owe any allegiance to logic or "system", but only to God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ.

Weekend Fisher said...

Thanks for the kind words. As far as systematic theology goes, if Jesus isn't the system, then it has missed the mark. And propagating it causes others to do the same ...

revdrron said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
revdrron said...

Greeting WF,

Now you have my attention! Your dogmatic proposal resonates with my born from above relationship to the One who called Himself Truth. I have experienced a paradigm shift in my nature now perhaps, with your help; I’ll learn how to think more clearly about it! Jesus is the One I want to know (Phil 3.10)!

Enjoy, ron