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Biblical and Systematic Theology in the Development of Doctrine

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by JonC, Apr 14, 2019.

  1. JonC

    JonC Lifelong Disciple
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    In the past there may have been some difficulties with terms which should have been defined at the start of any discussion. “Systematic Theology” and “Biblical Theology”, I believe, have fallen into this often undefined area of terms.

    Biblical Theology as a study or discipline seeks to determine, in a very limited way, what the biblical writers said concerning a theological issue. It provides the viewpoint of the biblical writer. Biblical theology analyzes the material of a particular writer or period of history. It restricts its study to Scripture – a period of time in the biblical text, a particular author, or a single book or epistle (never Scripture as a whole). It examines the parts of Scripture. It examines and compiles information on a doctrine from a specific writer.

    Systematic theology as a study explains why something is true, adding a philosophical viewpoint, and gives a doctrinal discussion from a contemporary view. Systematic theology investigates all materials, both biblical and extrabiblical, that relate to a particular doctrinal matter. It seeks truth from Scripture and from any source outside of the Bible. It examines the whole of Scripture. It compiles information on a doctrine by correlating all the Scriptures and seeks to understand what was ultimately written. Systematic theology incorporates human reasoning, historical facts, the environment through which the writers may have been influenced, and philosophy.

    Biblical theology as a methodology incorporates both disciplines. Exegesis leads to biblical theology, biblical theology leads to systematic theology, and the product of systematic theology are doctrines which we teach in our churches.

    There are several reasons differences can occur in doctrines. One is faulty exegesis. Another is arriving at an error in determining what was presented in the biblical text. A more common, I believe, reason is found in the limitations of the human mind. These limitations manifest themselves in doctrine because doctrine is most often a product of systematic studies which by definition incorporate the imperfect human nature.

    The reason I am posting this is because there are far too many occasions where the discussion explodes into unchristian (or anti-Christian) comments and accusations. More often than not the issue is not exegesis or biblical studies but disagreements in reasoning, philosophy, or the extra-biblical elements incorporated in doctrinal development.

    One side rarely (I can think of a couple of occasions, but not here) involves a denial of Scripture. In truth, the debates rarely rest on proper exegesis. Normally the dividing point is in the area of Systematic Theology. This is what separates the Arminian from the Calvinist. This is what separates those who adhere to various theories of Atonement, to eschatological views, to ecclesiastical positions, etc.

    I believe that Christians need to keep in mind, when discussing and arguing among other Christians, that the probability their “opponent” differs in view is most likely not the rejection of Scripture but a differing philosophy or reasoning applied to Scripture. When we refuse to allow our speech to be tempered with kindness, when we refuse to allow grace in our disagreements, what we are doing is elevating ourselves – not Scripture.


    (Referenced source: Paul Enns; The Moody Handbook of Theology).
     
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  2. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
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    May I provide two more respected definitions that compliment Enns? Both definitions are from Donald K. McKim's Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms:

    Biblical Theology - The attempt to arrange biblical teachings or themes in a more systematic way while maintaining biblical images, frameworks, and worldviews.

    Systematic Theology - The branch of Christian theology that attempts to present theological thinking and practice in an orderly and coherent way. It may be based on Scripture and expressed through doctrines. It implies an underlying philosophical frame of reference and a method to be followed.

    To the degree, we recognize the cause of our disagreements we are able to interact more charitably with other Christians on this board. Alas, too often that is not the case. It is difficult to maneuver around faulty reasoning; not so much the conclusions but the philosophical process that leads there.
     
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  3. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
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    @JonC , btw, I had to double-check to make sure you were not referencing Peter Enns.
     
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  4. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
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    IMHO Biblical Theology is easier to implement in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is heavy on imagery and themes. It is not devoid of doctrine, although much of the doctrine in the Old Testament is restated and refined in the New Testament. Systematic Theology builds on the framework of Biblical Theology and brings everything together. Each doctrine is dependent on another. God's holiness cannot be separated from justification. God's grace and mercy juxtapose His judgment and wrath. One cannot exist without the other. While different doctrines are inter-dependent, what we believe about one doctrine influences what we believe about another. The order in which we view repentance as part of the Ordo Salutis determines what we believe about the role of the human will in salvation. This is the value of systematic theology.
     
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  5. Martin Marprelate

    Martin Marprelate Well-Known Member
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    I don't think this is a fair representation of Systematic theology (hereafter ST); at least, not the STs that I have read. If a ST 'adds a philosophical viewpoint' or 'uses sources outside of the Bible' to prove a doctrine, then it's a bad ST.

    As Michael Horton says, the Bible is a canon: that is, a collection of varied texts that are united by their divine source, their content (redemption in Christ) and their power to give life to the world via the Holy Spirit. 'Systematic Theology is like the box top of a jigsaw puzzle, and every believer is a theologian in the sense of putting the pieces together. If we fail to recognize that there is a box top (i.e. a unified whole) to Scripture, we will only have a pile of pieces. Simplistic slogans, formulas and catchphrases will not suffice in conveying the richness of the Scriptures........... To assume that Christians cannot derive from Scripture a systematic teaching about God, creation, Man, Christ and His work of redemption, the Church and our future hope, is implicitly to assume that the Bible itself is self-contradictory, or at least insufficient for providing a unified faith and practice.'

    We all come to Scripture with our own presuppositions, and if we ignore the pattern that God has given to us in Scripture, there will be a natural tendency to force the jigsaw pieces to fit our own pattern or to ignore the bigger picture altogether. However, ST authors are no less likely than anyone else to do this forcing, so prayerful and critical scrutiny of STs is important, just as it is for Biblical Theologies.
     
    #5 Martin Marprelate, Apr 15, 2019
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  6. JonC

    JonC Lifelong Disciple
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    Systematic Theology by definition utilizes extra-biblical resources. Even if it restricted itself to a systematic use of Scripture alone (which it doesn’t), that systematization would at a minimum involve reasoning and philosophy in the process of doctrinal development. This cannot be avoided.

    Good Systematic Theology recognizes these influences and makes use of extra-biblical resources as best it can. It seeks out, for example, the first century Jewish understanding by exploring the writings of Jewish historians like Josephus and takes into account these early mindsets. It considers the ideas that the Maccabean period played into worldview of the initial audience of Christ. It incorporates theological developments and studies that have arisen throughout Christian history. It learns from how other Christians have addressed theological problems that have arisen in their day (historic theology).

    A Systematic Theology that does not recognize and embrace these influences is a failed systematic theology which ultimately will destroy the Biblical Theology from which it developed by reading back into Scripture itself, blind to its own nature, and become unbiblical at least in practice.

    That said, I’ve studied a few Systematic Theologies and have not seen (personally) one that rejects Enns’ definition. My studies have included the theologies of Paul Enns (as referenced), Wayne Grudem, Norman Geisler, Michael Horton, Alister McGrath, and Millard Erickson. Each of my professors (undergraduate and graduate studies) have emphasized the aspect you reject of systematic theology (this was a Baptist seminary that identifies with the SBC). I am not saying this to say my experience proves you in error, but so that you will know why I offered the evangelical Baptist definition of Systematic Theology that I have provided.

    Michael Horton states “Systematic theology relies on careful exegesis of Scripture, harvesting the fruit of the labors of the Old Testament and New Testament studies. It also depends on historical theology and church history for its understanding of the way the church has interpreted God’s Word….Systematic theology also looks to practical theology (sometimes called pastoral theology), ethics, and apologetics….”

    (Reference, Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way).
     
  7. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
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    @Martin Marprelate , once we read the P-word (philosophy) our man-made doctrine radar sends off alarms. However, if our biblical and systematic theologies are grounded in scripture, historical (including church history) and cultural sources aid our understanding of events, customs, terms et al. Where we need to be careful is not allowing extra-biblical sources to become part of our exegesis. Let me put it another way. Learning Koine Greek does not change the meaning of the text. However, being able to read Greek helps us understand the nuances of biblical Greek without being dependent on dictionaries and lexicons. So, when we read the passage in John 21 in Koine (when Jesus asked Peter whether he loved Him) we know that Jesus used agape twice and phileo once. Jesus asked Peter twice, "Do you agape (sacrificial love) Me?" The third time He asked, "Do you [even] phileo (like) Me?" That knowledge does impact how we understand the text. That is how I view a good systematic theology. The text reigns supreme but it helps us increase our understanding of everything surrounding the text.
     
    #7 Reformed, Apr 15, 2019
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  8. JonC

    JonC Lifelong Disciple
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    Before I changed my major I was a philosophy student (for a season, anyway), so I do not see the negative association with the word or concept that is sometimes applied in religious debates. I believe it is a given our understandings incorporate philosophical ideas and views by necessity - the goal bring able as best we can to recognize these elements from what is less subjective.

    I didn't mean to set off alarms. Perhaps "human reasoning" would have been a less controversial, although perhaps less accurate, word.

    Doctrine is rarely limited to the text of Scripture alone because most doctrines we hold today are arrived at via Systematic Theology. This can be seen in how biblical texts are gathered and held together in theories of atonement. It can be said in the philosophical ideas pf "nature" and even "persons" when working with the doctrine of the Trinity. We see this in the various eschatological views dealing with applying prophecies. It is more than an understanding of the original languages, although it is certainly important (λόγος comes to mind).

    What we have to understand is that we cannot remove the human and extra-biblical element of "us". For this reason people should have more charity towards those with whom they argue.
     
  9. Martin Marprelate

    Martin Marprelate Well-Known Member
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    If by this you mean historical theology, church history and perhaps a critique of humanistic philosophy, then, of course.
    But what I wrote was:
    And I stand by that.
    Absolutely. But in its interaction with these things a ST brings the Scripture to bear.

    The most famous 20th Century ST is probably Berkhof's. He starts with the existence of God. After discussing the 'place of the doctrine of God in dogmatics,' giving the Scriptural proof of the existence of God and discussing the denial of His existence in its various forms, he lists four 'so-called rational proofs for the existence of God,' these being the Ontological, the Cosmological, the Teleological, the Moral and the Historical or Ethnological.

    So far, so philosophical. But immediately, he continues:
    'In evaluating these rational arguments it should be pointed out first that the believer does not need them. Their conviction respecting the existence of God does not depend on them, but on a believing acceptance of God's self-revelation in Scripture. If many in our day are willing to stake their faith in the existence of God on such rational arguments, it is to a great extent due to the fact that they refuse to accept the testimony of the word of God.'

     
  10. JonC

    JonC Lifelong Disciple
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    @Martin Marprelate ,

    I do not mean anything other than what I have written. I have observed that there is sometimes a confusion about terms we often use.

    For example, people can say "Biblical theology" meaning a theology that is biblical. Or they could mean the discipline known as Biblical Theology.

    I thought that it may help to echo what has not been offered in awhile, and that us a proper definition of the terms used. I chose Paul Enns definition because the book was sitting on my desk. The term "Systematic Theology" is not subjective, and as far as I know has engendered a common acceptance among its practitioners.

    The purpose of Systematic Theology is never to prove a doctrine. It is to answer the doctrinal questions that are being asked contemporary to those asking the question. It develops doctrine. Just like with natural sciences, when the object is to prove an end result the process is suspect as it is begun on a false ground. The tail ends up wagging the dog.

    Anyway, the definitions are not mine. I thought it might help in the conversations here.
     
  11. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
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    Correct. You will be surprised by the number of people who try to do just that.
     
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