Friday, August 10, 2012

1.1 Grudem: Definitions in Theology

My series begins, summarizing and evaluating Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology from a "biblical" and WA (Wesleyan-Arminian) standpoint.

0 Reasons for the Review
Review of Chapter 1: Introduction to Systematic Theology
As you would expect of an introduction, this chapter involves basic definitions, assumptions behind, rationale for, objections to, and preparations for the study of systematic theology. Grudem's definition of systematic theology is "any study that answers the question, 'What does the whole Bible teach us today?" about any given topic" (21). I personally would much rather call such things a "biblical theology" and thus think that Grudem is off to a dubious start.

Systematic theology is the organization of Christian belief into an overall system according to some ideological organizing principle. Since the Bible is not arranged ideologically, the organizing principle inevitably is governed from outside the Bible. The closest one might come to an organizing principle that correlates roughly to the biblical structure would be a narrative theology that organizes Christian belief in terms of the general flow of the biblical story as it appears to us. However even here, since the books were organized not by the biblical authors themselves but by later Jews and Christians, even this narrative organization is governed from outside the Bible itself.

Systematic theology is a broad category with different possible ideological organizing principles. I suppose the elements of a narrative can be treated ideologically, but narrative theology is probably best thought of as something different. The way Grudem speaks of philosophical theology makes it sound secular and "other" (21), although it seems that any system that is ideological will inevitably be philosophical in nature.  Nevertheless, I suppose there is use for a category that uses a philosophical organizing principle that is not traditionally Christian.  Constructive theology is similar to philosophical theology understood in this way since it especially engages and attempts to synthesize the insights and challenges of contemporary thought with traditional Christian thinking.

What I call a biblical theology can also be organized systematically, so that you have a systematic biblical theology. This is what Grudem wants to be. He also equates systematic theology with dogmatic theology (25, n.7), although I would rather say that dogmatic theology is a form of systematic theology that is organized in accordance with some Christian authority, such as the Roman Catholic Church.

Historical theology is something different, a presentation of theology in terms of his historical development. Grudem correctly relates that biblical theology is currently used in the guild of individual biblical authors: Pauline theology, Matthean theology, Lukan theology, and so forth. I prefer, however, to buck this trend and use the term biblical theology to refer to canonical theology on some level. The Bible is not one book, and thus any "biblical" theology inevitably involves a move away from the theology of individual biblical authors into some organizing principle governed from outside of the texts themselves. Accordingly, an Old or New Testament theology must inevitably move beyond the theology of individual authors and thus beyond the texts themselves.

Grudem defines a doctrine as "what the whole Bible teaches today about some particular topic" (25). Inherent in this definition are some of Grudem's fundamental confusions. The books of the Bible were not written to today but to ancient audiences. "The Bible" is thus an understanding of the individual books that someone (he, me, the church) constructs or has constructed out of diverse texts.  Hopefully this task is done in a way that respects and fits with the biblical texts themselves but it is an extra-biblical task.  Grudem's definition thus amounts to "doctrine is a Christian position on a particular topic formulated in dialog with the individual texts of the Bible with a view to living in the world today."

This reformulated definition seems a fine way of thinking of doctrine, especially if we recognize the role the church and the Spirit have played in that dialog with Scripture.  A doctrine is a Christian belief on a key topic of faith.  By calling it a "Christian belief," I'm suggesting that it is something with more weight than a specific individual and should have more weight even than a particular group at a particular point in time. When we speak of doctrine, we are hopefully dealing with central beliefs held by large numbers of Christians over some period of time. Some would go further to define a dogma as a belief that has, at the very least, been held by most Christians over most of church history...


Angie Van De Merwe said...

There seems to have been a definate move to use "Kingdom" as the over-riding principle of interpretation. I believe this is so, as it can be "sold" on many levels.
"The Kingdom" is future oriented, orients around "a King" (lordship, discipliship, etc.), is "historicized" or "literalized" for today (so it is "bibilcal"), and can be a point to politically activate believers (under the assumption that the Kingdom is now, but not yet and If you TRUELY will die for the sake of the Kingdom. What is the difference then, of radical Islam in their dying for their faith?)

The dangers are many, but perhaps no one cares about those "dangers", as one can be blinded by "enthusia". That is sad. But, it is useful for the Church's purposes, as well as the State's. But, is this the kind of "State" America was meant to become (be)?

Scott F said...

Thanks for this review. I have heard the term Systematic Theology before but never had much understanding of it. Theologies in general are an interesting topic unto themselves so I look forward to your posts on the topic.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Politicalization of "faith claims" becomes a danger because it claims "Truth" that is sanctioned by "God" (on biblical principles"), which was not what our Founders were promoting. Our Founders were promoting enlightenment principles of equality, fraternity, and justice.

John C. Gardner said...

There were englightenment figures among the founders as well as traditional orthodox Christians(e.g. John Witherspoon).

Christopher C. Schrock said...

Dr. Schenck,
You said, "Systematic theology is the organization of Christian belief into an overall system according to some ideological organizing principle. Since the Bible is not arranged ideologically, the organizing principle inevitably is governed from outside the Bible."

I don't know if that is a fair assessment. In the 1980s Kevin Vanhoozer wrote, “Systematic theology attempts to give a coherent articulation of the Christian vision or world view, as presented through Scripture's literary forms. At the same time, theology is conscious of its second-order status as a discourse. Because it stresses logical consistency, theology is prone to lose noncognitive aspects of Scripture's communication (such as its force).”

Do you believe “coherent articulation”/“logical consistency” is an ideological organizing principle from outside the Bible? Do you disagree with Vanhoozer? If so, what do you believe are the implications of believing “coherent articulation”/“logical consistency” to be an extra-Biblical ideology?

Ken Schenck said...

Vanhoozer's definition is very close to what I am saying. By saying that theology is "second order" he is saying it is thought about Scripture. Think of it in terms of Kant, the content of our theology draws primarily from the Bible, but the logical consistency and coherent articulation significantly involve our minds organizing the content, heavily influenced by Christian tradition.