Some Thoughts on Systematic Theology as Poor Relation, Part One

There is an interesting practical tendency in modern evangelical Protestantism to prioritize the doctrines of scripture and salvation over that of God.

In subsequent weeks, I want to offer some thoughts on the relationship of Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology. But in this first post I want to note briefly some aspects of the culture of contemporary Christian theology which shape the discussion.

 

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Paideia Center Conference in Orlando, focused this year on the catholic, creedal understanding of God. I also sat on a discussion panel with Mike Allen, Scott SwainBlair Smith and Liam Goligher, discussing the Trinity debate of 2016. Asked how it all started, Liam mentioned discussions he had had with my good friend and fellow podcaster Aimee Byrd who launched the debate by posting his writings on her blog; and my own mind went back somewhat earlier to an editorial I wrote in Themelios in the early 2000s.

Derek Rishmawy has since found the article and (in addition to using a pleasantly youthful and hirsute photograph of me) commented on it on his blog. The origin of that piece was my concern that Biblical Theology was developing in certain quarters in a manner that so emphasized economic considerations that it was marginalizing questions of ontology. Thus, in the long run it was potentially jeopardizing the categories and concepts of classic, catholic, creedal, confessional theology. Though at the time of writing I had assumed it was an Australian/British problem, in the years since it has become clear that what had alarmed me so long ago was actually part of a much wider problem.

In subsequent weeks, I want to offer some thoughts on the relationship of Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology. But in this first post I want to note briefly some aspects of the culture of contemporary Christian theology which shape the discussion.

First, it is important to note that there is an interesting practical tendency in modern evangelical Protestantism to prioritize the doctrines of scripture and salvation over that of God. In part this is bound up with matters of identity, having historical roots in the relatively recent (I.e. last 150 years) Fundamentalist-Modernist debates and the subsequent role of the doctrine of scripture as a key boundary. The same applies with soteriology: the Reformation looms large in the imagination with its emphasis on justification by grace through faith as the defining characteristic of a life-giving Christianity.

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