The Rev was having a clear out at home and came across his Post-it® note collection of doctrines, all 761,482 of them. He put his bible next to them, took a step back and thought about the amount of paper that is required to try and compartmentalise what is essentially all contained in roughly 2,000 pages of the bible.
He was angry that he had wasted so much time collecting these doctrines. So he took the boxes of Post-it® notes out into the back garden, and together with his copy of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, he burnt them and renounced ever trying to compartmentalise the story which encapsulates all of time.
The Rev acted greater than he knows. For without realising it, he had saved himself from a dogmatic and arrogant existence where the rationality of man becomes ‘God’s law’. Systematic theology is NOT of the devil. But it IS of Rational Man so it comes with a government health warning.
There are some obvious reasons why systematic theology should be held significantly below biblical theology. Firstly, the particular system (e.g., Calvinist, Arminian, or Lutheran) that is embraced becomes more important than the history of salvation. Moreover, the adoption of any humanistic method of quantifying the bible runs into problem and probably leads to the suppression of biblical teaching wherever specific passages don’t easily fit into a nice, neat doctrinal package.
Second, the Bible is not itself a systematic theology. It is a diverse collection of writings having different time, culture and circumstance bound human beings as its authors (all inspired by God). Scripture is God’s inspired Word but not a mere handbook of doctrine and morals.
The Bible is not organised according to “topics.” It is, rather, a collection of narratives, poetry, law, wisdom, and apocalyptic literature. Even its straightforward doctrinal statements are lodged in historical gospels and epistles where a practical intent (reconciling sinners to God in Christ by the Spirit, and leading them in faithful response) dominates.
While systematic theology frames doctrines around topics of faith, it unfortunately encourages us to bend the Word of God to questions not of its own asking. It also created a dictionary of ridiculous words that requires three years in University to decipher. (Yes you, Supralapsarianism, the Rev means you!)
One real problem the Rev has with systematic theology is where it comes from and what its purpose is. Whether it’s based on a Greek way of looking at the world, or whether it’s all Charles Darwin’s fault as we now have to give a credible counter argument (so says Ken Ham et al); its origin doesn’t matter. It comes from man. It’s man’s way of looking at life and the bible. It’s man’s attempt to be like God because it can work things out rationally. It’s man’s way of adding to what God has done, thereby filling itself with a sense of importance that it has made a successful contribution.
As for the knowledge that it rationally proffers, is it necessary?
Does the Church need to have all the answers as though man is saved by being convinced? Does the church lose credibility if it doesn’t have an answer for everything? Someone in this article fears losing credibility for not having answers to redundant questions. He has actually dedicated time to philosophising about whether heaven will have an ocean. Great!
The idea that to be credible means that you need to have an answer for everything is born out of a humanist worldview. Humanism believes that knowledge obtained by rational thought is the purpose of life. Is salvation based upon believing and accepting the notion that the government is wrong to allow gay marriage? And if you think the church should have no relationship to government, are you going to hell? If you have no opinion, then where do you stand?
The bible is clear about its purpose “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Nowhere in that passage does it say that you also need to be clear about your interpretation of the millennium. If you even think there is a millennium, then you have lost the story of the Bible completely. Jesus Christ is Lord of the millennium and creation and you and me. Knowing him is infinitely more important than knowing anything else. And the bible is all about knowing HIM.
The Curate Zeal took exception to the Rev over this. The Curate Zeal’s library only includes great doctrinal tomes such as The Works of John Owen (16 volume edition). The Curate Zeal poked at the Rev, “A biblical theologian who has no use for systematic theology is like a victim of amnesia: every reading of Scripture is like starting all over.”
The Rev replied, “Every time I see you, I wish it was like seeing you for the first time. Then I’d forget that you’re an idiot. But sadly, it’s not.” He went on, “what you don’t understand is that the Christian faith invites us to accept the biblical story as our story, to know and live within an encompassing drama that produces Christian identity and calls us to live within a transformed and transforming community for the sake of God’s kingdom mission over all things”. For the first time ever, the Rev was right.