Friday, September 15, 2006

Biblical and Systematic Theology

Biblical and systematic theology are both extremely important for understanding Christian truth, but there some who seem to think that biblical theology is the true theology and systematic theology is to be frowned upon if not altogether avoided. It seems that postmodernism is part of the culprit in this, but there are many that do not imbibe postmodernism who still hold this view.

This is unfortunate, because this attitude seems to miss the point of systematics and fails to see the similarities biblical theology has with systematic theology. There are three main steps in Evangelical systematic theology. First there is exegesis which looks at a text and asks, what this passage says. Next there is Biblical theology which steps out a bit further and asks what does this genre or author teach us about this topic. Finally there is systematic theology which steps out even further and asks what the Bible as a whole teaches us about some topic of interest and organizes them in a systematic way.

The similarity systematic theology has with biblical theology is that both disciplines are asking questions of the text which extend further than exegesis. For example biblical theology looks to see what wisdom literature teaches us about the fear of the Lord. As it goes along, it looks to see how the different statements about it fit together, and then come up with a statement that expresses what the wisdom literature teaches us about that topic. If it is alright for a person to involve himself in that study, it seems a bit misguided to say that they should avoid systematic theology when systematic theology does this same thing but asks the same question of the whole Bible instead of certain genres or authors.

-Doug Eaton-



At Saturday, September 16, 2006 11:27:00 AM, Blogger Kim from Hiraeth said...

great points, Doug!

At Saturday, September 16, 2006 11:29:00 AM, Anonymous Bobby Grow said...

Hey Doug,

I disagree. Biblical theology seeks the questions and answers the bible presents; systematic imposes negative questions that scripture didn't intend to answer.

IN Christ

At Saturday, September 16, 2006 9:26:00 PM, Blogger Doug E. said...

Hey Bobby,

This sounds strange coming from you with your affective theology and your infralapsarian position. It doesn't get much more systematic than what you are doing there.

I'm not too sure what you mean about systematic theology asking negative questions. Maybe you can give me and example.

God bless,


At Sunday, September 17, 2006 1:48:00 AM, Anonymous bobby grow said...


What I'm getting at is the usage of what is known historically as the via negativa, or negative theology, as a methodology. I.e. speculative theology--starting with man (i.e. I'm finite God must be infinite, He is what we aren't) vs. positive theology that starts methodologically with what Scripture has revealed about God. I.e. God is a God who suffers, who grieves, who responds to His creation. I've never seen these as attributes of God in any systematic text, have you?

Affective theology is in large part shaped by the premiss that the Bible is the best place to start, rather than speculative philosophical categories, when trying to articulate and emphasize what God wants emphasized. This isn't to say that philosophy has no place--she's just a handmaiden to biblical theology, methodologically that is ;~).

I'm not sure how infralapsarianism is informed by speculative theology--how do you see it as such? Infralapsarianism seems to fit much better with biblical theologies' understanding of God as a "responder" to His creation--as He elected post Fall, vs the decretive God who elected pre-lapsarian in a rather "un-moved mover" kind of way ;~).

I think this is such a pivotal discussion, I'm glad you've brought it up, Doug!

IN Christ

At Sunday, September 17, 2006 8:49:00 AM, Blogger bluecollar said...


Great post. I see the points that you are trying to make. To me, leaving things on the Biblical Theology level is inconsistant. If one desires to extend far enough out from the exegesis stage and into Biblical theology, then why wouldn't one want to know what the WHOLE Bible teaches on a certain subject. It is the next logical step. After all, it is ALL inspired by the same Holy Spirit.

At Sunday, September 17, 2006 8:55:00 AM, Blogger bluecollar said...

Systematic Theology, if approached correctly, comes at the Bible with no preconceived ideas. It merely asks the question "What does the whole Bible say about this subject?"

At Sunday, September 17, 2006 12:35:00 PM, Anonymous bobby grow said...


Exegesis, ideally, is biblical theology. And historically, sytematic theology, as modeled by Peter Lombard and his famous "Sentences" is framed by the integration, methodologically (i.e. the scholastic methodology of dialectic), of philosophical categories (i.e. as the framework); consequently the Bible is not allowed to determine its own "categories".

It's really not enough to say that this is how Systematic theology "ought" to be done--because the way it "is" done is the way I've briefly highlighted above.

At Sunday, September 17, 2006 2:44:00 PM, Blogger Doug E. said...

Thanks Bobby and Bluecollar,

This is a good discussion to be having. Bobby, I am aware of what you are talking about now that you use the term speculative theology. And I agree with you that that is bad theology, but that is not the only definition of systematic theology. I am using the term in the way Bluecollar uses it. Evangelical systematic theology is not negative theology. Here are two definitions of the way I am using the term...

Systematic Theology- Any study that answers the question, “What does the whole Bible teach us today” about any given topic. -Wayne Grudem-

Systematic Theology – Evangelical systematic theology is the comprehensive study and coherent organization of what can be known, primarily from Scripture, (theology’s only final and ultimately authoritative source) and secondarily from any and all relevant sources, about God and His relation to the created universe, in a manner that is understandable and applicable to contemporary audiences, the end that God’s people are strengthened and satisfied in Him, to the praise and glory of His name. –Bruce Ware-

It sounds like what we are really disagreeing over is the definition of systematic theology. When I spoke of your infralapsarian position as being systematic, I was not speaking of speculative theology for I too lean to the infralapsarian position.

God Bless,


At Sunday, September 17, 2006 3:10:00 PM, Blogger bluecollar said...

Mr. Grow,

Can you please give names of authors of Systematic Theology's that employ the methods that you suggest?

At Sunday, September 17, 2006 3:29:00 PM, Anonymous bobby grow said...


what framework, from your perspective, is used to bring together "all" the variant teachings of the Scriptures into a "System".

I don't agree. Even Ryrie's "Basic Theology" is loaded with the usage of speculative theological categories. I.e. see his discussion on Theology Proper and the attribute's of God. In Bruce Ware's definiton this is the part that "speculative" or philosophical theology comes into play, he said ". . . and secondarily from any and all relevant sources, . . .". In your view, Doug, what are these "any and all relevant sources"? From looking at Ware's and Grudem's theologies, it is the usage of philosophical categories rather than decidely biblical categories, as I mentioned above.

As you know I'm no PoMo, but I do believe we Western Christians have historically and consequently contemporaneously muted the Scripture's because of the "any and all relevant resources", esp. when it comes to articulating the nature and attribute's of God. And if the nature and attribute's of God are the touchstone components that shape all subsequent theological engagement (i.e. soteriology, etc.)--then I think we should really take a look at our apparatus to see if it actually has done a good job at getting at Theology Proper. IMO it hasn't, I believe the trinitarian issue is the best example of this failure, from a prologemonological perspective, as typically the discussion surrounding God's ontology is separate by a couple hundred pages from discussion as God as trinity, which usually is situated with the discussion around the deity and divinity of Christ. I think this failure stems from a fundamental epistemological flaw which is informed by an a priori usage of the thomistic construct when speaking about God; which sadly emphasizes His unity, and His "monadity" (which takes away from understanding God as a relationship), to the disparity of His tri-unity and His relationality which has implications in regards to our discussion on anthropology, hamartiology, and penultimately soteriology, and ultimately ethics.

Do you see my point, Doug! BTW, I'm glad we agree on the infralapsarian thing. One other quick note, just because theologians assert that all they are doing is bringing "coherence" to the teachings of scripture; doesn't mean their chosen apparatus when integrated with the teachings of scripture in order to cohere it, means that they are achieving their stated and good intentioned goal. My contention is that they have failed in this venture, in many respects, and that we should "critically and loviningly" bring this failure to the fore and hopefully displace the typical way we engage in the doing of theology, in the West, with a more bibliocentric approach that truly does take seriously all of the "types, genres, and forms" that God uses as an instrument of His self-disclosure to humanity.

IN Christ

At Sunday, September 17, 2006 3:37:00 PM, Anonymous bobby grow said...

Well Mr. Bluecollar ;~) )hehe funny-funny),

yes. The ones Doug just mentioned:

~Wayne Grudem

~Bruce Ware

~Millard Erickson

~Hoekema (sp?)


~Lewis Sperry Chafer

~Stanley Grenz

~Bruce and Demarist

~Charles Ryrie

~et al.

All of these theologies, not to be too reductionistic, are heavily informed by the Princetonian Theologian:

~A.A. Hodge who basically took his theology directly from the Reformed theologian:

~Francis Turretin who used negative and speculative theology as THE apparatus and framework of his theological work.

Hope that helps, Mark!

In Christ

At Sunday, September 17, 2006 3:52:00 PM, Blogger bluecollar said...


You bring up Ryrie and Grudem and Ware, and later on you say this:
"just because theologians assert that all they are doing is bringing "coherence" to the teachings of scripture; doesn't mean their chosen apparatus when integrated with the teachings of scripture in order to cohere it, means that they are achieving their stated and good intentioned goal. My contention is that they have failed in this venture,"

My question is, what is your standard? I don't wish to be contentious, but can you see how you may be coming accross as a final authority here, and that withouy staing your standard. Can YOU be approaching things with precoceived ideas?

At Sunday, September 17, 2006 3:59:00 PM, Blogger bluecollar said...

If Hodge is the root, as it were, of systematics, why then did Chafer and Ryrie take such different paths?

Chafer is regarded by some as the grandfather of Free Grace Theology, and Ryrie opposes the idea that regeneration results in conversion.

At Sunday, September 17, 2006 4:02:00 PM, Blogger Doug E. said...


The basic relationships which bring the teachings together is logic. Nothing in God's revelation will contradict itself and we should try to see how these truths go together.

With regard to the secondary sources that Ware, Grudem, and Erickson are primarily speaking of let me ask you this, your affective theology, did you come up with this with just you and your Bible or did you begin to understand it by reading other sources such as Sibbs?

As for the rest of what you said it is clear that you disagree with the some of the catagories systematic theology has used to formulate its systems, but this does not mean systematic theology should not be done, it may just need some modification in your view.

As far as what you have said, I do see your concerns and they should be watched for, but disagreeing over the catagories is not the same as disagreeing with systematic theology in general unless you say it can't be done any other way.

God bless,


At Sunday, September 17, 2006 4:10:00 PM, Anonymous bobby grow said...


I make no claim to be "presuppostionless" in my thinking, I do think Kant had some good things to say. I indeed have pre-conceived ideas, that's exactly my point, we need to be "critical" about the theological apparatus' that are used to do theology--don't you agree?

Much of what I'm asserting and illustrating with some of my examples is just a carry over from my training in school--to ask critical questions about how we approach God. And many (most) of my thoughts are not original to me, but are concepts that I have integrated into my own thought processes (I try not to take myself to seriously ;~).

I stated the standard in my last post, I believe that the trinity should serve as the foundational basis for the shaping and the doing of theology--and that Scripture alone should determine its own categories of articulation.

BTW, alot of my thoughts here are coming from those who are considered "final authorities" (humanly speaking) in regards to the doing of theology (i.e. Colin Gunton, Karl Barth, Robert Jenson, et al).

Now getting past this red--herring ;~), Mark, have you ever heard of an attribute of God as being humble or a God who suffers? I think I've already brought up some substantial provocative points in my prior comment that you didn't respond to . . .

In Christ

At Sunday, September 17, 2006 4:18:00 PM, Anonymous bobby grow said...


your article didn't make the distinction between the way systematic theology has been done and the way it ought to be done. I am just asserting that I think systematic theology "ought" to be done differently. You're right, it's impossible to not do "systematic theology" when endeavoring in the task of bringing together a wholistic teaching of the scriptures.

Ironically, Richard Sibbes wasn't a systematic theologian, all that remains of his thoughts are his written sermons. Yes he was commited to a particular theological tradition (Augustinianism)--but again I'm not necessarily arguing against, in a second order way, the usage of philosophy or logic per se, just the usage of it as the first order apparatus that then shapes scripture's articulation; rather than vice versa.

In Christ

At Sunday, September 17, 2006 7:25:00 PM, Blogger bluecollar said...


With all due respect, can you prove to me that somebody, say Grudem for example, uses negative theology in his systematic. If so, can you give an example.

BTW, Hodge was required reading at Spurgeon's Pastor's college.

Getting back to my question: if Hodge is the root, how did Chafer and Ryrie come to their respective works, neither of which is Calvinist? Chafer's works, especially his eschatology, are held as standards for IFB and Charismatic churches; not exactly calvinistic strongholds.

At Sunday, September 17, 2006 11:21:00 PM, Anonymous bobby grow said...

That's actually my point, btw both Ryrie and Chafer are/were Calvinists in their soteriology (you can be a Calvinist and a premillenialist, can't you [?]), I presented an array of theologians across the theological spectrum because I don't think this is a problem isolated to Calvinist theologians. I use the terminology Classical Theist as the all encompassing symbol that captures the whole of Western theology--this entails Calvinists/Arminians/Free Gracers/and all of us in between. So you thought Antonio was trying to make enemies--I guess I'm really trying to. Actually all I'm doing is trying to make us aware of what the footings are for our theology in the West--and the inherent weakness therein.

I don't have Grudem here with me (although I've read all of the theologians I listed) all I have is Charles Ryrie (btw he personally autographed my theology book ;~); anyway I'll have to use his work alone for now--I have Erickson but he's packed away in a box (we just moved ;). Anyway let me provide an example from Ryrie and his usage of negative theology. This is taken from Ryrie's discussion on God's immutability, he is quoting Gordon Clark whom he agrees with:

. . . Ramifications in relation to God. 'If self-existence should change, it would become dependent existence; eternity would become time; perfection imperfection; and therefore God would become not-God' . . .' Immutability assures us that none of God's perfections change. (Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 38)

This is a clear example of Ryrie agreeing with and using the speculative/negative philosophical category provided by Aristotle known as impassibility. This category says that if God is caused to move (in His immenent nature) by say His creation (us) at the Fall then He is "not-God". Of course scripture contradicts this, as it reveals that God does respond to man's foibles (Phil. 2:5-8). This is why say Reformed theology must posit a God of decrees (where we see nowhere in scripture) which then by definition safe-guards God's nature by making Him a God who doesn't "respond" to any contingencies in nature, rather He decrees all happen-stances (even the Fall) thus keeping Him immutable and impassible--this is a problem from my perspective.

Yes I do believe God does not change in His essence (His intra-relationship amongst Himself); but it is not necessary to use speculative categories provided by Aristotle to articulate this.

Mark, I'm glad you read Hodge, you should be able to identify all kinds of negative theology (i.e. concepts and lang. such as: omnipotence, omnipresent, etc.--all concepts that start with man--e.g. man is finite, then God must be infinite, etc.).

In Christ

At Monday, September 18, 2006 5:31:00 AM, Blogger bluecollar said...


In all honesty I have not yet read Hodge. I can't afford to add to my library at this point due to the fact that I have tuition obligations (my daughter is in college, her freshman year) and finances are very, very tight.

Let's say you approach things from your stand point, being influenced by Sibbs; and your position is Antinomian and wary of Western theology; and I am Calvinist etc... How do we come to an objective conclusion of which one of us is on the right path, seeings how we use different apparatus'?

I am sure Grudem would object to your statement about his using negative theology in ariving at his final positions. He would state that all he is doing is taking a subject and examining the whole Bible on that subject to arive at a conclusion.

I will admit that my positions did not come to me out of thin air; but neither did yours. Can your anti Calvinist tendencies be playing a part here in your stand against Systematic Theology?

With much respect,

At Monday, September 18, 2006 7:20:00 AM, Blogger bluecollar said...

I guess it is a matter of asking the question "what comes first, the chicken or the egg?". Did men actually formulate their philosophical view points and then approach scripture or were their view points formed by the scriptures. It is up to the reader to wrestle with. I guess we should wonder if genetic falacies could be put forth here. This would prove quite a weapon. If I am disposed to believe that the Bible teaches man's depravity and God's soveriegnty then my thinking will flow accordingly. If I hold that God is a responder then my thoughts would go another direction.

I notice that some of your readers hold to your every word in these matters as they seem to want to arm themselves with all the arguments possible in order to stengthen their stand against Calvinism.

I would imagine that you must some day a put forth a Systematic Theology of your own in order to present a case for "Affective Theoloy".

At Monday, September 18, 2006 8:00:00 AM, Blogger bluecollar said...

Is it possible, even on the exegetical level, to totally rid ourselves of our predispositions? Are we hopelessly mired in our categories and philosophies? Who is the arbiter?

Coming at things from my point of view, it would seem that your starting point is anti Calvinism, hense, the willingness to lump all of the Systematic authors together and call their theological footings into question.

I do belive that Grudem considers God's attributes of grieving, suffering and responding to His saints and the unsaved. He points out that God is angry with the sinner all the day long. He points out that the saint can grieve the indwelling Holy Spirit and cause Him to withhold blessing from their life.

At Monday, September 18, 2006 10:49:00 AM, Blogger Doug E. said...

Wow! Great discussion guys.


My intention in this post was not to make any distinction between good and bad systmatic theology, simply that we should be doing it. I apologize if I was not clear on this. I certainly recognize your points, as you always bring up points worth considering.


You bring up some great points also. Especially the one regarding being mired in our pressupostitions. I believe scripture can break through our presuppositions, which I'm sure Bobby agrees with, but I would like to hear that answer.


At Monday, September 18, 2006 11:42:00 AM, Anonymous bobby grow said...

I have to make this really short and terse.


I am not against Systematic Theology, it's an inevitable reality given the premiss Doug has offered in his post. I'm arguing against the usage of Philosophy as providing the framework for how we do theology. I highly enjoy systematic theology, that's why I'm so concerned with it and this discussion.


Yeah, as I Cor 2 makes clear our presuppositions or pre-understandings are always "spiraling" closer to reality as we are yielded to HIS voice communicated through HIS Word and fellowshipped around in HIS community--the Church.

P.S. Mark, please don't cariacture me, as an anti-Calvinist, or that this is "why" I write what I do, that's unfair--it assumes that you know my motives--which you don't. I don't want to just assume a position and then provide all the type-stock answers that that position provides me with, yeah this is much easier, but to me is not the most fruitful route to go if I am really concerned with getting at the dynamic truth of God's Word. Affective theology indeed has historic roots etymologically and conceptually--but there is also fluidity and room for growth in this "system"--btw Affective Theology is part of the Western Tradition, which imbibes an Eastern Theology Proper or view of God's nature.

IN Christ

At Monday, September 18, 2006 1:17:00 PM, Blogger Doug E. said...

Thanks Bobby,


At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 3:46:00 AM, Blogger bluecollar said...

Thanks for your time and patience, Bobby.

At Wednesday, September 20, 2006 1:59:00 PM, Anonymous bobby grow said...

enjoyed the discussion, guys!


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