The Dangers of Theological Systems

by Dave Miller on January 9, 2013 · 91 comments

We love our systematic theology and our interpretational guidelines.

  • Dispensational.
  • Covenant.
  • Calvinist (or non-Calvinist).
  • Deeper life.
  • Baptist Identity
  • Gospel-centered or Christ-centered.

There is a lot to be gained from theological systems. They help us unify and organize our thoughts and see consistent themes in the study of Scripture. They help us link Genesis to Leviticus to Matthew to Romans to Revelation. It is great to have an organizing hermeneutical principle when we are studying scripture.

But these controlling hermeneutical principles have some inherent dangers. I would mention some of them here.

1) The Bible is NOT a systematic theology.

If God wanted us to approach theology with radically organized theological systems, then he ought to have given us a Bible that is more systematic. It just isn’t.

Wouldn’t it have been a lot easier if Paul had given us a detailed order of end-times events? I am convinced, after many hours of study, of the eschatological system I profess. But I am amused when anyone speaks of eschatology and says, “The Bible clearly says.” Sorting out the end times is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle when all the pieces do not seem to fit together. You do the best you can under the power of the Spirit to put all the pieces together and you humbly accept that others may put them together a little differently.

The Bible is a messy book. For every doctrine we hold dear there are always five verses that don’t seem to fit our system. I am not saying the Bible doesn’t lead us to truth, but it is not nearly as systematic and organized as our PowerPoint presentations which explain it. The Bible grew over 1500 to 2000 years in different places through different authors. It is inerrant and perfect, but it is anything but systematic.

Theological systems are imperfect human attempts to categorize scripture. They are helpful. Some are closer to the biblical truth than others. But none of them is perfect and it becomes dangerous when we begin to treat our theological systems as if they

2) We can do exegetical violence to individual passages to make them fit our systems.

In seminary, I began a lifelong study of the book of Proverbs, especially the first nine chapters. It is a book, now, in the final stages of editing. I preached it recently as a Sunday morning series at my church.

I am a fan (to a certain point) of the so-called Christ-centered or gospel-centered hermeneutical system. One of the truisms in that system is that we must avoid “moralism” – the idea that the Bible is a series of moral teachings. We need to preach dependence on Christ, not legalistic self-righteousness. Amen!

But there is a problem with that. Proverbs is pretty much a conglomeration of moral teachings. The key principle is “you reap what you sow.” I can summarize the book in one short sentence. “Life is choices and choices have consequences.” It is all about the moral choices you make which determine what kind of life you are going to have on this earth.

I made an effort to tie the book into biblical truths about Jesus and Gospel, but it isn’t all that easy to do. Proverbs is not so much about grace and salvation as it is about wisdom and folly, choices and consequences. In reality, it’s kind of a moralistic book, written by Solomon to his sons to teach them life principles.

It is helpful to have an interpretational principle, but it is dangerous when we allow our interpretational principles to cause us to lose sight of author’s intent and away from exegetical accuracy. My system can never trump the plain sense of God’s Word.

3) We can fall prey to “accidental Papalism.” 

High among the reasons we reject the Catholic system is its unhealthy tendency to value church tradition and official interpretation above biblical truth. But when we give ourselves over theological systems, we are in danger of mimicking that mistake.

When we allow our systems an unhealthy place, we also tend to give too much authority to the interpretations and opinions of those who have developed the system we honor. I had some friends years ago who essentially viewed the writings of RC Sproul as if they were endowed with biblical authority. “RC said it, I believe it, that settles it!”

That is a danger in all of these systems, one that must be avoided. There is a fine line between learning from a hero in the faith and engaging in hero worship. It is a line we must never allow to be crossed.

4) We can become arrogant and divisive. 

I read a blogpost this morning that spurred me to write this post, which I’ve been rolling around in my mind for some time. In the post, a prominent (non-SB) blogger discussed the writings of some other who did not agree with his particular system. I think I agreed, at least in the main, with what the blogger said. But I was provoked by the arrogance and condescension in the tone of the post. It was as if you could judge the value of any writing by the degree to which it fit his system.

Of course, we all think that to some degree. I have seen people express admiration for poorly written and poorly argued points (obviously, that is my opinion) simply because it agreed with what the commenter believed. “Brilliant and powerful” can be interpreted as “you agree with me” all too often.

There is nothing wrong with using an interpretational principle we believe in to help us understand scripture better. But when that principle becomes an excuse for arrogance and condescension, for dismissive and divisive treatment of others, it becomes a problem.

The Solution

This is not a problem with an easy solution. I would make the following brief suggestions.

1) Submit your system to your exegesis. 

Biblical theology is primary over systematic theology. As you study scripture, do not let your systematic principles overwhelm your exegesis, but let your exegesis inform your system, even if that system has to be adjusted.

I know, we all think we do this and the other systems don’t, but it is important that each of us consciously and conscientiously do this regularly.

2) Focus on book by book, verse by verse exposition.

Andy Stanley once called this “lazy.” I disagree with that characterization more every day. It is a necessary corrective to both hobby-horse obsession and to unhealthy reliance on an imperfect (and they all are) theological system.

When you exposit, verse by verse, you have a better chance of letting the truth grow from the text rather than imposing your truth on the text. Of course, that is not perfect. We’ve all probably known verse by verse expositors who seem to find their hobby horse or theological system in the most unlikely verses.

But it is an important starting place anyway.

3) Hold your system with humility.

No matter how much you’d like it to be, no system is perfect. If you can’t enumerate the problems with your system, deal honestly with the verses that are troubling to your side, and admit that the other side makes some good points, you are probably in danger of being seduced by your system.

I’ve got to go, so I’ll post this, though it could use some fine-tuning. Let’s talk about these questions:

  • Is there a “perfect system?”
  • What are the dangers of dogmatic theological systems?
  • Can you add to the solution section? (or quarrel with it).

Long day today. It may be tonight before I respond much. We’ll see.

1 Dave Miller January 9, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Danger #5: Each reader will say, “Yes, those other systems sure are dangerous. Fortunately, mine is based 100% on sound exegesis and biblical truth – unlike all those other ones!

2 dr. james willingham January 9, 2013 at 4:10 pm

David: You have provided us with another excellent blog, one that brings back memories. I remember the Spring of ’63, when I began a six year research project (I didn’t know then how long it would go) that would lead to a rejection of the very position I held in ecclesiology (Landmarkism). This change would be due only in part to the research in church history, but, more specifically, it was the exegesis by John Thornberry in his book on The church, along with the work of E.C. Dargan and others, that led me to see the error of my ways.

You are quite right about the Bible being asystematic in its theology; it is not so much analytical as synthetical, that is, it presents two sides of a truth which are apparently contradictory and not meant to be reconciled, two sides designed to produce a tension in the mind of the believer which he or she finds appropriately fitted to respond to the situations that arise. In some cases, one might need to be objective and gather info., etc. In others, the situation calls for sympathy, empathy, and support. One who has a both/and approach will respond with what is appropriate from the evidence being presented.

The intellectual depths of Scripture has yet to be even remotely grasped by folks today, having been miseducated into thinking the Bible is a primitive type book. The truth is otherwise; it is supremely subtle, intellectual sophisticated, harboring depths that would make the Mariannas Trench (the deepest swimming hole on earth) look like a tiny mud hole by comparison. And such depths are harbored in clarity or perspicuity as the older theologians were wont to say. In any case, the ideas of Holy Writ can enable and empower a believer, minister, teacher, missionary, to become prepared to meet the exigencies of the present age or any future age. After all, the omniscience behind the writing of the Book certainly and surely anticipated all of the ins-and-outs of the vain vagaries of human thought for the whole course of human existence.

This is also true in eschatology, wherein we have been very susceptible to being manipulated. Just think of how Protestantism has been moved from regard one particular outfit as the Antichrist, a movement in that case, to looking for some individual, a puerile search due to the fact that there are many such antichrists and none that could hope to equal an organization informed by such approach…and that without being a bigot or anti catholic. After all, there is bound to be some hope where the Priests and others of the clergy went and fell down on their faces before the Waldensian pastors and begged their forgiveness for the past sins of the Inquisitions against that indomitable body. While we have yet to hear of the pope doing such a thing, we rejoice at the progress made. And consider the next hierarchical type, the Anglican, making such effort as the Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Who ever heard of such thing where people attempted to meet, understand, and forgive for the evils done during Apartheid? The fact that they did not always succeed is that there were some who tried…though they could not succeed, surely, God gave them an A for trying.

Well, I must add that there was a Greek Orthodox minister in one of my doctoral classes at SEBTS many years ago. During all of these years I have been moving from a pre-trib, pre-mil eschatology to a full-fledged one thousand generations of every soul on earth converted and every soul on perhaps millions of planets during a period from 20,000 – 1,000,000 years. After all, God has humorously remarked about the number of the redeemed in Heaven being so many no one can count them (Rev.7:9). Nothing like knowing the success is going to be so great that God can speak humorously of it to cheer to the down-hearted.

And the theology every one so much dreads is far more subtle, unifying, appealing, and evangelistic than its opponents could imagine or even its adherents grasp. The unity thing comes from the so-called calvinists. The first named member of the committee that worked out the agreement of the terms of union in 1787 between the Separates and the Regulars to produce the United Baptists, the precursors of the SBC was Ambrose Dudley, who would later wind up in the Primitive Camp. But thereafter of ’87 Southern Baptists would have three theological groups, the original Calvinists, all very likely tending to hyper-calvinism (as my ordaining pastor was and the folks of Charleston Baptist Assn were along with some from the Separate Baptists such as Basil Manly and etc.), the milder calvinists (three or four points) as in the case of Elder J. B. Longan who preached Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace but allowed for Christ to taste death for every man as the terms of union allowed…he founded a church I pastored in Mo. in 1827, 50 years after the agreement and is noted in the History of Missouri Baptists by Duncan, and the mildest of all, those who are practically Arminian like Elder Ruben Ross (cf. His Life and Times) who likely retained a bare doctrine of depravity and eternal security from the Five points; he was won by a calvinist in the 1700s and his funeral was preached by a more calvinistic type, Dr. J. M. Pendleton. All three groups are manifested before the SBC was ever formed, and it was the more calvinistic type with that liberal flair for bringing groups together (a good illustration is found in the more calvinistic preacher, Elder or Rev. John Gano who baptized George Washington and was the point of unity in Kentucky between the Separates and Regulars. Gano also met with Shubal Stearns…and there was a more liberal strain in the Separates than most imagine, especially in the fact that they had eldresses. Our complementarianism needs checks and balances, and the Bible is the source of that reality. Men are so depraved that one dare not trust them with unlimited power. So we set the dogs to watch one another, and God told Abraham to do what Sarah said, something that would not have been allowed, if the complementarianism of the Bible was unconditional…which it ain’t (pardon my Greek).

We are getting more and more Sovereign Grace ministers rising up due to the fact that that is the theology of the First and Second Great Awakenings (of the second until 1820, not counting some of the excesses on the frontier), and it is the theology which reflects the depth of scripture in dealing with the depths of man’s depravity in a balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic way, all of which is intended by the theology of the Bible in practically every area in which it speaks. I should therefore expect that in the end, in dealing with some of the most depraved in the world today that the hard parts will be the most winsome, e.g., limited atonement, reprobation, which can serve as therapeutic paradoxes, God making the challenge with impossibilities which throws man who is unable to respond into crying, “Help my unbelief.” Or the loathsome leper crying, “Lord, if you please, if you will, if you choose, it’s your decision, you can make me whole.” Our Lord answered, “”I will. I am pleased to do so. I choose.” And for emphasis He laid His hand heavily upon the man, perhaps a wound of leprosy to show that the healing power came from Him and the leprosy could not contaminate Him anymore than sin could.

Talk about the thought of JOY. It is practically time for us to walk about Jerusalem telling our joys abroad.

3 Donald January 9, 2013 at 4:20 pm

“Biblical theology is primary over systematic theology. As you study scripture, do not let your systematic principles overwhelm your exegesis, but let your exegesis inform your system, even if that system has to be adjusted.”

Yes! Brilliant post, David.

4 Ken Hamrick January 9, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Dave,

The Bible is (at least to us) a “messy Book” as you say. But the truth is not messy or inconsistent or self-contradictory. So while the Bible is not a book of systematic theology, the Bible is the Book of truth, and that truth is indeed systematic. The fact that God left it to us to dig and study and work to find how that truth systematically fits together is no reason to neglect such a task or disparage it

I disagree that “Biblical theology is primary over systematic theology.” If we held only to Biblical theology, we would be an Arminian while reading some verses and a Calvinist while reading others. And truth be told, there really can be no purely Biblical theology since presuppositions are unavoidable. Not only that, but there can be no accurate understanding of any text of Scripture that is free of systematic presuppositions—exactly for the reasons you presented (because the Bible is a “messy Book”). You are right that every system has some problem passages that must be understood in a way that does not accord with the easiest, plainest understanding. However, since we know that God does not contradict Himself, then we know that such “nuanced” understandings are intended in some cases, and it is our responsibility to find out where and what they mean.

Also, there is currently a radical change in thought being propagated, which is destructive to the truth. It is the ever more popular idea, even within the SBC, that the truths in Scripture are so far beyond our understanding that no one can have any credible assurance that their view on any doctrine is the accurate and correct view. That removes the burden to present a Scriptural, well-reasoned argument in order to validate one’s view. One’s view is deemed valid merely because one holds it (or those on a list hold it with you), and validity has nothing any more to do with actually having systematically established the view as comparatively strong and reliable. Therefore, the tools of the Church for millennia—reasonable debate and systematic theology–are denigrated as divisive and flawed.

5 Truth Unites... and Divides January 9, 2013 at 5:24 pm

“That removes the burden to present a Scriptural, well-reasoned argument in order to validate one’s view. One’s view is deemed valid merely because one holds it (or those on a list hold it with you), and validity has nothing any more to do with actually having systematically established the view as comparatively strong and reliable. Therefore, the tools of the Church for millennia—reasonable debate and systematic theology–are denigrated as divisive and flawed.”

Objection sustained.

6 Donald January 9, 2013 at 5:33 pm

“I disagree that “Biblical theology is primary over systematic theology.” If we held only to Biblical theology…”

Is anyone is suggesting that we abandon systematic theology? Of course not, but our exegesis must inform out theology rather than our theology informing our exegesis.

7 Ken Hamrick January 9, 2013 at 5:36 pm

They both work together, equally influenced by the other.

8 Dave Miller January 9, 2013 at 5:39 pm

I do not agree. The primary influence should be exegetical. It is dangerous to let your system govern your exegesis.

If we believe in the Spiritual unity of the Bible, then we ought to be able to trust exegesis to provide truth without having to superimpose our systems.

Honestly, I think those who oppose the primacy of biblical theology may be doing so because they hold too tightly to the precious systems.

9 Ken Hamrick January 9, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Dave,

I think that those who insist that the primary influence is exegetical are blind to their own presuppositional influences.

Can it be that we are talking past one another? If by exegetical influence, you mean that exegesis provides a certain number of possible, viable, plausible, valid meanings from which we select one of those based on our systematic concerns, then I would agree.

10 Donald January 9, 2013 at 5:43 pm

That Ken, is the difference.

11 Dave Miller January 9, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Ken said, “Also, there is currently a radical change in thought being propagated, which is destructive to the truth. It is the ever more popular idea, even within the SBC, that the truths in Scripture are so far beyond our understanding that no one can have any credible assurance that their view on any doctrine is the accurate and correct view.”

I agree with him there and almost added a paragraph to that effect when writing the post, but decided against it.

12 dr. james willingham January 10, 2013 at 12:08 am

There is a great deal of truth in your statement and in Ken’s. It is like the fellow who thought the mountain stream was only 2-3 feet deep, because he could see the grains of sand rolling along the bottom. He almost drowned in 18-20 feet of water. The clarity or perspicuity is a problem for us as we lack depth perception. We are exceedingly hard pressed to grasp the greatness of God in His revelation of Himself. There is a definite strain on the brain, on the whole person, in seeking to get at the truth of Scripture. Man suffers from spiritual myopia. Seems the Lord has to delay our introduction to truth or, really, vice versa due to a need for us to come to some sort of stage in life and spirit where we can see the truth in all of its glory…sort of like seeing pilot knob (the mountain after which my first church was named. From the East and South, the view was not much. Even the West was not all that much until one was up close. But coming down from the North, the way settlers would have come down the Gasconade River, one could see why they called it Pilot Knob. So it is with the word of God. We have to reach some place, some age-stage spiritually before we can really see the glory of the truth involved.

13 Randall Cofield January 9, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Biblical theology is primary over systematic theology. As you study scripture, do not let your systematic principles overwhelm your exegesis, but let your exegesis inform your system, even if that system has to be adjusted.

I certainly agree that our Biblical theology must have primacy over our systematics. And that is one tough nut to crack.

I might add this caveat: A sound Biblical theology will yield a logically consistent–albeit imperfect–systematic theology.

The propositional truths of God’s self-revelation do not ignore point/counter-point logic, nor are they utterly resistant to systematic categorization, else God is nonsensical.

We know He ain’t….

Seems like every time I or one of my “ilk” (you know who you are) comments on a certain site that shall remain unnamed, he gets smacked over the head with the “Augustinian/Calvinist grid” stick. What we’re talking about here is hermeneutics, though I wonder if most who use the “grid” stick understand that.

Hermeneutics/Systematics are like rectums. Everybody has one. It seems to me it’s time that a certain group in the SBC (who shall remain unnamed) owned-up to this fact.

This group rejects with prejudice any attempt to label their hermeneutic (who can forget the caterwauling over the labels “Semi-Pelagian” and “Arminian”?).

At best, this group seems to be claiming a vague, unnameable hermeneutic that somehow existed in the dark, foggy past, began congealing in the early 20th century, came to full-bloom in the last 40-50 years, and is now the standard simply because it is the “majority” hermeneutic in the SBC (a claim I categorically reject, but that’s another book).

If any of this unnamed group should stumble upon my comment, could you delineate precisely what hermeneutic you guys are using? I genuinely would like to know.

Sorry for the sarcasm, but I’m tired of being whacked over the head with the hermeneutic stick, only to have those of this “unnamed” group claim such sticks don’t exist in their version of theological reality…

In deference to my brother Dave’s revulsion toward emoticons, I’ve not used any here. But, if it helps, know that I smiled while typing….

Dave, if you feel this post exceeds the bounds of propriety, I will certainly not take offense should you delete it. Nor will I use davemillerisajerk@gmail.com (or whatever it is) to vent my spleen.

Peace, brethren and sistern…

14 Donald January 9, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Randall,
When I studied Hermenutics under dr. Danny Akin, he did not teach us a particular system. We learned tools. If you know what Dr. Akin’s hermeneutics is called, then please let me know also…

15 Randall Cofield January 9, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Donald,

They’re like…um…noses. Everybody has one…

It’s the set of presuppositions that govern how we approach the text.

Are you one of the “unnamed”?

Possibly the no-last-name Donald who posts regularly at the site that shall remain unnamed?

(emoticon inserted, then expurgated)

16 Donald January 9, 2013 at 6:59 pm

“They’re like…um…noses. Everybody has one…”

Randall, you must be one smart guy. So, help a brother out here. Let’s say I subscribe to exactly what I was taught at SEBTS under Dr. Akin, and let’s say I apply his exact hermeneutic. What would you call it?

BTW, if my sporadic posting is considered “regular” then that label surprises me too.

17 Randall Cofield January 9, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Donald,

Well, I’d have to sit in his class a few times to tell you his “exact” hermeneutic.

But I know from reading Dr. Akin and reading your posts that you don’t have the same hermeneutic. Is that helpful?

All kidding aside, Donald. Surely you don’t presume it is possible to come to the text without presuppositions. Do you?

Brother, I didn’t mean anything derogatory by asking if you were the Donald who posted “regularly” over at the unnamed site…Might have been poking a wee bit of fun at the no last name though…

Peace, brother

18 Donald January 9, 2013 at 8:23 pm

“But I know from reading Dr. Akin and reading your posts that you don’t have the same hermeneutic. Is that helpful?”

Maybe a bit funny, not helpful.

“Surely you don’t presume it is possible to come to the text without presuppositions. Do you?”

No. But our presuppositions must be more axiomatic and less conclusional (is that a word?). Our Hermeneutical axioms could be, for example, the affirmations and denials of the Chicago Statement. Dispensational (or Reformed) Dogma, on the other hand, should not be a hermeneutical axiom.

Moises Silva makes you case in “Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning”. Of particular interest is his chapter on “The Case for Calvinistic Hermeneutics” where he declares that “proper exegesis should be informed by theological reflection. To put it in the most shocking way possible: my theological system should tell me how to exegete”

I disagree. My exegesis should inform my theology. This is the difference between an inductive approach and a deductive approach. The details of the text will not contradict the larger context of the text. But, an error in theology can force a meaning on the text that the author never intended.

19 Randall Cofield January 9, 2013 at 11:22 pm

Donald,

Brother, if you believe Silva “makes [my] case for [me]” you misunderstood my post.

BTW, I notice that you now do have a hermeneutic after all…

(he winks while typing)

20 Donald January 10, 2013 at 12:26 am

“BTW, I notice that you now do have a hermeneutic after all…

(he winks while typing)”

Yes, that’s what I said when I talked about “tools”. You got a name for it yet?

21 Donald January 10, 2013 at 12:28 am

BTW, yes I misunderstood your post. I somehow got you mixed up with Ken. Mucho apologies, I was arguing a point you were not making.

22 Randall Cofield January 10, 2013 at 1:56 am

Donald,

Yes, that’s what I said when I talked about “tools”. You got a name for it yet?

I don’t. If, however, you could articulate your hermeneutic I might be able to draw a bead on it…

BTW, yes I misunderstood your post. I somehow got you mixed up with Ken. Mucho apologies, I was arguing a point you were not making.

No problemo here, brother.

Now, getting Ken to forgive you for mixing me up with him might be another story…

Irresistible Grace to you, Donald…

23 Dave Miller January 9, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Everybody has one? Really?

That comment left me shaking my head!!

24 Randall Cofield January 9, 2013 at 5:56 pm

I’m sorry. Was that too…earthy?

25 Dave Miller January 9, 2013 at 6:11 pm

I was just scratching my head trying to figure out what on earth you meant!

26 Randall Cofield January 9, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Ha! Don’t over-think it. Just a cleaned-up version of a common anatomical reference where I’m from…

Like a hermeneutic, everybody has one.

Some even are one…

This emoticonless thing is…difficult for me…

27 Adam G. in NC January 9, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Isnt this kinduva post-modernist critique?

28 Dave Miller January 9, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Are you talking about my article or someone’s response?

I’m certainly NOT advocating post-modernism. I am saying that the meaning of the text, not someone’s theological system, should drive interpretation. I am arguing for authorial intent as the starting place of theology (not its end, just the start).

29 Ken Hamrick January 9, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Dave,

I think you meant to say, “I’m certainly NOT advocating post-modernism.”

30 Dave Miller January 9, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Yep. Made that edit. Thanks.

31 John Wylie January 9, 2013 at 5:41 pm

I absolutely love this blog article. While I think we all hold some form of systematic theology we all have one thing in common, all our paradigms are flawed. It is incumbent on us to submit our systems to the correction of the scriptures.

32 Ken Hamrick January 9, 2013 at 6:17 pm

John,

It is too simplistic to say that we need to submit our systems to the correction of Scripture when our paradigms were built from our understanding of those Scriptures.

33 John Wylie January 9, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Wow thanks Ken for letting me know my comment is “too simplistic”.

34 Ken Hamrick January 9, 2013 at 6:21 pm

John,

I’m sorry—that didn’t sound as I intended it.

35 John Wylie January 9, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Ken,

I’m sorry too, I just took it the wrong way.

36 Ken Hamrick January 9, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Be blessed, Brother John!

37 John Wylie January 9, 2013 at 6:35 pm

You too brother.

38 Ken Hamrick January 9, 2013 at 6:20 pm

What we should be submitting our paradigms to is the scrutiny of well-reasoned debate from Scripture, with others who can press us on our weak areas.

39 Truth Unites... and Divides January 9, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Suppose a theological system has within it that the 66 Books of Scripture are inerrant along with a subscription to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy as its well-qualified definition on the concept and term inerrancy.

Anything wrong or dangerous with that?

40 Dave Miller January 9, 2013 at 6:35 pm

That’s not really an interpretational system. That is more of a doctrinal confession.

41 Truth Unites... and Divides January 9, 2013 at 6:43 pm

(CSBI) Inerrancy (or a repudiation of inerrancy) is a key component of an interpretational system, yes?

42 Truth Unites... and Divides January 9, 2013 at 6:40 pm

(CSBI) Inerrancy (or a repudiation of inerrancy) is a key component of an interpretational system, yes?

43 volfan007 January 9, 2013 at 6:43 pm

I try my best to just be a Biblicist, and not be sold out to any system. I know that some people have blasted me in the past for saying this, but it is the truth. And, I do believe that some people have to do gymnastics with the Scriptures in order to make the Bible fit thier system.

David

44 John Wylie January 9, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Surely Vol you have some sort of a doctrinal system. Are you dispensational in your thinking? Do you believe in a literal future antichrist and tribulation?

45 volfan007 January 9, 2013 at 6:54 pm

John,

I do not let a “system” dominate my views of Scripture. I do not try to make the Bible “fit” into any system. I just try to believe the Bible.

Yes, I do believe there will be a literal, future antichrist and tribulation. But, am I a Dispensationalist? No. I disagree with them on many things. I also am not a Covenant guy, either.

David

46 Ken Hamrick January 9, 2013 at 6:59 pm

David,

Have you given up on ever being able to understand the truth as God intended it to be understood? Are you resigned to inconsistency and contradiction, or are you resigned to uncertainty when it comes to the meaning of Scripture? The opposite of these things is system, whether it is called that or not.

47 Randall Cofield January 9, 2013 at 7:42 pm

Volfan007,

I try my best to just be a Biblicist,…

I would hope we all strive for that.

And, I do believe that some people have to do gymnastics with the Scriptures in order to make the Bible fit thier system.

You’re not fixin’ to smack me over the head with the “Augustinian/Calvinist grid” stick, and then pretend like you don’t have a “grid,” are you?

(You will have had to have read my post above to appreciate that question.)

48 David (NAS) Rogers January 9, 2013 at 6:56 pm

I suggest a corrective to Solution item 2

“2) Focus on book by book, verse by verse exposition.”

Focus on book by book, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, pericope/discourse by pericope/discourse exposition.

Versification is not original to the text, and it inserts a subtle and unconscious interpretive sectioning that may interrupt the flow of what the author is communicating. I suggest that sometimes versification individualizes and separates phrases and clauses from the whole semantic of the sentence and paragraph and thus adds to a tendency in some to make each individual verse into a proverbial promise from God rather than a flow of meaning set in context within a paragraph.

49 Dave Miller January 9, 2013 at 10:43 pm

Okay. Picky point taken!

You’ve heard, I’m sure, the old legend that the man who put the verse and chapter divisions was riding on the back of a bumpy horse as he did it.

50 David (NAS) Rogers January 10, 2013 at 10:28 am

I knew that it might appear picky, but I actually intend it to be something that preachers pay serious attention. When I preach I try to use the term “sentence(s),” but sometimes I fall into poor habits. Also, if I project a Bible passage I also make sure it is formatted according to punctuation. I firmly believe that form and content shape meaning. I also believe that preacher expressions shape layperson reading habits and understandings.

51 Dave Miller January 10, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I really do agree with you. Verse by verse is just a phrase used to describe going through the Bible in a systematic way.

But you are right that it is important to go in thought units, not artificially constructed chapters and verses.

I was teasing, and that may not have come across in the note – due to the fact that I refuse to use emoticons.

52 Greg Buchanan January 10, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Dave -

Had he known, I think the Apostle Paul would have said:

To those who use emoticons, I used emoticons to win those who used emoticons. I Cor 21.1

:)

53 Dave Miller January 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm

That is heresy. I am aghast! Horrified. Nauseated!

54 Dave Miller January 10, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Some things are so evil (ie emoticons) that we cannot use them for good.

“What fellowship does the light have with the darkness?”

55 Greg Buchanan January 10, 2013 at 1:04 pm

L:)L

56 Greg Buchanan January 10, 2013 at 1:05 pm

oops…. I meant
L :) L

57 David (NAS) Rogers January 11, 2013 at 3:17 pm

I knew you were teasing. I was just adding some thoughts. I’m teaching a course on interpretation to some people in our association, and so I have interpretation issues on the brain.

Blessings.

58 dr. james willingham January 10, 2013 at 12:24 am

When I outlined four or five books of systematic theology in preparation for my ordination, I did not think much of the works, However, I was impressed with remarks here and there, comments by disciplined minds. Later, I would discover how helpful or distracting such remarks were, when I got into exegeting texts. Interesting enough, I found that going with the simply meaning of the words used was the best way to get at the meaning. Take, for example, the idea of total depravity and, more particularly, the idea of total inability. It was the simple mean of can as referring to ability that helped me to grasp that Jesus taught spiritual inability as in “no man can come to me.” The Sandy Creek folks used the term “impotent” to describe that inability which is apparently a pretty exacting tern for conveying the lack of power to come to Christ as it is expressed in the Greek dunamis, the lack of ability or the inability. Only God can supply man’s lack, and the man with the demon possessed son put it so well, “Help mine unbelief.” That’s short hand for help me over come my inability to believe and trust in you cause even my believing is an insult to you..as he added, “if you can do anything” just prior to claiming to believe. Our Lord is quite clear in Mk.10 that what He asked of the Rich Young Ruler was really impossible for that individual to perform. What our Lord offers is a paradox, a therapeutic paradox, the mystery of the Gospel, a theology of depth for a situation of desperation. When we begin to grasp the realities of biblical theology, we will be on the verge of the Third Great Awakening for which many have been praying for many years. If I live until this Fall, I will have been praying for this visitation for 40 years. I understand D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones prayed for revival all during his ministry, but as we know never lived to see it. The folks who cried for God’s blessed visitation during the Dark Ages did not live to see what happened as a result of a 1000 years of prayers…Our Lord said it so well, about avenging His elect who cry unto Him day and night.

59 Robert Vaughn January 10, 2013 at 10:01 am

Dave, I really appreciate this post. I’ve written about systematic theology on my blog several times. I often get a strong push back against what I write.

Within the misuse of systematic theology, we often operate as if we’re trying to win a debate rather than trying to understand the Word of God. When we don’t know what a particular text or paragraph or word means, there is no ultimatum that says we have to make it mean something that fits neatly into our system. It is OK to say, “I don’t know what this means or how it fits in with the rest of what I believe.”

We like for everything to come in nice neat packages, but God is His wisdom and sovereignty did not package the Bible that way.

60 Greg Harvey January 10, 2013 at 10:07 am

Jesus is the revelation of God to man and is the key source of systemic understanding of God’s thoughts. The Bible is the container of revelation that includes both prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus (so we can trust his introduction into history when it happens in the story) and interpretation by human authors–with divine inspiration from the Holy Spirit but not direct control of the quill–of not just Jesus but the broad story of God’s intentional (and therefore revelatory) interaction with people.

But I found your closing–and therefore summary point–on humility to be the foundational advice for the entire blog. Without humility we tend to turn the Bible into a Rorschach ink blot test of our own poor thinking in an extended effort to justify our insecurity. With humility we can overcome that thought process–heavily depending on prayer to motivate the humility just like the writers of the Bible practiced humility and permitted the Holy Spirit to work through them–and every reading of the Bible from age 4-7 to 107 becomes an a-ha moment because we seek to understand God and not to hide him behind our own thoughts or the thoughts that others have taught us.

It’s why I am an adherent to the doctrines of grace soterioligically but I don’t teach them in Sunday School when I teach: the Bible is the textbook and the doctrines of grace don’t neatly pop out of any passage. In a sense the theological system is merely Cliff Notes for our understanding if we’re thorough, honest, and humble in our thinking. No student should ever depend on the Cliff Notes. Every student should read the Book.

61 parsonsmike January 10, 2013 at 10:21 am

Robert said,

“Within the misuse of systematic theology, we often operate as if we’re trying to win a debate rather than trying to understand the Word of God.”

yes.
And maybe to add a little, we are trying to understand God and Him as Triune and truth and life and ourselves.

62 Robert Vaughn January 12, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Good reminder, Mike. We are not just trying to understand the Bible, but trying to understand God through His revelation of Himself.

63 Jim Pemberton January 10, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Dave,
I like your solutions, but I think the identification of the problem is a little off.

“If God wanted us to approach theology with radically organized theological systems, then he ought to have given us a Bible that is more systematic. It just isn’t.”

The organization of the Bible is related to its teleological epistemology. In other words, we can functionally know its true in part because God rooted his revelation to us in a relatively verifiable historical narrative. However, that doesn’t mitigate the logical ontology of the facts as a systematic whole that doesn’t resemble the means by which it was communicated to us.

The more accurate problem is that we tend to narrow our system of categorizing relationships between theological facts to systems that still need development, or to one system that needs to be complemented by another. Let me give you a simplified analogy:

We can list categories of M&Ms. A couple of obvious ones come to mind: One is by color and another is by type. So you might have red or green M&Ms. But those red or green M&Ms can also be cross-classified as plain, or with nuts, pretzels, etc. We don’t of think of it, but if you look on a package you might be able to find a lot number. That’s a third way of categorizing M&Ms that’s important, but not in a way that’s immediately apparent to most people.

Now I’ve never worked for the M&M people, but I’m going to conjecture a possible quality test that could be used to categorize M&Ms in a way that few would dream of. I’m in manufacturing and I have some idea the thought to goes into inspecting product for quality. Let’s say there is a size tolerance for M&Ms where they must be within a few microns of a given diameter. Let’s say that the difference in the red pigment and green pigment causes one to typically be larger than the other. Although barely perceptible to the human eye it makes a difference to the overall dimensions of the M&Ms each are applied to. Let’s say that the green ends up being thicker and the red ends up being thinner. If I see a red M&M, I’d conclude that it’s more likely to be too small. if I see a green one, I’d conclude that it’s likely to be too large. Perhaps a sample of this demonstrates that such a conclusion is true. However, the underlying chocolate disk for the M&Ms can vary in size as well and sometimes I have green ones that are too small and red ones that are too large. It might be practical to test the red one’s first for being too small using a go/no-go gague, but sometimes I’d have to test them for being too large.

Now, most people wouldn’t care one way or the other. But if the cost of manufacturing is tied to the quantity of material in each item, I need to have accurate quality testing to ensure that each product falls within an acceptable range. If I find the product to be off target, I need to tweak the M&M-making machines.

The point is that we often need more categories than what we use in order to effectively function. Too often we apply rudimentary categorical systems in a less-than-helpful way. Our hermeneutic is informed by our system of theology. We can’t do exegesis without such a system of theology. Foundational to both is our desire to refine our thinking, just like the M&M machine needs to be tweaked in my simple analogy.

So we need theological systems. That’s where we forge our categories for exegesis. But we always need to refine both.

64 Truth Unites... and Divides January 10, 2013 at 7:12 pm

“Our hermeneutic is informed by our system of theology. We can’t do exegesis without such a system of theology.”

Well done, Jim.

A virtuous circle. Or a vicious circle, as the case may be.

65 Jim Pemberton January 11, 2013 at 1:03 am

You’re absolutely right, TUAD. It can be either virtuous or viscious, and it’s often both.

I just think of studying historic theologians or theological systems and the relationship between theology and hermeneutic. For example, the first system of hermeneutics I learned was dispensational. When I studied Luther in depth, I learned how his hermeneutic differed from the dispensational hermeneutic I had learned previously and how that was influenced by his former theology and affected his later theology. At the time I was also learning a more developed Reformed hermeneutic. You can’t separate the hermeneutic from the theology.

It requires discernment to understand where one’s own eisegesis poisons the system so it can be replaced by something more biblically informed. That takes humility as Dave rightfully points out. The goal is to refine one’s hermeneutic so that as that hermeneutic is consistently applied to scripture a consistent theology is developed. Where inconsistencies are found, refinements must be made. It would take many lifetimes, so I doubt any of us will be done refining on this side of the grave (although I wonder if someone like D A Carson isn’t very close).

66 Ken Hamrick January 11, 2013 at 8:53 am

Thank you, Jim. Your last two posts stated it much better than I could. One wouldn’t think of trying to exegete a sentence without being informed by the immediate context, so why do so many seem to want exegesis to not be informed by the greater context of the whole of Scripture? One’s system is simply how one holds the context of the whole of Scripture in one’s thinking in such a way as to be without inconsistency or contradiction. I like how you explained it.

67 Donald January 11, 2013 at 1:31 pm

“One’s system is simply how one holds the context of the whole of Scripture in one’s thinking in such a way as to be without inconsistency or contradiction.” – Ken Hamrick

“If two biblical doctrines humanly appear to be in contradiction, (like human freedom/predestination) we must accept both (antinomy or compatibilism).” – Dr. Danny Akin

Dr. Akin shows us one example of where a system of theology can lead to error, as truth can only be accepted that fits within your personal limits of logic/philosophy.

68 Jim Pemberton January 11, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Donald, there’s a difference between actually being contradictory and merely appearing to be contradictory.

69 Dave Miller January 11, 2013 at 2:44 pm

And there is a difference between what God knows and humans can understand.

God’s nature is beyond human understanding.

70 Donald January 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm

“Donald, there’s a difference between actually being contradictory and merely appearing to be contradictory.”

While your statement is surely true, I’m not finding it particularly insightful. I think you are perhaps making an obvious point that I am simply missing. Perhaps you can flesh it out for me a bit.

71 Jim Pemberton January 11, 2013 at 3:36 pm

That would make a decent example, Dave:

Isaiah 55:6-9 and Isaiah 43:10 is tempered by Isaiah 58. (Jeremiah also touched on this in chapter 31:31-34.)

Even Is 55:6 should temper Is 55:8-9. What can we seek that we can’t know? But God has revealed to us many things about himself that we can indeed understand. Some argue that we cannot understand God at all because abuses similar to those in Is 58. However, and I like the way Jeremiah puts it, that we won’t have to say “‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me.” This means that we have a standard for knowing God that we can all understand. So we find that the contradiction of those who claim we cannot understand God at all from passages like Is 55 with the passages that say we should know God, like Is 43, is merely an apparent contradiction.

72 Jim Pemberton January 11, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Donald,

Ken seemed to understand that my comments regarded apparent contradictions. Your contention regarded actual contradictions. You can’t judge one categorical system from the standpoint of another categorical system. That’s what’s called a category error. It’s an example of what I addressed in my original comment.

A system of theology cannot be categorically judged from another system of theology. I see it all the time in the Reformed theology debate and frankly it’s irritating. This is usually what is happening when people realize that they are “talking past one another”. We should recognize how the different systems of theology interact with the different hermenutical principles that support them. The problem is that most of the people I see don’t even understand how their own system is polluted by popular philosophies. They aren’t up to the exercise. But the issue is that we think the categories that we use to understand things are the only categories that are in play. Going back to my M&M analogy, it’s like talking about the problem with red or green M&Ms when the problem is with M&Ms that are too large or too small.

73 Donald January 11, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Well, Jim, you certainly make some bold statements. I must not be up to the task, similar to the untold numbers of us that you encounter as we dare speak on Reformed Theology. Sorry to be an irritation. Maybe you can help me get up to speed. Is there a book I can read that would explain your thoughts on this matter? If not, have you started writing it yet?

You said “Ken seemed to understand that my comments regarded apparent contradictions. Your contention regarded actual contradictions.” Now, I suspected that you and I would have different ideas as to “real” and “apparent”, which is why I asked for a clarification. Once again, I’ll need you to spell it out for me as how my contention regards actual contradictions.

Perhaps you can also walk me through your journey, so I can better understand how you have come to a level of enlightenment beyond that of the (insert name of credible theologian)’s of the world. And seemingly beyond ‘most of the people you see’, according to your words.

Oddly, the word “Hubris” comes to my mind, when I really want to give you the benefit of the doubt.

74 Ken Hamrick January 11, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Donald,

You stated:

“If two biblical doctrines humanly appear to be in contradiction, (like human freedom/predestination) we must accept both (antinomy or compatibilism).” – Dr. Danny Akin

Dr. Akin shows us one example of where a system of theology can lead to error, as truth can only be accepted that fits within your personal limits of logic/philosophy.

As a Baptist centrist/compatibilist, I agree with this. But compatibilism/antinomy are not wildcards to be used with every difficult issue. Rather, they are used only when a systematic study of the whole of Scripture results in the conclusion that both sides are indeed true.

But what about those issues where a study of the whole of Scripture does NOT yield a conclusion that both sides are true, even though several passages—when exegeted strictly according to their immediate context—-do support the side that is not true? Sometimes (and on some issues) neither the verse itself nor its immediate context can determine the real meaning, and the whole of Scripture must be brought to bear in order to arrive at the correct understanding.

For example, we Southern Baptists are firm in our conviction that salvation cannot be lost. However, we should be willing to admit that the prooftexts offered in support of losing salvation present a stronger case for them than for us if the whole of Scripture is not systematically considered when exegeting these passages.

75 Jim Pemberton January 11, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Donald,

“Sorry to be an irritation.”

No. I intended it as a broad statement not directed to anyone in particular. I should apologize to you for not being clearer about that.

Is there a book I can read that would explain your thoughts on this matter? If not, have you started writing it yet?

There are no books that I know of that talk about these things and I don’t plan on writing a book. Really, I’m a nobody. It’s not that I don’t know anything, but I don’t have enough credentials to tie Dave Miller’s shoes much less put my name on a book. I just study on my own and try to put my thoughts out there so they have to face some scrutiny from somebody.

“Once again, I’ll need you to spell it out for me as how my contention regards actual contradictions.”

Let’s look at a couple of key statements made:

Me: ”Where inconsistencies are found, refinements must be made.”

The inconsistencies I was referring to were apparent inconsistencies. That’s why the system by which one arrives at the inconsistency needs to be refined – changed in some way to account for it so that it can be applied consistently.

Ken: ”One’s system is simply how one holds the context of the whole of Scripture in one’s thinking in such a way as to be without inconsistency or contradiction. I like how you explained it.”

Ken’s statement of agreement is backed up with a summary of what I said in his own words. It seems to me that his agreement is in accordance with an accurate assessment of what I was trying to say.

You: ”Dr. Akin shows us one example of where a system of theology can lead to error, as truth can only be accepted that fits within your personal limits of logic/philosophy.”

Dr. Akin’s quote is in line with what Ken and I are talking about, but unless I misunderstood what you wrote, you are criticizing Ken’s summary of what I said as disagreeing with Dr. Akin as an argument for the larger contention that we shouldn’t have systems of theology. What you wrote actually doesn’t seem to follow what you quoted, but I was giving you the benefit of the doubt in trying to ascertain your meaning. Dr Akin’s quote doesn’t contain an example. As it is, with no context, it’s a pithy aphorism not unlike what I often write. But if truth can only be accepted within personal limits (I’m assuming you mean without modification of those limits), then you must be accusing Ken and I of not modifying those limits. So your system of categorization must hold that the system of categorization of Ken and I must contain actual contradictions because you believe we won’t account for them. Now, I might have misunderstood your contention. You are certainly welcome to clarify it for my benefit.

Hubris? Now that’s simply unkind after this snarky comment:

“Perhaps you can also walk me through your journey, so I can better understand how you have come to a level of enlightenment beyond that of the (insert name of credible theologian)’s of the world.”

The fact is I am exceptionally intelligent. But it’s not arrogant to confess one’s gifts. It’s like saying “I sing well” or “I’m gifted in leadership.” That certainly doesn’t mean I know everything and my desire is to know God better and make him known. Otherwise, I should just stop studying his revelation. But I’ve been the first to confess that my exceptional intelligence is largely a worthless gift. Apparently it’s no good unless I agree with people who seem to already have something figured out or have achieved certain diplomas that give them special status in life. I’m a worthless nobody and I try to do what I can according to the power of God so that he gets the glory. That’s my heart. Pride? I’m a sinner. I have nothing to be proud of. Anything good an worthy in my life can be summed up in three words: God did it.

76 Truth Unites... and Divides January 11, 2013 at 6:02 pm

“The fact is I am exceptionally intelligent.”

On occasion I have helped others with my gifts of intelligence as well.

Therefore, P-K4. Bring it on, Jimbo!

;-)

P.S. As an example of what I consider a vicious circle: Egalitarian/Feminist Theology and the (bad) hermeneutics therein. Likewise, Gay Theology and the (bad) hermeneutics therein.

Agree with me, exceptionally intelligent Jimbo Pembo?

77 Jim Pemberton January 11, 2013 at 6:09 pm

TUAD, you make me laugh, brother. “Pembo” brings back memories of my active duty Marine Corps days. I still call myself “Pembie” when I’m fussing at myself for doing something stupid.

Regarding those vicious circles, I agree wholeheartedly. Not only vicious, but villainous.

78 Donald January 11, 2013 at 7:07 pm

“Apparently it’s no good unless I agree with people who seem to already have something figured out or have achieved certain diplomas that give them special status in life.”

First, I did intend to be snarky and I do appreciate your response.

Now, as to this comment. There is an issue of credibility. I don’t know you, and the pithy nature of blog posts doesn’t really allow for the type of exchange that will get me up to speed on your understanding of scripture. I am having issues with your nomenclature, so you will understand how much more so I have issues with your argument.

I do not doubt your intelligence, but take a quick look around at your next Mensa meeting and you will see that intelligence does not equal ability – at really much of anything. The fact that someone would pay $70 a year to be able to say that they’re smart does bring some doubt to the whole process.

I WAS contesting Ken’s statement that he can hold “the context of the whole of Scripture in one’s thinking in such a way as to be without inconsistency or contradiction” by the logical fallacy of an appeal to authority. I do admit to some confusion to my post, as it seems that I might have left off a paragraph – somewhere in the middle. We can give handy names to these seeming conflicting statements in scripture to make it easier to communicate (among those who agree at least) but we must never let a theological inference take the place of the text itself. We have to know that our inferences are not inspired.

Well, I’m not a genius -But- I am well-trained. When I read the typical Reformed apologetic of 1 John 2:1-2 (as an example), I cringe at the forcing of limited atonement on those words. This requires too much of an ‘explanation’ to make the words mean something different than they seem to mean. I cannot categorize that thought process outside of it being simple deductive eisegesis. It certainly “appears” to be the forcing of a fallible logical/philosophical conclusion on the text. Now, you can call your personal fallible logical/philosophical conclusion by other names (e.g. “an understanding of the mega-context of scripture”) but it is still fallible and subject to an inductive understanding of the text. In other words – Biblical Theology comes first and Systematic Theology comes later. When we must adjust our theology, the text always wins.

Note: there is no need to repeat the 1 John 2 arguments here; we are all very familiar with them.

79 Donald January 11, 2013 at 7:18 pm

“For example, we Southern Baptists are firm in our conviction that salvation cannot be lost. However, we should be willing to admit that the prooftexts offered in support of losing salvation present a stronger case for them than for us if the whole of Scripture is not systematically considered when exegeting these passages.”

Ken, I do not agree. Perhaps I have not considered a particularly compelling proof text for losing salvation. I assume that you are saying that these texts are “stronger” when understood as part of the subject/theme being discussed in the text itself, but are in fact not saying what the words seem to mean…and this can only being known when considered under the mega-subject of your particular logical/philosophical system. Can you give me such and example?

80 Jim Pemberton January 14, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Donald,

“…take a quick look around at your next Mensa meeting and you will see that intelligence does not equal ability – at really much of anything. The fact that someone would pay $70 a year to be able to say that they’re smart does bring some doubt to the whole process.”

I’ve never been inclined to join Mensa and don’t know any mensans so I don’t have any personal knowledge of the character of the typical member. I’m glad you do so you can give good pastoral counsel regarding the character of such individuals. I’m also glad you are honest enough to agree with me regarding my functional lack of value. (I’m also glad for those who know that I have struggled with clinical depression who seek to offer a word of encouragement.)

But I find it better to approach the throne of God from a point of weakness and brokenness rather than to exult myself. That means that I must be honest about my considerations so that I have no false humility, but recognize the areas where I sin and beg God for mercy know his promises. But pride is often borne by those who lack something as much as those who have something. So the one who lacks exults what he does have as being superior, when neither are worth anything apart from the work of God.

You mention credibility. A degree from a reputable institution certainly helps provide that. Paul gave the short list of his credentials to the Philippians and said that he counted it as loss for the sake of Christ. To the Corinthians he wanted his speech to not be “in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit” so that their faith “might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” And so God has denied me the ability to administer my own gifts, but only through another, so that I will not be exulted by my own credibility but the truth of God will stand on its own.

Thanks for your clarification. One thing: You wrote, “When we must adjust our theology, the text always wins.” I agree with this as a larger principle, but it depends on the perspicuity of the passage. One hermeneutical principle which all good systems seem to share says that clearer passages are used to interpret less clear passages. You can’t do that unless you have a system for understanding how the passages are the same and how they differ. For example, Jesus’ statement regarding the bread, “This is my body…” quoted in multiple passages. Martin Luther thought that this should be taken literally. We Baptists think it should be taken figuratively. The difference is the system by which we use a system based on other passages – no single passage results in a conclusive determination in the matter. Martin Luther wasn’t simply a rank literalist. He interpreted what Jesus said in the unforgivable sin passages to be figurative, for example. We Baptists are the same. We understand “baptisma” to mean that we should literally immerse someone (scholarship differences on the Greek usage aside) when performing the ordinance. So we must use one system or another to apply multiple associated hermeneutical principles in the exegesis of passages.

81 Donald January 14, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Jim,
The more we chat the less I have to disagree. I appreciate your comments.

82 Donald January 11, 2013 at 12:41 am

“Our hermeneutic is informed by our system of theology. We can’t do exegesis without such a system of theology.”

When we speak in over-generalized and poorly defined terms (e.g. system of theology) we can speak past each other. When I decry the use of a “system of theology” I see the all-too-common error of running roughshod over text that doesn’t seem to really fit the system. I am confident that it is my pre-salvation training that is rearing its head here, but I see theology as a model that tries to explain what we observe in scripture – think science here. And much like science, we develop these paradigms that are almost beyond question. For a modern scientist these would include theories on the age of the cosmos, the development of species, etc… While I was in NC, an NC State professor was in the field and due to transport issues had to saw the thighbone of a T-Rex in half. Lo and behold, they found soft tissue that was not contaminated by preservatives, since such had not yet been applied. When asked how this affected his understanding of fossilization there was no room in his “model” to consider any possibility other than what had already been accepted. You see, instead of challenging his paradigm by the evidence, he only attempted to fit the evidence to his paradigm. This is what we do, when the evidence (i.e. the text) challenges our system of theology.

The real problem comes in when one’s system of theology becomes “the gospel” instead of being understood as a fallible model that is attempting to explain what is not directly said.

As we study, our desire must be to uncover the intent of the inspired human author – without consideration as to how it fits into a fallible logical/philosophical system.

83 Frank L. January 11, 2013 at 3:37 pm

“”And there is a difference between what God knows and humans can understand.

God’s nature is beyond human understanding.””

Dave, it appears to me that this is really at the crux of every theological debate on Voices.

All such debates are exercising our ignorance.

84 Dave Miller January 11, 2013 at 3:53 pm

I wouldn’t say all of them. There is that which God reveals and we can know is true. But there is that about the nature of God that will forever dwell in the realm of mystery.

It is arrogance at its worst to pretend that as human beings with our weak and sin-stained intelligence could ever categorize and systematize these mysteries.

Only the fool thinks he is that smart.

85 Dave Miller January 11, 2013 at 3:53 pm

But your point is well taken in general.

86 Christiane January 11, 2013 at 4:10 pm

“si comprehendis, non est Deus”

St. Augustine

87 Truth Unites... and Divides January 11, 2013 at 7:24 pm

The Dangers of Theological Systems

Any danger of asserting the primacy of biblical theology over systematic theology? Or visa versa?

88 Robert Vaughn January 12, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Dave, I made a more generic post earlier, but finding more time I came back to address more specifically your three questions.

Is there a “perfect system”?
I think “no” within the context of this discussion. Yes, there is a perfect system in the sense that there is a way that all of the information of the Bible fits together in a perfect whole. But all systematic theologies are flawed by our limits, biases and so on.

What are the dangers of dogmatic theological systems?
I believe the greatest danger is that we think they (the systems) are complete — that there is nothing more to learn (maybe just refining them) and all that is left to do is interpret the scriptures that we don’t understand in a way to make them fit within the system…regardless.

Can you add to the solution section? (or quarrel with it).
I would add that we need to realize and remember that systematic theology is not some body of truth but a task we are performing in developing an understanding of God’s revealed truth. It is a task that is never finished. We need to know that the task is a personal task (i.e. not adopting a system but building one). The goal of Bible study is to find the intended meaning of the author and take it at face value — not wrest it to fit a system or someone’s standard. As some have pointed out, we all come to the study of the Bible with certain presuppositions. But we must seek to study the Bible with a “what does this mean” attitude rather than a “how does this fit my (adopted) theology” attitude (and the first question should always precede the latter).

89 Dave Miller January 12, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Well said.

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