Wednesday, November 9, 2005


I have been finding myself lately always harking on balance when in theological discussions. I think I want to write a book intitled “A balanced biblical theology” or something less cheesy. My dad has been big on “symphonic theology”, which from what he says seems to play on the same principle. At first I thought the notion that all theologies bring something good to the table, some element of truth, seemed too relativistic and pluralistic. In any case, I wanted to try and flesh out some of this, so a lot of this is more theological.

Recently I’ve been challenged on Protestantism vs. Catholicism. While I by all means see more right with Protestantism, I think it is often very easy to loose the good and truth in Catholicism.

Some recent examples: reading an article by Alister McGrath on a place for tradition in Protestantism. He argues that we should stand humble before the teachings of the church for the last 2000 years, that unlike Catholicism tradition isn’t over scripture, but should stand in some role of authority over us.

Interestingly enough, I saw a good example of that today. One of my professor's unique interpretation of why the law is in the Pentateuch pretty much goes against the church’s understanding since the early church, and he even openly admitted that it was a pretty scary thing trying to go up against that much tradition.

A second example is in biblical study. D. Hart argues that in Protestantism most people are “biblical egalitarianists”, meaning that we believe all believers have equal footing when interpreting scripture. He argued that while all believers should study scripture, those who are trained to interpret (ministers and some scholars) should be recognized as having that authority. While he didn’t try to refute the clarity of scripture, he tried to limit it, so that the clarity of scripture is not that all scripture is entirely clear for anyone to understand, but I think he would say for understanding salvation (which I’m pretty sure goes back to the reformers). He gave the good example of a small bible study: what insights everyone brings to the text are often treated as being equal.

Holding to any theology seems to often cause people to force some area to fit that grid. While I don’t want to be agnostic, I think this is very important to keep in mind. Calvinists bring good things to the table, so do Armenians and Wesleyans. While I personally still think the Calvinist brings more scriptural support, I cannot call myself a 5-point Calvinist because I think some areas are not quite right. Same with dispensationalism vs. covenant theology: a progressive brings much to the table that is good, but I’m not ready to sign on due to the fine print.

So back to balance: I cannot say that all theologians and systems of thought are right, nor can I say that they stand on equal ground. What is important here is to realize though,that like people, (because they are from people,) there is some truth, some falsehood. I want to be at a place where I am willing to modify my system when confronted with truths of another system that my system lacks.

One good example of this is in postmodern thought. I think post modernism, like modernism, has several large weaknesses that prevent me from signing on. However, it brings several important observations on communication, culture, and truth that I’ve been challenged with and have had to adjust my thinking. I’ve noticed this even at Talbot, that the more honest people will admit the same thing.

The biggest problem here is humility: if I call myself a dispensational Calvinist complementarian, I think I will naturally be a bit predisposed to trying to defend the tenants of each of those systems. Unfortunately, it seems that when you want to modify certain areas, it’s hard to define yourself. Maybe this is a good thing.

One final thought: I don’t want to give the impression that I think “picking and choosing” is a good alternative. I’ve heard that this is one of the bigger faults to the emergent church. Whatever you believe, it still has to “work”. Not simply in corresponding to reality, but that it has to be internally consistent. To have it otherwise denies that each area of theology and life that you develop a belief in doesn’t have interconnections. Life is symbiotic, and I think theology is the same way. Whatever your understanding of pneumatology affects ecclesiology, and of soteriology affects eschatology, and so on.

What is unique here about theology is that whatever you decide in one area must then be worked through with other systems you accept, however at the end of the day all of these, including their symbiotic relationships, should still be grounded firmly in the text.

Finally, I think this is the chief problem with systematic theology. The text is not primarily a book of theology, so it really doesn’t outline things clearly. A lot of issues are clear, but a lot are also vague. Because biblical theology doesn’t leave us in a satisfactory place, I still think systematics is important, but I also think that when treading those vauge areas, humility is key.

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