LATC 2017: Dogmatics & Systematic Theology – Scott Swain

Here are some notes on Scott Swain’s plenary lecture at LATC 2017….

Introduction

Bavinck: Dogmatic Theology is the knowledge God has revealed in his word to the church about the world and creatures as they stand in relation to him.

  • Dogmatics exists because of the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.20170112_203913

Some concerns of Systematic Theology

  • Concerns for unity – NT & OT, Theological Knowledge and other Knowledge
  • Scope – all of scripture
  • Proportion – science of everything, but not about everything
  • Relations – between different areas of Christian theology

B.B. Warfield found that it was necessary to defend the disciplines right to exist. Barth later on concluded that “nothing we are producing now can stand with the achievement of medieval, post-reformation, etc. dogmatics”

  • 20170112_203913Though it hasn’t reached its glory days, it holds some degree of prominence again today

The recent ascendency of ST hasn’t necessarily received a strong welcome from evangelicals. BB Warfield even acknowledges some think that Biblical Theology has replaced ST.

BT’s resistance to letting ST rule has grown. Evangelicals have questioned ST’s ability of ST… it tends to impose a structure not transparently given in scripture. “ST doesn’t encourage the exploration of the Bible’s plotline.”

BT seeks to seek out the rationality and genius of each genre and to ground stuff in unfolding drama of redemptive history.

More recently Missional theology also wonders whether ST needs help. Missional theology would direct ST to attend more to the missional nature of Scripture, and direct itself towards the church’s missional end.

Aim: commend a particular conception of ST as theoretical, contemplative, wisdom.

Thesis One

  • God presents himself to us in his word under the mode of a vision of glory, theological vision is therefore a wonder to be held, a truth to be known, a doctrine to be believed.
    • Vermigli – contemplative wisdom holds first place over practical wisdom
      • The end of Christian godliness is that in us should be repaired that image…. That everyday we may grown in the knowledge of God.
      • Speculative knowledge prior to action

Thesis Two

  • Dogmatic theology has a mixed character, but is still a unity
    • Some disagree – theoretical and practical
    • The unity of the object is not in the material of the object….
    • Because holy scripture speaks of doctrines and morals and describes the principle of unity
  • JI Packer’s illustration of balconeers watching people travelling below. They are onlookers….. travelers, face problems which are essentially practical. They may think over the same area, but their problems differ. The theology of travelers has a theoretical angle. Packer seems to suggest that any concern that unprocessed theory is arcane and uninteresting, engaged in the vice of curiosity.
  • Speculation… a viscous mode of contemplation.
  • We should be anti-speculative but we cannot afford to be anti-theoretical or anti-speculative.
  • Does thinking of theology as “contemplative wisdom” encourage idolatry?
    • Luther: sinful human and the God who justifies
    • Bayer – thinks that it suffers from a totalizing problem, and a de-historicizing problem.
    • With Bayer we can agree that it is susceptible to these mistakes – but the many errors of Hegel aren’t addressed by abandoning ST but modifying it (perhaps under a Pilgrim context)
    • This allows us to insist upon the limited nature of our contemplation
    • Directs us to expecet perfect contemplation only in the beatific vision
    • Some problems w/Bayer – his view undermines God’s self-presentation of his word. Yes God is the justifier, but it does not exhaust God’s action.
  • Dogmatics desrives its character from its primary object: the Triune God
  • Bavinck: God is independent, not only in his existence but in all his attributes and perfections
  • God does not exist for any reason that exists outside of himself. From him and through him and to him are all things
    • Thus while the study of God produces all kinds of practical ends, but it is not exhausted in its service towards practical ends
    • Godliness prepares us for contemplation of God
    • God is Wisdom’s goal

Thesis Three

  • Theology is not a view from nowhere
  • Dogmatic theology occupies itself with God, it is a view of God
  • Theology’s object is twofold – God’s being, wisdom, and power ALSO the unsearchable depth of God’s works
    • It is the thrice holy God almighty and all things relative to God
  • It contemplates objects contemplated by other objects as well, what distinguishes dogmatic theology is not the uniqueness of its objects or what it knows, what distinguishes it is the prespective from which it knows God, humanity and the lilies of the field…
    • From the perspective of God’s self revelation, his naming of humanity, his care for the lilies of the field
  • Dogmatic theology is a view of God from God
    • How? Cuz God has revealed himself to us as he himself is
  • This is why dogmatics does not follow the method of so many science of reasoning from effects to causes. The method of dogmatic theology is to begin from God. That is because that is how God has revealed himself in his word.
  • It is also a view of God from the presence of God
    • Our theology, ectypal, contemplates it from a humbler vantage point. To profess theology is a priestly ministration
  • It is the view of God from God in the presence of God

Thesis Four

  • It takes a systematic shape in commending its work of contemplation
  • What shape might a modest system of dogmatic theology take?
    • Astonished contemplative wonder of Paul, also John’s sketches
  • Following a brief introduction, a system of theology might first treat the depths of the riches of the triune God in his unfathomable being
    • This is not very popular in modern theology
    • “Protestant Theology for Liberals” as an example – it treats God exclusively in relation to creatures.
    • While its true of pilgrim theology that creaturely mediation is a fact, something more is required. Treating God before his relation to creatures takes seriously that God is who he is apart from anyone else. He is who he is.
    • Treating God himself before treating his relation to creatures – allows us to treat his relationship’s mixed nature. One of absolute benevolence, marvelously disinterested interest in us.
    • It may treat secondly, the works of God. Nature, Grace, Glory. Each of these three works are related. Grace restores and perfects nature.
    • Third – connect each individual topic to God as cause. It is due to the fact that strictly speaking, the nature, ends and activities of God’s creatures only exist in relation to God, and therefore creatures can only be understood in relation to God, their supreme author and end.
  • In following this method ST proves itself true to its name as Theology – God, always God from beginning to end (Bavinck)

Dogmatics is a mixed discipline…contemplative understanding of dogmatics might inform the organization of theology. How might such a conception relate to theological and academic disciplines?

Dogmatic theology has the capacity for functioning as an inclusive discipline. Because of its attention to the supreme object and its concern to order all thing in relation to him, it can provide a framework to organize the other disciplines. For these disciplines are finally ordered to the glory of the Triune God and our wellbeing in him.

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