Tag Archives: systematic Theology

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.

Is Analytic Theology REALLY Systematic Theology?

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Last week Oliver Crisp kicked off the 2016 Analytic Theology Seminar Series at Fuller Seminary. He gave a wonderfully precise and clear lecture on the relationship between Analytic Theology and Systematic Theology. Basically he answered the question:

Is analytic theology really systematic theology or is it really just ersatz theology?

The way that Crisp approached this question was to examine the works of three different exemplars of systematic theology. Scholars whom nobody would doubt their pedigree as analytic theologians. First he examined the purpose and project of John Webster, followed by Brian Gerrish, and concluding with Gordon Kaufman. All very different types of theologians, but systematic theologians nonetheless.

In examining the works of these theologians he came up with a “shared task” of systematic theology. Think of it as a minimalist account of systematic theology:

Shared Task: Commitment to an intellectual undertaking that involves (though it may not comprise) explicating the conceptual content of the Christian tradition (with the expectation that this is normally done from a position within that tradition, as an adherent of that tradition), using particular religious texts that are part of the Christian tradition, including sacred scripture, as well as human reason, reflection, and praxis (particularly religious practices, as sources for theological judgements.

What jumped out to me about this minimalist account of ST is that it involves to main claims. One claim is about the task and the other is about the sources. The task is one of explanation, the primary sources are religious texts (broadly construed) and other secondary sources.

To me this seems like a fairly minimal account of what systematic theologians do. Naturally some may have a more robust account than this, but none will have something less than this. It seems to me, and it certainly seemed to Crisp that Analytic Theology does what is described in “shared task,” however it does it in a way that uses the tools, methods, and sources of the tradition of philosophy we have come to call “analytic.”

So is Analytic Theology truly Systematic Theology? As long as it keeps to the shared task, I have no reason to say why not.

Analytic Theology Seminars at Fuller Seminary Start Today!

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See the message below from Allison Wiltshire

Hello!

I would like to invite you to join us at Fuller Seminary for a weekly series of talks on human and divine love as part of the Analytic Theology for Theological Formation project.  Our team would be thrilled for you to attend any or all of the events. Feel free to pass along this information to your students or colleagues who may also be interested.
Attached you will find a schedule for the entire series that run January-June as well as a more detailed advertisement for the first 7 events. The first event is tomorrow, January 4, from 3-5pm in the faculty commons at the David Allen Hubbard Library on Fuller’s campus. Dr. Oliver Crisp will open up the series by giving an introduction to analytic theology.
For more information you can visit our website, facebook, or twitter. Feel free to contact me with any questions!
Best,
Allison Wiltshire


Allison Wiltshire 
Fuller Theological Seminary
Research Administrator AT project

When We Think About God

“When we’re talking about God we can’t afford to be sloppy.” As you probably know I am studying in a new field that seeks to revive an ancient form of theological reflection: analytic theology. This discipline that combines the rigor of philosophy with the wonder of theology, I work with Dr. Oliver Crisp, professor of systematic theology, and a team of visiting scholars to reflect carefully on prayer, love, and human nature. In the following video – directed and produced by Fuller Studio – I share my passion for theology, the dangers of muddled thinking, and my hopes for the church to be informed by good theology.

“Theology done well not only impacts people’s lives, says something to the world about who God actually is.”

You can see the original post on Fuller’s Analytic Theology Website.

Sacrifice and Atonement

The atonement is the subject of intense interest among not only theologians, but Christians in general. This may be due to the fact that for most of Christianity atonement stands at the center. In some stands of Christianity, atonement itself is the9781506401966 gospel. However some people want to argue that the atonement is not only not the gospel, but atonement itself is not good news at all. Atonement theories, according to this group of people, perpetuate fear and anxiety which dominate ancient outdated religion. This is the position that Stephen Finlan takes in his new book Sacrifice and Atonement: Psychological Motives and Biblical Patterns.  In it he argues that in Christianity we find a mix of this ancient fear/anxiety legacy of religion along with real revelation from God. But this is not a new claim, others have argued similarly. The new contribution that he makes to discussions about atonement is that Finlan purports to show how atonement doctrines correspond closely with strategies for handling emotional trauma and managing family dynamics. Finlan says:

The idea of God as a punishing presence reflects dynamics learned in childhood. We tend to think about God in the ways we learned to think about our parents. A major thesis of this book is that atonement theology is largely based on childhood strategies for satisfying moody and explosive parents by “paying for” infractions (or have someone else pay for them). (xvi)

Finlan believes that this model accurately represents the source of our atonement theories, and that the problem is that this allows a mixture of anxiety, while embodying some form of love, but love that is conditional. This in turn presents a picture of a God who is both violent and loving. This is a picture of a dysfunctional home. What we need is a theory of atonement that reflects the psychology of a healthy family.

Finlan begins to uncover the psychological dynamics of atonement with two chapters on atonement in Scripture. These chapters unpack the concept of atonement in terms of purification and compensation towards God. He sees both of these biblical concepts as embodying false notions about how to relate to God. The Old Testament, emphasizes disgust and seeks purity through exclusion. The New Testament, specifically the teachings of Jesus, essentially do away with purity laws in favor of inclusion. The Old Testament view of atonement is based on propitiation or appeasement, Jesus however teaches that love characterizes our relationship with God, it is available for free.

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Stephen Finlan is an adjunct professor of theology at Providence College, Rhode Island. He has previously taught at Fordham, Drew, and Durham universities, and has served as a pastor.

In chapter 3 Finlan begins to explain what lies behind the false understandings of atonement that we explored in the first two chapters. He says that the source of these false, misguided, and ultimately harmful theories of atonement are “the product of uncertainty about parental love.” (60) Finlan goes on to explore Paul’s theology of atonement and concludes that Paul experienced ambivalent attachment as a child, and that it persisted into adulthood. He also explores the author of Hebrews theology of atonement, and concludes that his views of God probably reveal an avoidant attachment pattern as a child.  He even goes on to say that “it seems likely that Hebrews had a strict religious upbringing with hypercritical parents, contributing to a nervous perfectionism.” (142)

So what is the solution to this mixed theology of atonement, in which we see hints of God’s free love and harmful human view for the need for atonement? The solution is to abandon atonement concepts, for atonement, despite the best intentions of thoughtful theologians  will always carry problems. According to Finlan “salvation needs to be detached from the crucifixion.” (189)

Finlan concludes by saying,

We need to be saved from cruel doctrine. God saves us in spite of the crucifixion, not because of it.

Some Thoughts About the Book….

As you can probably guess, I am not on board whatsoever with the view that Finlan presents in this book. I have a lot to say in terms of critique, but first let me say what I appreciate about his work.

First, I appreciate his willingness not to cover or sugarcoat what the Bible actually says. Where as some people want to cover or hide the fact that propitiation is a concept within Scripture, Finlan gladly admits that it is there. While some want to deny that substitution, or even penal substitution, doesn’t exist in New Testament theology, Finlan says that it certainly is there and that the seeds of penal substitution can even be found.

Second I appreciate Finlan’s pastoral heart which rightly exposes that so many of our views about God are highly influenced by views about our parents and other authority figures. Finlan, quite pastorally wants to free Christians from harmful views about God rooted in our own dysfunctional relationships. More pastors need to be attentive to this pattern of projection upon God.

However there are some places in Finlan’s work where I simply cannot go. While he does acknowledge propitiation and substitutionary atonement can indeed be found in scripture, he sees these parts of scripture as being false, speaking untruthfully about God. Rather he decides that the only “true” revelation is found in the works and words of Jesus. The rest of scripture seems to be human beings grasping for an understanding of God. As someone rooted in the historic teachings of the church, I affirm that all of scripture is revelation. Some parts aren’t less of revelation that other parts.

Second, I can’t follow Finlan in the type of psychological biography writing he engages in. He attempts to psychoanalyze Paul and Hebrews. He pins them both down with suffering from psychological problems, with the author of Hebrews being especially disturbed. I honestly don’t think you can engage in this sort of project, getting at the psychology of authors from such little material.

Finally, I can’t follow Finlan in his comments about removing the cross from the center of the gospel. Throughout the New Testament the cross seems to be central. Even the gospel stories seem to be passion stories with extended introductions! Now I know that Finlan would agree that the cross is at the center of New Testament teachings, however he would respond by saying that those teachings are the tainted portions, and do not constitute revelation. I guess we presupposed different things, and thus end up in a different place. However the burden is on Finlan to show that over the last 2000 years the Church has misunderstood the centrality of the cross to the gospel.

Pannenberg on History and Truth for Method

Having given a brief overview of Chapter 1 of ST1 I would now like to highlight two key themes in this section of Pannenberg’s work. These two themes also play a key role in the rest of ST1. These themes are 1) truth and 2) history.

History

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First regarding the theme of “history.” In the Foreword to ST1 Pannenberg mentions the reluctance of some theologians to focus on the historical nature of Christian doctrine. Yet Pannenberg believes that Christian doctrine rests on “the historical revelation of God in the historical figure of Jesus Christ and on the precise evaluation, by historical interpretation alone, of the testimony that early Christian proclamation gives to this figure.” Pannenberg’s focus on the importance of history is evident throughout ST1 but it becomes especially important in his discussion of the truth of Dogmatics. In section 1.2 Pannenberg says that “all the NT authors bear witness in their different ways to the act of God in Jesus of Nazareth.” Christian faith rests upon the confession of Jesus of Nazareth and the act of God in him which we come to know through the historical witness of the NT authors. His emphasis on history is also seen in his detailed discussions of the history of Dogmatics. He often goes into long details outlining the history behind a certain doctrinal position. Here he shows the importance of the fact that doctrine does not just materialize, rather is has a history which develops and eventually matures.

Truth

truth

Now regarding the theme of “truth.” Pannenberg stresses that Dogmatics attempts to articulate the truth of God. As it relates various themes of doctrine, the goal is to present these themes in light of the reality of who God is. Theology which does not attempt to be grounded in the truth of God is not theology in the true sense of the word. Any sort of theology which simply attempts to find coherence with other Christian doctrine or with the world, yet fails to be done in relation to the object of theology cannot be called true theology. The fact that his theology pursues truth is also displayed in the fact that Pannenberg explains that there is a difference between human theology which copy and imitation of that which is true divine archetypal theology. Pannenberg’s emphasis on truth as a theological category is also evident in his discussion about the truth of dogma in which he lays out various theories of truth and argues that coherence and consensus are not enough to establish the truth of Christian dogma.

Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Theological Method

Earlier this year I spent two weeks in a Christian university Uganda, I saw these students work through some questions like: “What is theology?” “What role should the Bible play in our doctrinal formulations?” “How can the church be a faithful witness to Christ in the world?” Although Pannenberg was far from the minds of these African students, his Systematic Theology: Volume One addresses precisely these sorts of questions. Though Pannenberg does not answer these questions for those who find themselves in an African context he claims that this volume, which addresses part of the spiritual heritage of all Christians, quite simply addresses “the truth of Christian doctrine and the Christian confession.” Over the next few days I will be examining Pannenberg’s theological method – in all of its strengths and its weaknesses.

Overview of Method in Systematic Theology Volume One

Section 1 of Chapter 1 begins by considering the nature of theology. Having described various trends in usage of the word over time Pannenberg gives us a provisional definition of the term. He claims that theology is not solely or primarily a human activity, rather “it is the declaring of God that is proper to the divine logos and disclosed by him.” The basis of this theology is revelation, that is, it is knowledge of God which is made possible by God. Without acknowledging this basic condition of theology one cannot properly do theology. Pannenberg goes on to nuance this position by introducing a thesis of Reformed theologian Franz Junius which explains the human role in theology. Junius says that human theology is possible only as a copy and imitation of the divine archetypal theology. Suffice it to say that our knowledge of God is only possible through God’s revelation, though this knowledge only approximates God’s knowledge of himself.

Bonn, CDU-Friedenskongress, Pannenberg

Having stated what theology is, Pannenberg now addresses what the proper object of theology is. Following Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and countless others Pannenberg argues that God is the single, all embracing object of theology. The upshot of this proposition is that this object can only be known if it gives itself to be know. Though Christian theology addresses many things, all those things which are covered in theological discourse find their place in relation to God, i.e. God is the unifying subject of all theological topics. This particular view is contrasted with Schleiermacher’s position which considers human needs and experiences of God to be the proper objects of theology. Pannenberg rejects this notion and stresses that theology is discourse about God that God himself has authorized. It is not discourse about God grounded in human needs or interests or even ideas about the divine. In order to truly be “Christian” theology, theology must have as its theme the truth about God as he has revealed himself.

 

The centrality of truth as a part of Christian theology leads Pannenberg to consider the nature of Dogmatics. He begins with a very simple definition of Dogmatics as “the science of Dogma or of Christian doctrine.” This definition is not very helpful so Pannenberg engages in a short historical study regarding the nature of Dogmatics. Here he takes on biblical as well as early Christian materials and concludes that if the dogmas of Christians are true, they are no longer the opinion of humans, rather they are divine revelation. These dogmas are divine truth.

Pannenberg realizes that talk about dogma in our modern context is likely to bring us some harsh feelings for many would consider dogma and religious coercion to go hand in hand. Pannenberg is quite right since many would indeed say that dogmatic religious claims attempt to force consensus about these positions and thus establish these positions as the only truth. That is supposedly contrasted with a consensus, which arises out of a free agreement regarding these religious claims. Yet Pannenberg argues that neither coercion nor consensus can serve as an adequate criterion of the truth of a doctrine.[4] It is tempting to believe that consensus, even universal consensus, would establish the truth of a doctrine but this is simply not the case for some ideas and convictions might be deeply rooted in the whole species, though these convictions may turn out to be false. Though consensus does not establish the truth of a doctrine it nevertheless plays a significant role in our understanding of Christian doctrine. For instance within the Lutheran tradition, confessions aim at achieving a total church consensus regarding evangelical doctrine. Although consensus does not establish or create the truth of a doctrine it nevertheless helps the church to provide a normative function in the church’s reading of the word of God. As Scripture is read and interpreted through the lens of these confessions the result is that the Christian reader ends up confession Jesus of Nazareth and the act of God in him. This is the purpose of confessions, to help Christian readers in their reading and interpretation of Scripture.

Having considered the way that Dogmatics unfolds the content of church teaching and how dogma relates to truth Pannenberg goes on to explain the task of presenting a comprehensive and coherent presentation of this doctrinal content. This coherent and comprehensive presentation of dogma is called “systematic theology.” This term which is first found in the early 18th century deals with the matters of theology in a comprehensible manner and it explains, proves, and confirms its content in detail. One thing that systematic theology entails that the things which are regarded as true will not contradict one another, in other words there must be some sort of coherence in this system. Though coherence is not necessarily the thing which determines the truth of any one system, the fact that the doctrine corresponds to the object/reality determines the truth, it is nevertheless a crucial aspect of any proper system.

41yrbvsp98l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Having spent most of this chapter establishing some key concepts, such as the nature and object of theology, the meaning of dogma, and the criteria for a systematic theology’s truth, Pannenberg now moves on to discussion some “problems” of prolegomena to Dogmatics. He says that traditionally Protestant prolegomena would include the following five themes: “1) the concept of theology; 2) the Christian religion as the general object of theology; 3) scripture as the guiding principle of theology; 4) the articles of faith; and 5) the use of reason.” Most often the third theme commands the greatest attention in protestant prolegomena. This makes sense for its is part an parcel of reformation theology that the authority of Scripture as a norming norm for theology is based on the fact that it is God’s own words. Yet there has been a problem in regards to this third theme regarding where the authority of Scripture comes from. Does this authority come from the sole fact that it is God’s inspired word or does it involve the Christian’s personal experience of belief in God’s word? This issue was further complicated when the concept of religion took on a more fundamental role in understanding the nature of theology. This is especially poignant in the work of Schleiermacher who grounds his methodological foundation of Dogmatics in the concept of religion or piety. So the theme of scripture as the guiding principle of theology has broken out into two different camps, the one camp which situates scriptures’ authority with faith (subjective) and the other which situates its scripture’s authority in its inspiration (objective). Given the demise of a general belief in the authority of Scripture it makes sense to try to ground the authority of scripture in an appeal to faith. However the problem with this is that it does not provide an objective ground for guaranteeing its truth.

In his final section in chapter 1 Pannenberg takes issue with recent Christian Dogmatics that make the truth of Christian doctrine a presupposition rather than declaring it a theme of inquiry. In Pannenberg’s opinion the fact that the revelation of God is a part of the reality of world means that it is inherently debatable and up for testing and confirmation. He argues that since truth is not purely subjective, rather that truth is a public thing, the truth of Christian Dogmatics ought to be able to be deliberated about and debated. Christians fail to do the world a service when they engage in theology as though the truth of the matter can be assumed. Instead Christians ought to engage in theology in such a way that the unbelieving public can be faced with the truth and make a decision regarding its feasibility.

In this section Pannenberg relates theology to a scientific hypothesis which can be tested and tried. Yet to call theology a hypothesis or to say it is provisional should not alarm Christians whatsoever since the truth of Christian theology is grounded in eschatology. The Christian knows that the decision regarding the truth “rests with God himself. It will be finally made with the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God in God’s creation.”