Tag Archives: systematic Theology

The Philosophy of the Hebrew Bible

I no longer find myself sitting in the bright, sunny, and (awfully) hot Mediterranean climate of Pasadena, rather I find myself sitting in the bright, sunny, and (awfully) hot Mediterranean climate of Jerusalem. So why am I here? To engage with a similar sort of project that the AT project is engaged with at Fuller Seminary; I am here to think through the relationship between Scripture, analytic philosophy, and the life of faith.

Jerusalem

On June 12th-23rd a group of Christian and Jewish scholars whose expertise range from biblical studies, to political philosophy, to analytic theology gathered to discuss Yoram Hazony’s book, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture.

In this book Hazony contends that western culture has made a major mistake in not seeing the Hebrew Bible as a significant philosophical work. Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and Plotinus’s Enneads are all part of the Western philosophical cannon, but why isn’t the Hebrew bible? Hazony argues the reason this is so is because the Hebrew Bible has been deemed a “work of revelation” as opposed to a “work of reason.”

 

YSSAccording to Hazony the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures are “in fact closer to being works of reason than anything else.” (Hazony, 3) He laments the fact that Western culture, due to Christian influence, has read the reason-revelation-dichotomy into the Hebrew scriptures. This dichotomy, in turn, has affected the standing of Hebrew Scriptures within public spheres. By turning back to conceiving the Hebrew Scriptures as a work of reason, Hazony hopes to restore its standing in public dialogue. Not only does Hazony argue that the Hebrew Scriptures are works of reason, rather he argues that “Hebrew Scriptures can (and should) be read as works of philosophy, with an aim to discovering what they have to say to the broader discourse concerning the nature of the world and the just life for man.” (4)

Hazony’s attempt at constructing a philosophy of Hebrew Scriptures has two major parts, which respectively, make up the structure of his work as an introduction to the philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. First, Hazony provides a methodological framework by which we can begin to read the Hebrew Scriptures as works of philosophy. He then proceeds to provide some examples of how the authors of scripture were engaging philosophical discourse. This latter part addresses topics like metaphysics, epistemology, and political philosophy. In addressing such topics, he provides plenty of fodder for further reflection by philosophers and analytic theologians.

Dome of the Rock

Over the next few days I hope to write a bit more about the sort of project Hazony is engaged in, so you can expect a few blogs either on the ideas in the book, or ideas that have come out of this workshop and the conference following the workshop.

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?

logo-full

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!

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-6-23-23-pm

 

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.

fbb6216c29788fadbfc444a4a4ca3a0a
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

history-title

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.