Day: May 23, 2011

two ways to approach systematic theology?

Tell me how you react to this:

One way to approach systematic theology is primarily analytic. It involves tipping all the theological pieces (key biblical texts and themes, the decisive debates in the history of theology, etc) onto your mental table, picking through them, attaching suitable labels, and placing all the similar pieces into relevant boxes.

Another way to approach systematic theology tries to be more synthetic. It involves doing something with each piece you pick up — connecting it to whatever other pieces it might fit with in the interests of assembling a coherent overall picture.

The danger with the first approach is that it lets you think you’ve done the job once every theologically relevant piece has been categorised. Theology done this way won’t live — it’s more of a stamp-collecting enterprise than something intimately bound to Christian living and mission.

The problem with the second is trying to put together the picture using whatever comes to hand and then struggling to know what to do with those extra pieces that haven’t yet been recognised (let alone been found a place within the picture). The temptation will always be to brush those ‘extraneous’ pieces off the table.

In truth, of course, both approaches are needed.

We need to make sure we’ve done the work of ensuring that the pieces are correctly categorised and that each category is represented.

At the same time, we need to ensure we’re doing something with the pieces — connecting them with other pieces. Just as with a puzzle, we need to find ways to join edge pieces to pieces of sky and to those pieces closer to what’s at the centre of the picture: the God revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.