Friday, 1 February 2013

Systematic Theology or Biblical Theology. Must we choose?

I was doing some random googling and somehow it landed me on the following page.

The Trueman-Goldsworthy Debate: A Revolutionary Balancing Act

Having read a couple of Goldsworthy books, and having been enjoying Carl Trueman's posts on Reformation21 site, I was interested in what this was about. I read on.

I glad to hear Trueman's critique that Christians might have gone to emphasise too much on the biblical theology and neglecting the systematic theology. This article was written and published just over ten years ago, but I felt he was right in his analysis, even now. Having been happy to hear what he had to say, I was curious what Goldsworthy might have said in response. So I read his response as well.

The Trueman-Goldsworthy Debate: Ontology and Biblical Theology

I was at first struck by his strong language in his critique of Trueman's article. After a brief affirmation on some of what Trueman said, Goldsworthy came out in full force to break down Trueman's arguments that the emphasis on the biblical theology is overwhelming in churches worldwide, and it was the cause of the neglect and, what he called, "crisis" of the systematic theology in many Christians. I was at first taken aback a little by his strong languages. However, as I read on and thought about it, I had to admit Goldsworthy was mostly right in his assertions. His main stress was that while he agrees with Trueman on the fact that the systematic theology is being neglected in churches, the remedy is not in balancing the systematic theology and the biblical theology, as Trueman suggested, but rather, we must take on the biblical theology more whole heartedly as well as the systematic theology as they are inseparable. They are two different disciplines of theology, yet, neither can stand on its own and hence somehow we need to balance them in our thinking, but rather, as we pursue to know God through the bible, we must and cannot help but to employ both, which complements each other.

I had heard this before at a Preaching Conference held at SMBC a few years ago when Don Carson came to teach on this very subject, but I guess I still have a lot to learn and need a constant reminder.

I'd like to quote a few paragraphs from Goldsworthy's article.
My real problem with this negative assessment of biblical theology is that it makes it sound as if biblical theology is only about an economic view of salvation and God, and systematics is only about ontology. This simply is not so. Both are about both. Furthermore they are interdependent (maybe that’s what Carl means by balance!). 
In 1986, I contributed to the Festschrift for Broughton Knox with an essay entitled, “ ‘Thus says the Lord!’ – The Dogmatic Basis of Biblical Theology.” My argument was much the same as Jensen’s: we cannot formulate dogma without biblical theology, but we cannot do biblical theology without dogmatic constructs. This is not balance, it is rather (to use a more ontological term) perichoresis. 
To return to the Trinity, perichoresis is a term used to describe the fact that we cannot assert the unity of God without also asserting the distinctions of the persons of the Godhead. Thus, Christian theism is neither a modalistic-monistic theism, nor a co-operative tritheism. In the words of Cornelius Van Til, unity and distinction are equally ultimate. I would add that to assert equal ultimacy is not served by balance as well as it is by coinherence or perichoresis. 
The Christian theistic understanding of the ontological Trinity, then, directs us to the way ahead in the question of all relationships. Everything in existence has some point of unity with every thing else. Every thing in existence has some point of distinction from everything else. Unity and distinction form the structure of reality, and it is so because that is the ontological essence of God and the way he has made all things. This informs us in all aspects of reality as we try to understand relationships.

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