Monday, May 21, 2012

Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 1

I am currently reading through Millard Erickson's Systematic Theology. It is a massive 1300+ page book and so reading through it will take some time. Recently I read Erickson's prolegomena in which he lays out a defense of systematic theology and raises a number of philosophical issues.

One section worth highlighting is his definition of theology.  He suggests that the basic definition of theology as "the study of science of God," is helpful but needs to be expanded upon (22). He then adds these five points which I quote directly:

1.  Theology is biblical.  It takes as the primary source of its content the canonical Scriptures of the old and New Testaments.  This is not to say that it simply draws uncritically on surface meanings of Scriptures.  It utilizes the tools and methods of biblical research.  It also employs the insights of other areas of truth, which it regards as God's general revelation.

Theology is systematic. That is, it draws on the entire Bible. Rather than utilizing individual texts in isolation from one another, it attempts to relate the various portions to one another to coalesce the varied teachings into some type of harmonious or coherent whole.

3. Theology also relates to the issues of general culture and learning. Thus, it attempts to relate its view of origins to the concepts advanced by science (or, more correctly, such disciplines as cosmology), its view of human nature to psychology’s understanding of personality, its conception of providence to the work of philosophy of history.

4. Theology must also be contemporary. While it treats timeless issues, it must use language, concepts, and thought forms that make some sense in the context of the present time. There is danger here. Some theologies, in attempting to deal with modern issues, have restated the biblical materials in a way that has distorted them. Thus we hear of the very real “peril of modernizing Jesus.” In attempting to avoid making Jesus just another twentieth-century liberal, however, the message is sometimes stated in such a fashion as to require the twentieth-century person to become a first-century person in order to understand it. As a result one finds oneself able to deal only with problems that no longer exist. Thus, the opposite peril, “the peril of archaizing ourselves,” must similarly be avoided.

It is not merely a matter of using today’s thought forms to express the message. The Christian message should address the questions and the challenges encountered today. Yet even here there needs to be caution about too strong a commitment to a given set of issues. If the present represents a change from the past, then presumably the future will also be different from the present. A theology that identifies too closely with the immediate present (i.e., the “today” and nothing but) will expose itself to premature obsolescence.

5. Finally, theology is to be practical. By this we do not mean practical theology in the technical sense (i.e., how to preach, counsel, evangelize, etc.), but the idea that theology relates to living rather than merely to belief. The Christian faith gives us help with our practical concerns. Paul, for instance, gave assurances about the second coming and then said, “Encourage each other with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18). It should be noted, however, that theology must not be concerned primarily with the practical dimensions. The practical effect or application of a doctrine is a consequence of the truth of the doctrine, not the reverse
. -23-24

This is a good approach to defining theology. Coming to one exhaustive definition to what theology in general and systematic theology in particular would be very difficult or wordy or would miss its many elements. I particularly appreciate Erickson's fifth point that theology is practical. One of the things missing among a lot of seminary students and even among many of its theology professors is the marriage between academic theology and practical ministry. How does eschatology help the cancer patient? How does one's view of the atonement shape their ministry, approach to preaching, or how they minister to the rape victim?

If theology isn't lived, it isn't theology.

For more:
Blogizomai - Repost | "Life's Biggest Questions" by Erik Thoennes
Reviews - The Top 5 Essential Works of Theology of the Past 25 Years
Reviews - "Doctrine"
Reviews - "The Good News We Almost Forgot
Reviews - "Dug Down Deep" by Josh Harris
Reviews - "Heresy"
Reviews - "Christianity's Dangerous Idea" by Alister McGrath
Reviews - "The Theology of the Reformers"
Blogizomai - Repost | Schreiner on the Practice of Inaugurated Eschatology
logizomai - We Are All Theologians:  The Root of Everything We Are and Do
Blogizomai - Lewis on Practical Theology
Blogizomai - The Meaning & Implications of the Resurrection
Blogizomai - Lewis on Practical Theology
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