Five Things that Must be Considered when Doing Systematic Theology

As one of my mentors taught me, and I teach my students this week…

1) Systematic theology must be biblical, Scripture must be its primary source. All must be subordinate to Scripture, the final court of appeal. It contains inherent authority for systematic theology.

2) Systematic theology is systematic; in systematic theology we draw upon the whole of the Bible, which studies the progression of doctrine and revelation and bring that to bear on systematic. It builds on exegesis, and attempts to relate portions to one another and coalesce into a whole.  It was considered to be the queen of the sciences in the Puritan era.

3) It should be largely church-oriented, as search for biblical understanding in the context of ministry and missions; it is properly task theology, hammered out in light of the challenges posed by the Great Commission.

4) Systematic theology must be contemporary.  Takes timeless issues that make sense today and restate those biblical materials that doesn’t distort them but is still contemporary.  Great balance is needed upon biblical principles, accurate hermeneutical principles on how to interpret the Scriptures.  When we do that, we have to take into account past formulations in the Scriptures.

5) Systematic theology must be practical, it is concerned about theology and stating truth, truth always has practical consequences.

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15 Comments on “Five Things that Must be Considered when Doing Systematic Theology”

  1. […] Michael Dewalt on five things that must be considered when doing systematic theology. […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nathan W. Bingham, Michael Dewalt. Michael Dewalt said: Five Things that Must be Considered when Doing Systematic Theology: As one of my mentors taught me, and I teach my… http://bit.ly/aSkD8L […]

  3. Systematic Theology is dead. Wayne Grudem’s fantastic class had nothing new it. Biblical Theology (capitol B and T) has shown that the Bible defines it own categories, which we are just beginning to understand. Systematic Theology is just laying out the same things in an other order. Berkoff was the last innovative ST and before him was Bavink.

  4. Robert sounds like someone needs to read Dr. Horton’s books on covenant and theology?

  5. All those WSC guys and their R2K theology are Dispensationalists in another guise. Until they recognize that the Mosaic covenant wasn’t a digression and that the “Old” and “New” Covenants of 2 Cor 3, Gal 3-4 and Hebrews (and Jer 31) are the Adamic and the Messianic; they will never make coherent sense. Horton is among the more charitable of them. But even he poo-poo’s the center of the OT — the Sinaic Covenant — and hence his Biblical Theology has a hole in the middle.

  6. Jordan says:

    These 5 points are why I’m almost falling in love with a Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service systematic theology. A bit outdated for number 4, but even then, not by much, as human nature doesn’t change.

  7. Kyle says:

    Robert,
    Where do the WSC guys go wrong on the Sianitic Covenant? Do you not like republication language?

  8. Yeah, the republication thing really bugs me. R.L. Dabney points out that most of the Apostle Paul’s trash talking of ‘The Law’ is not directed at the Mosaic Covenant (which is always called gracious in the OT) but at the Pharisaical misuse of the law (i.e. Legalism).
    I am currently struggling through Stellman’s Dual Citizens and it is a paean to schitzophrenia. R2K seems like Dispensationalism in its ability to erase huge chunks of scripture as irrelevant to our day. I like the opposition to liberal, overly-relevant churches, but they are Frozen Chosen, Premature Remnant Syndrome, uncharitable guys in their treatment of those who oppose them. All my dealings with them (except Howell and Horton) have been as the recipient of attacks. It’s hard to be gracious in the face of such attitudes. … I should, however, try more. 😦 Sorry.

  9. Kyle says:

    When you use the word republication in what sense are you using it? I can’t help but think a lot of people are misrepresenting republication language–it’s not foreign to Reformed orthodoxy. I personally struggle to see what the WSC guys are saying differently on this point than our glorious and like minded “Marrow Men”-Colquhoun, Fisher, or even Boston (who all saw the Sinatic covenant as the CoG with ‘republication’ language). The Westminster Standards even speak of a legal administration of the CoG. When you survey the whole of Reformed teachings there’s manifold understandings. Even A Burgess confessed once that this is one of the most perplexing issues for learned men. Do you see my confusion? Perhaps you could clarify exactly what you mean by not liking republication language?
    How does Dabney’s view mesh with John 1:17 where the law-gospel distinction is between Moses and Christ?
    Thoughts?

  10. No one argues that the Moses could bring grace. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt…” then follows Law. Jesus was the Paschal lamb which began the whole exodus. Too often Law/Gospel distinction is a smoke screen to eliminate works from discussion. The point must always be they are doxological, not soteriological.
    When Owen and Edwards say the Sinaic was a republication, they meant it was a list of laws no one could perfectly keep but was nevertheless a part of the covenant of grace. Kline and WSC guys go off the deep end when they say it was a return to the covenant of works. When they talk about two righteousnesses that Mosaic Hebrews were measured by, THEY depart from the Reformed tradition, not the FV bums.
    It’s all well and good to talk about the three uses of the Law (civil, ceremonial, moral) as the Confessions do, but actually parsing Exodus 19:2-Numbers 10:10 into each bucket is wholly impossible. ‘Republication’ changed in the 20th century to mean ‘retrograde step’, which is no different the Dispensationalism.

  11. Kyle says:

    Have Kline et al made the works in the Sinaitic administration soteriological? If so, where?

  12. No, you misunderstand me. I can’t site Kline chapter and verse but here is a review of “The Law is not of Faith” by VanDrunen et al:
    ***
    “Estelle manages to capture precisely how the two opposing principles of works and grace coexist in the Mosaic economy. This is a crucial aspect of Meredith Kline’s legacy that unfortunately was never as clearly conveyed in his writings as it was in the classroom. In each class, Kline would demonstrate through a close reading of the text how both works and grace were woven together in the Mosaic economy, while yet remaining clearly distinct. The monocovenantal error is to fail to allow the two principles to stand alone and distinct, instead reconciling and conflating them at every turn.”
    ***
    Sinai was a delineation of what God expects of us and has always expected of us, and what — since the Fall – we cannot keep. And yet Christ did. Sinai just happens to be the most clearly listed of all the covenants in the Bible; it is the focus of the whole OT. Republication has come to mean some movement back towards Eden, and not the forward motion of the covenant of grace.

  13. Kyle says:

    I don’t have much invested in the debate. I think kline was creative, and probably should have put a fence around some of his creativity. Be that as it may, how do you understand the language of Leviticus 18:5? Does this lend plausibility to Kline et al’s form of republication?
    I’ve read the above cited book and found some chapters more helpful than others. Estelles was possibly my least favorite. Nevertheless I’m not convinced they’re running back to Eden. They may not be as consistent as you might like, but they positively affirm Siani as a dispensation of the CoG.

  14. Lev 18L5 is more a matter of translation and context. Y.L.T “and ye have kept My statutes and My judgments which man doth and lives in them; I am Jehovah.” Law FOLLOWS grace, but it also precedes it. It drives you to Christ and then shows you how to live pleasing to him. “I worked harder than any of you…”
    I hope you’re right about they’re not having Dispensational tendencies. R2K guys sound awful when they encourage such schizophrenic approaches to Scripture. “We’re not in the Theocracy now, so you can skip most of the Law.” To revise my earlier kinesthetic description, they seem to call the Law a step sideways, or a parallel track, as if the CoG were bifurcated.

  15. Kyle says:

    I forgot I was having this discussion…woops.
    My intent for bringing up Lev. 18:5 is because of the way it’s used by many Reformed to support life by obedience in the CoW, even though, contextually, it has a direct relation to the Mosaic economy.
    Cheers!


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