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Point Taken ::

Con Campbell ponders some of the dangers of too much systematic theology…
Source: Perspective Vo8 No1 © Perspective 2000

‘Systematic theology is the highest form of biblical study.’ At least, that’s what I hear systematic theologians saying. ‘Of course, everyone knows that the biblical languages are just tools. And exegesis, well it’s just a stepping stone. An important one, but a stepping stone nonetheless.’

I agree. The biblical languages are tools. But have you noticed that the people who say they are ‘just tools’, are usually wielding pretty blunt instruments? Blunt tools lead to bad exegesis; bad exegesis is the stepping stone for much systematic theology. I agree. ‘Systematic theology is truth made accessible to humans. Through it, we can make concise statements about God, life, and all that the Bible teaches.’ I agree that systematic theology is truth made accessible to humans. In fact, it takes God’s word as we received it in scripture and ‘breaks it down’ for humans with human minds. In other words, it is a human endeavour aimed at making God’s truth understandable for dummies. This means systematic theology cannot be ‘the highest form of biblical study’; surely understanding God’s truth as he has given it must take that honour. From there, we surely do make a step to systematic theology, but it is a step down, not up; it is a step we take, not God. He breathed out the scriptures as they are.

And that’s another thing. Does systematic theology really teach ‘all that the Bible teaches’? It seems to me that systematic theologians decide the topics and their ordering: God, man, sin, redemption etc. Plenty of biblical truths never make systematic theologians’ categories. Who decides the order of importance in systematic theology? We do. ‘Systematic theology makes for accurate preaching. Without it, we might make one part of scripture repugnant to another.’ True. But preaching systematic theology to excess robs people of skills in exegesis; if we don’t regularly hear the Bible taught expositionally, how can we work out how to read the Bible for ourselves? Before you know it, our Bible study groups are doing ‘thematic’ studies all the time, and the average Christian can’t read a book of the Bible on his own. Even worse, we might pave the way for proof-texting and heresy. ‘But it’s systematic theology that gives us the doctrine that the Bible is God’s word in the first place.’ That’s funny. I thought 2 Timothy 3:16 told us that. ‘Well, through systematic theology, we’re able to fill the gaps; through inferences and building on what we do know, we can theologize in areas the Bible might not directly address.’
Exactly. Thank you for making my point.

_Con Campbell was a student at Sydney’s Moore Theological College. _

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