Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Vision for a New Systematic Theology

I have been thinking for a while about a new concept of a systematic theology. Systematic theology, as traditionally practiced tends to be the product (or at least should be) of the fields of exegesis, historical theology, and comparative dogmatics all filtered through logic. This method on the whole has produced great results, witnessed in Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion or Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. At the same time, Biblical Theology has seen great popularity, and produced great theological fruit. The movement has called the theologian to remember and be more sensitive to the exegetical basis of theology. For a time, these two disciplines remained separate, if not hostile to one another. Now, there seems to be greater recognition of the validity each, and the interconnection of the two disciplines. Alongside the development of biblical theology, historical theology has grown into maturity, through the work of such scholars as Phillip Schaff and Jaroslav Pelikan.

As a result of these developments, I have a vision for a new concept of a systematic theology. Rather than each of these disciplines existing separate for one another, I propose combining each of these areas into a single work. The organizing principle of systematic theology would structure the work. Introducing each topic would be a short synopsis of the area under consideration, followed by the Biblical theological analysis of the doctrine and a summary of the historical development of the teaching. Having set out the Biblical and historical basis of the doctrine, place would be given for the statement and defense of the position adopted within the work, followed by a critical but fair analysis of other traditions and major figures. The area would be concluded with a reflection on the practical value of such a doctrine, and areas of weakness and needed refinement and further reflection within that teaching. An extensive, annotated bibliography would be prepared for each section.

The difficulties with such a project are obvious. First, the scope of the project is massive, encompassing multiple volumes. Further, the work is more than a single individual is either qualified for or capable of. However, the size of the project is a relative non-issue, and multiple authors would allow for the more rapid completion of the project. Also, the presence of multiple authors adds not only variety, but balance in perspective and personality to the project. Second, the project, like other works, will over time become outdated, and the effectiveness and usefulness of the volumes will be lessened. However, even a dated resource can still retain value- consider the continued usefulness of Schaff’s History of the Christian Church. The work can also be designed, like some commentary series, to be updated and republished, and thus be kept current. Since most of the material in many sections will not change much over time, a separate appendix could be published containing any new data.

Of course, such a work is more a dream, and very well may never come to fruition. However, I think the need is present. If anyone has any other ideas or critiques of this idea, let me know. I would like to polish the concept- and who knows, maybe encourage the excitement and the energy needed to bring this project from a dream into reality.