We have two weeks before finals and then school is out for the semester. My third semester has been rough but good. I’ve learned quite a lot and I’m beginning to shift several aspects of my theology–or perhaps more accurately, how I process and reflect on theology. I thought I’d share something of that with you very briefly.
I have begun to see myself shifting from systematic to biblical theology. This semester I’ve been in two theology classes: one a basic survey course and the other a more in depth study on the Doctrine of God or theology proper, as my professor calls it. It’s been a great class, one which I’ve really enjoyed and I’ve thoroughly loved reading John Feinberg’s No One Like Him. Feinberg does an excellent job of synthesizing an incredible amount of material and making it readable. I still can’t wrap my head around Whitehead and his process theology but for the first time I have a firm grip on John Hick’s “The Real” and that’s certainly an achievement.
But I’ve encountered a few problems in this class as I’ve worked on various assignments–whether reading Feinberg or studying a different theologian like Jürgen Moltmann. Too often, theologians don’t begin with the Biblical text. Instead, I’ve found that they often begin with a philosophical construct and build from that. I want to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with starting from philosophy, there’s no problem in using nomenclature from philosophy and using all systems and structures available to us. Things like that come from God as he has endowed humanity with so many intellectual capabilities and strengths.
But it frustrates me that sometimes theologians get stuck in their structures and systems. Or, that they are so consumed by the direction of their philosophical leanings that they fail to be restrained by the text that claim to be explicating. I wrote a paper this semester on a theologian who started out so well and ended up in panentheism. His writing was brilliant, it gave me hope and courage for the future! But he fell into problematic theology that ruined it for me. Systematicians are good and necessary people for the church, I’m in a program of systematic theology myself and I consider it highly important. But theologians must also be willing to let the Biblical text be what it wants and say what it says, rather than forcing it into our narrow, finite view. This is why I’m leaning towards Biblical theology: Scripture holds tension much better than our systems and the writers celebrate both the revelation and the confusion of the One who is above and beyond us. This is the weakness of our systems: they create a caricature of God rather than allowing him to be the grand mystery He is.
But I’m still in the theology program and to be honest, I don’t think I’ll be switching any time soon.