Biblical or Systematic Theology?

Lee at Two-Edged Sword has a thought-provoking post commenting about the dislike on some circles for Systematic Theology, preferring Biblical Theology instead. I commented there my ideas in a nutshell but, as usually happens with great bloggers, they prompt you to think and keep thinking, so the following are some insights on the problem.

Some definitions are in order first. Systematic Theology is the scientific study of God and His works, arranged in a coherent schema or system; it is more or less synonymous with “Dogmatic Theology” or dogmatics. Biblical Theology, on the other hand, principally the collection of results from the induction of Holy Scripture in a more or less organized fashion. Thus you could have a “Theology of the Pentateuch”, or a Theology of the Psalms, and so on. Or you could organize the whole thing by authors, and thus you would have “Pauline Theology”, “Johannine Theology”, and so on.

The scope of these branches of theology should make their positions clear. Systematic Theology deals with God and His work using all branches of revelation (general and special revelation), and not only that, but also any particular piece of human knowledge relevant to the task. Scripture is extremely important because it is the norm, is our only and sufficient rule of faith and practice, but only rule is not the same as only source. Behind the “Biblical vs. Systematic” question is, as one might see, an issue of Sola Scriptura vs. Suprema Scriptura.

All that said, let me be clear in stating the obvious: Biblical theology is fundamentally important. We need to do it. However, its role is ancillary, just as philosophy is also ancilla theologiae. It is important, but it is not a replacement for standard systematic theology, nor it will ever be. It’s a midwife, helping in the greater theological enterprise with an useful mediation between Scriptural truth and the coherent, scientific building of Dogmatics.

Thanks to Matt at Wheat and Chaff for the tip.

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