Systematic theology

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Systematic theology is a discipline of Christian theology that formulates an orderly, rational, and coherent account of the Christian faith and beliefs. Subdisciplines are dogmatics, ethics and philosophy of religion.[1]

Systematic theology draws on the foundational sacred texts of Christianity, while simultaneously investigating the development of Christian doctrine over the course of history, particularly through philosophy, science and ethics. Inherent to a system of theological thought is that a method is developed, one which can be applied both broadly and particularly. Using biblical texts, it attempts to compare and relate all of scripture and create a systematized statement on what the whole Bible says about particular issues. There are ten basic areas (or categories) of systematic theology, however the exact list may vary slightly.

Categories[edit]

History[edit]

The setting out of the varied ideas of Christianity (and the various topics and themes of the diverse texts of the Bible) in a single, coherent and well-ordered presentation is a relatively late development. In Eastern Orthodoxy, an early example is provided by John of Damascus's 8th-century Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, in which he attempts to set in order, and demonstrate the coherence of, the theology of the classic texts of the Eastern theological tradition. In the West, Peter Lombard's 12th-century Sentences, in which he collected thematically a large series of quotations from the Church Fathers, became the basis of a medieval scholastic tradition of thematic commentary and explanation – best exemplified in Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica. The Lutheran scholastic tradition of a thematic, ordered exposition of Christian theology emerged in the 16th century, with Philipp Melanchthon's Loci Communes, and was countered by a Calvinist scholasticism, exemplified by John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion.

In the 19th century, primarily in Protestant circles, a new kind of systematic theology arose: the attempt to demonstrate that Christian doctrine formed a more tightly coherent system grounded in some core axiom or axioms. Such theologies often involved a more drastic pruning and reinterpretation of traditional belief in order to cohere with the axiom or axioms. Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, for instance, produced Der christliche Glaube nach den Grundsätzen der evangelischen Kirche (The Christian Faith According to the Principles of the Protestant Church) in the 1820s, in which the core idea is the universal presence amongst humanity (sometimes more hidden, sometimes more explicit) of a feeling or awareness of 'absolute dependence'; all theological themes are reinterpreted as descriptions or expressions of modifications of this feeling.

Contemporary usage[edit]

There are three overlapping uses of the term 'systematic theology' in contemporary Christian theology.

  • According to some theologians in evangelical circles, it is used to refer to the topical collection and exploration of the content of the Bible, in which a different perspective is provided on the Bible's message than that garnered simply by reading the biblical narratives, poems, proverbs, and letters as a story of redemption or as a manual for how to live a godly life. One advantage of this approach is that it allows one to see all that the Bible says regarding some subject (e.g. the attributes of God), and one danger is a tendency to assign technical definitions to terms based on a few passages and then read that meaning everywhere the term is used in the Bible (e.g. "justification" as Paul uses it in his letter to the Romans) is allegedly different from how James uses it in his letter (Romans 4:25, Romans 5:16–18 and James 2:21–25). In this view, systematic theology is complementary to biblical theology. Biblical theology traces the themes chronologically through the Bible, while systematic theology examines themes topically; biblical theology reflects the diversity of the Bible, while systematic theology reflects its unity. However, there are some contemporary systematic theologians of an evangelical persuasion who would question this configuration of the discipline of systematic theology. Their concerns are twofold. First, instead of being a systematic exploration of theological truth, when systematic theology is defined in such a way as described above, it is synonymous with biblical theology. Instead, some contemporary systematic theologians seek to use all available resources to ascertain the nature of God and God's relationship to the world, including philosophy, history, culture, etc. In sum, these theologians argue that systematic and biblical theology are two separate, though related, disciplines. Second, some systematic theologians claim that evangelicalism itself is far too diverse to describe the above approach as "the" evangelical viewpoint. Instead, these systematic theologians would note that in instances where systematic theology is defined in such a way that it solely depends on the Bible, it is a highly conservative version of evangelical theology and does not speak for evangelical theology in toto.
  • The term can also be used to refer to theology which self-avowedly seeks to perpetuate the classical traditions of thematic exploration of theology described above – often by means of commentary upon the classics of those tradition: the Damascene, Aquinas, John Calvin, Melanchthon and others.
  • Normally (but not exclusively) in liberal theology, the term can be used to refer to attempts to follow in Friedrich Schleiermacher's footsteps, and reinterpret Christian theology in order to derive it from a core set of axioms or principles.

In all three senses, Christian systematic theology will often touch on some or all of the following topics: God, trinitarianism, revelation, creation and divine providence, theodicy, theological anthropology, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, Israelology, Bibliology, hermeneutics, sacrament, pneumatology, Christian life, Heaven, and interfaith statements on other religions.

Notable systematic theologians[edit]

Systematic Theologians of Antiquity[edit]

Systematic Theologians of the Middle Ages (West) and Byzantine Period (East)[edit]

Reformation, Protestant, and Anglican Systematic Theologians from 1517-Present[edit]

Roman Catholic Theologians, Counter-Reformation to Present[edit]

Post-Byzantine Eastern Orthodox[edit]

Other[edit]

References[edit]

Resources[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]