Talk:Systematic theology

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Did the author(s) of this article _look_ at some texts on it before coming up with the definition? I see the definition "Systematic theology is the study of Christian theology organized thematically (as opposed to historically, as in Historical Theology or Biblical Theology - according to some uses of the latter term)" here, but in NONE of the texts title "Systematic Theology" I have ever opened.

This is not mere quibbling. The difference is VERY important. Not just ANY "thematic organization" earns the title "systematic theology". There has to be some sytem in the theological method used as well. That is why Hodge, for example, gives the more demanding definition:

     It [the speculative method of systematic theology] decides on all
  truth, or determines on what is true from the laws of the mind, or
  from axioms involved in the constitution of the thinking principle
  within us

Now I won't say his definition should be followed slavishly. And I am glad this article shows awareness of different senses of the term in different circles. But please: recognize that a 'systematic theology' must have much more than just "thematic organization"! --

Systematic Theology is Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth[edit]

"Systematic Theology" is a term used by many and has as many definitions. Yet, to coin a term one must have a thought to define with that term. Systematic Theology is only a term used to define a method of study, research and the making of theological essay. Whatever the various views of the term are, the purest meaning can come from the Book that the term is used to refer to. 2 Timothy 2:15 reads, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (King James Version). "Rightly dividing the word of truth" should be the definition of "Systematic Theology."

Systematic Theology is an honest and unbiased study of Scriptural themes, whether by historical chronology or not, for the purpose of having a accurate understanding of Biblical doctrine and how it should apply. All should be Systematic Theologians to present ourselves approved to God.

Any study of God's Word which construes it to mean other than what God intended is not "Rightly dividing the word of truth," and should not be considered Systematic Theology, but systematic heresy. Either the study is of Theos/God and His Word or we study as false teachers desiring to lead people from the truth.

"Systematic Heresy" is an interesting idea, but...[edit]

Who gets to say what constitutes a "right reading" or even a "right translation" of Scripture? The fact is that the Bible is such a broad book you can legitimately cause it to sustain any old thing you like, genocide or apartheid being fine examples. As a matter of fact, that's what Systematic theologians get paid to do, sustain a particular reading. These are quite capable, and in most cases faithful people, who in many instances do not agree at all about what "God's intent" is/was. If a systematic theology is going to be well and truly unbiased, the theologian must be allowed to push on it--often in inflammatory ways. If the option to do this in all theology is not made available, then the discipline will become, as Aquinas said towards the end of his life about his earlier work, "Like straw." That is: empty, irrelevant, and idolatrous.

Further, we must remember that 2 Timothy was written for a teeny tiny sect of people who were in danger of being absorbed into Roman paganism. It was necessary to maintain the cohesion of the group above all other things (like allowing for disparate views). Christianity was just some cult back then; it isn't anymore, it's framework and people are now such that they can accommodate quite a lot of heresy and be the better for it. Remember, some of the giants on whose shoulders we now stand were called "Heretic" and "Apostate." The only difference is that nowadays, their ideas have become our own.

Finally, we do not have a window into the mind of God. To put forth a theology of which we say, "I have read God's mind and here is the absolute and immutable truth that follows his (sic) word" is the height of folly and blasphemy. In the end, any and all theologies, however well-designed or faithful, fall short of the actual truth because we just can't know it. "Heresy" is therefore a completely human construction we use to label those with whom we disagree. I don't usually care for Barth, but he had it right, whatever God is is indeed "wholly other," and we are not. MerricMaker 22:42, 1 April 2006 (UTC)

This seems not particularly helpful. The "right reading" is trivially identified in Catholicism, for example, if there is an ex cathedra statement of the Pope. If one belongs to the Pietistic movements, then the burning of the heart will tell one that the reading is right (Joseph Smith Jr of Mormon-founding fame used the same approach). There is no premium for "unbiased" in many of the theological traditions either; and indeed, it's not obvious without our modern support for individualism why there should be. Aquinas is not a particularly good example here, given that he was the one who was trying to shoe-horn the Jewish and Christian traditions into the Aristotelian framework.

-- 05:02, 24 August 2006 (UTC)

Naw, they were not going to become Roman pagans! Roman paganism wasn't a very well worked out theory and much too practical for those interested in the esoterical speculations like neoplatonism. Who in the Eastern part of the empire cared about Roman paganism? That was the state sponsored nonsense (I am exaggerating). The Eastern part, by far the more theologically active one well into the 3rd and 4th century were into mystery cults, gnostic movements, Mithras and the like. Monks in the desert, that was the real McCoy.

-- 05:02, 24 August 2006 (UTC)

That does not follow. It seems hard to believe that everything can be found in the Bible. There is for example very little in the Bible that requires everyone to become homosexual (much to the joy of the hardliners). To label that as heretical seems very acceptable, given that it just cannot be shown from the text. If the text can really be shown to say anything, then the text is not saying anything at all. That's unfortunate, because it is then a waste of time to use it. And an appeal to the "otherness" of God as Barth tries it is pointless, because it is Barth's claim of the otherness of God, not God's own otherness (or whatever). God is "gedacht wie gedacht", as Kant put it, a thought without any way of verification except its own internal logical structure, so to speak. There is no extra-sensorial information, so it is, just like love and liberty, whatever one thinks when one thinks it. The only thing we can do is try to give non-contradictory definition of these ideal types. But we cannot get away from the fact that even attributing otherness is just a statement aboout our thinking of the thought, and not about the intended object itself. And thinking that through is what Systematic Theology is all about.

-- 05:02, 24 August 2006 (UTC)

While it's nice to see someone respond to my response to that "rightly divided truth" dummy, I feel I must point out that I was responding to someone who seemed rather fixated on scripture as a basis for theology, and thought it was the end of the discussion to cite it. Thanks for responding to the holes in my argument, however, they were left there because whoever wrote that "rightly divided truth" rot would not have listened to anything not based in scripture. Sorry, I just didn't want to come off like one of those tools who thinks that scripture is the only basis from which to build a theology. Most of the theology I work with, for example, has its foundations in philosophy and doesn't really look at scripture until the fourth of fifth step.
The response to the Timothy thing is interesting. Would you disagree that Christianity needed to show what a radically different worldview it represented, and therefore needed to present a united front against its detractors as part of exemplifying that radically different view? MerricMaker 04:44, 27 August 2006 (UTC)

Systematic Theology is not Dogmatics[edit]

There is a categorical difference between the aims of Systematic Theology and Dogmatics . All that I have read here has nothing to do with Systematic Theology, but everything to do with Dogmatics. Systematic Theology is a way of academically occupying oneself with the idea of a 'Theory of Faiths'. This must include all branches of western theologies like Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Dogmatics. These are special or contextual theologies, but not Systematic Theology. Using only 'Scripture' (which canon is actually the correct one anyway?) and ignoring the understanding of Catholic and Orthodox dogmatics puts this whole discussion only in the light of protestant Dogma. This dogmatic understanding of some seminarian schools, which sometimes calls their dogmatics 'Systematic Theology', misrepresents and misunderstands the discipline as a mere categorisation of some dogmatic themes. It is interesting that Hodge's 'definition' actually does not mention anything about dogma; only about thinking. Systematic Theology is actually a 'theory of Faith'. It should also include its relationship to other faiths and philosophy. Dogmatic themes like the “Doctrine of God”, etc., is also studied, but from other points of reference, and in other religions there are also systematic theological studies. We do not own the term 'Systematic Theology', nor do we have a patent on it's definition. Is Wiki only for the westernised or American audience? The internet is knowingly a world wide web belonging to nobody in particular, but to all of mankind (sadly only to those who can afford to get it).

The Oxford Dictionary states: theology = 1 the study of God and religious belief. 2 religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed.

Note that this understanding allows more scope than mere Anglo-Saxon Protestant Dogmatics; the study of God and religious belief (which should include all religions actually); religious beliefs and theory (of faith) when systematically developed (which should include all religions actually).

And do not try to categorise this to “Comparative Religions”, it was attempted before – unsuccessfully put into the speculative corner of heretics studying religions. It has become a 'discipline' because western protestant dogmatics usurped the definition of Systematic Theology.

I propose we either rename this whole article as "Western conservative evangelical Dogmatics" or allow the discussion of real Systematic Theology as it is offered by most reputable Universities not affiliated to some confessional institutions. -- LandoSr 10:35, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

I quite agree. But I don't think anyone was trying to suggest in composing this article that Western Philosophy, non-Western philosophy, and all the rest have no place in a discussion of Systematic theology. Well, maybe the entry about divided truth might suggest it. That rot aside, quite simply, the article is an underdeveloped one. You are quite right to want to see more, but I get the sense that this article is in a backwater--probably for the reasons you touch upon. As the saying goes: one who knows only one religion knows no religion. The trend today is to respond to globalization by wilfully ignoring the rest of the world. This article reflects that. MerricMaker 14:15, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
I think LandoSr's second approach is the right one. Despite the alleged inaccuracy, many confessional institutions do commonly refer to dogmatics as systematics, so that perspective should still be represented here as well. --Flex 14:19, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
I've started trimming out the stuff that suggests that only Christians care to examine theology systematically and adding material which is more inclusive. Join in, kids. MerricMaker 14:25, 1 August 2006 (UTC)


Just to add something here - people keep taking Augustine out of the Protestant category and leaving him only in the Catholic one. That's obviously very biased, seeing as how Protestants also claim Augustine one of them. Luther, Calvin, etc. all claimed to be resurrecting Augustine's theology. People are of course entitled to whatever opinion they want with regards to where Augustine would have stood with the Reformation debate, but those opinions don't belong on wikipedia. LEAVE HIM IN BOTH CATEGORIES.

Augustine was recently classified as a Roman Catholic. There was no such thing as the Roman Catholic church during Augustine's life. The Catholics did indeed bestow sainthood on him, but as a figure he predates the Roman Church, I'm removing the categorization. MerricMaker 02:52, 14 August 2006 (UTC)

I dont follow this argument. Clearly there was a Roman Church, possibly as early as the 1st century, so to say that Augusttin predates the Roman Church is very confusing. By the time of Augustine you are also well in the Constantine program of the unified Christian church for the Roman Empire, which it makes quite a bit of sense to interpret as the Catholic Church. The important part wasn't in Rome, true enough, but in Alexandria, Antioch, Byzanthium and Jerusalem (honoris causa). As one of the Latin and Western church fathers, Augustine's connection to the Western half of the Empire seems to be pretty well established. And the way he reflected the invasion of Rome by the barbarians in De Civitate Dei is clear indication that he thought Rome mightily important. If you mean that the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages with its elaborate claims to papal power was not fully developed, OK, but that was the church of the Middle Ages. At minimum some criterion should be specified what makes the Roman Catholic Church the Roman Catholic Church then.

-- 04:49, 24 August 2006 (UTC)

How about this then: early figures like Paul, Tertullian, Irenaeus, and that crowd existed before one needed to clarify about branches of Christianity. You were either Christian or you weren't. If we want to look at things this way everyone (except for Arius and other heretic-types) before the schism would be considered Catholic because there just wasn't anything else one could be. Why not say that if the theologian is foundational to all three major groups (Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants) we don't specify their affiliation due to their importance historically and conceptually? If we want to find out their denomination we can just click on their own article. Maybe we should only specify them as they themselves defined themselves. If they claim allegiance to the Pope, they're Catholic. If their only creed is Jesus, leave the denomination blank. 23:59, 28 August 2006 (UTC)

Significant systematic theologians[edit]

Every single person on the list is either Roman or Reformed. That's WAY too narrow:

  • Arminian
  • Orthodox
  • Coptic
  • Pentecostal

What else...--LanceHaverkamp 18:39, 12 January 2007 (UTC)

Not exactly, people classify them as Roman Catholic or Reformed. It's a matter of incorrect classification, not an absence of people from more than two traditions. MerricMaker 07:27, 13 January 2007 (UTC)

I edited some blatant vandalism "is the study of robotic nuns". —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:09, 6 August 2008 (UTC)

Probably worth mentioning is David Ford's The Modern Theologians, which provides a very comprehensive list of major figures in systematic theology since WW1. The big names which most systematic theologians deal with are Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Henri de Lubac, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Each of those figures represent different aspects of modern theology, from which the various 'schools' of theology develop (e.g. the 'Chicago' school of Tracy, Gilkey, Jeanrond; the 'Yale' school of Lindbeck, Frei, Hauerwas; etc). While Lance's comments that the list is too narrowly focused on Roman Catholic and Reformed theologians, the fact of the matter is that modern theology was greatly influenced by both of those traditions. If anything, I'd say the list overly emphasis the Evangelical side of theology, which is a much smaller group than it appears on the list (e.g. Geisler and Grudem are rarely, if ever, discussed in academic theology and they themselves refrain from interacting with the discipline at large (i.e. they are only interested in their denomination and the ETS). Evangelical theologians worth noting (i.e. those who deal with people outside of evangelical theology) are people like Carl Henry, Thomas Oden, and Clark Pinnock. In fact, another book worth noting would be "Introduction to Christian Theology" by Badham, even if does focus a bit too much on promoting Drew University's department. (talk) 08:54, 30 August 2010 (UTC)

What use is the list of notable systematic theologians?[edit]

I have a theory, which I'd happily see disproved. My theory is that the only reason why the list of Notable Systematic Theologians in this article exists is so that readers can notice that their favourite theologian is not present - and either get cross or do something about it. (Okay, there's the minor subsidiary use: noticing that one of their favourite theologians has been miscategorised - and either getting cross or doing something about it.)

Given that

  • it will never be a complete list;
  • it is a matter of controversy whether many of the names on the list belong to people aptly described as 'systematic theologians';

I'd strongly suggest deleting it.

What does anyone else think?

--mahigton (talk) 21:02, 23 March 2009 (UTC)

What is with the dates in the list of Resources at the end. Is it supposed to be dates of the latest publications of their works? Clearly it isn't when the person wrote the book, or actually lived. But then you've got Augustine... hmm.. Just looks poor to me. (talk) —Preceding undated comment added 15:10, 3 February 2010 (UTC).

I think the list is worth keeping, as systematic theology is a distinct discipline from pastoral theology or philosophical theology, and it is nice to have examples. However, IMO we should only include authors who published works that self-identify as systematic theologies. Barth is clearly a systematic theologian. Elizabeth Anscombe is not, insofar as she published nothing in that genre. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Hollowandeceptivephilosophy (talkcontribs) 15:44, 7 June 2014 (UTC)

There are quite a number of theologians listed who never published any work of systematics. I would take as exemplary works in this discipline the Summa Theologica of St Thomas Aquinas and Calvin's Institutes. I am not aware that Martin Luther King or Marcella Althaus-Reid ever wrote this sort of work. To the person above who complains about the lists being largely of RC and Reformed theologians, the obvious answer is that it is the RCs and Reformed Protestants who have shown the most interest in the discipline. St John Damascene is probably the only Orthodox theologian who wrote a work of true systematics, and F.J. Hall one of the few Anglicans to have done so. The Evangelical churches have not produced many works of systematic theology, except at the points where they overlap with Reformed Christianity (e.g. Van Til and the like). (talk) 21:53, 31 July 2015 (UTC)


Is there some reason Soren Kierkegaard doesn't fall under this category and end up in the list? (talk) 17:28, 29 June 2013 (UTC)


Yves Congar did not consider himself a systematic theologian in the sense of Karl Rahner, but rather an ecclesiologst and a historical theologian. Even though, he wrote on a wide range of topics. Should he really be listed as a systematic theologian? Taram (talk) 22:27, 16 March 2014 (UTC)


I am aware of no evidence that the Wilfrid Sellars who is cited as a systematic theologian here wrote anything on Theology. At the very least, nothing is cited on his wikipedia page

Does anyone have contrary evidence? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:26, 24 April 2014 (UTC)

(I was the original poster before I got a wiki account). I removed several figures from the list of Catholic Systematic Theologians.

I am very confident that Heidegger and Sellars should not have been on the list. There is no evidence of any work in even theology by either man that I can find.

I am pretty confident than Van Frassen should not be on the list. He (with one exception) does not seem to talk about religion very much in his published work at all.

Dummett, Anscombe, MacIntyre, and Taylor do not seem to have systematic works published, and are generally considered philosophers.

Pascal's work seems to be more apologetic than properly systematic as far as I can tell.

If someone has contrary evidence please let me know (or if I stepped on someone's toes, I apologize).

Hollowandeceptivephilosophy (talk) 20:06, 10 July 2014 (UTC)

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