January 23, 2021, 03:08:42 am

*Systematic* Theology

Started by AudioArtist, February 04, 2011, 09:13:22 am

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AudioArtist

February 04, 2011, 09:13:22 am Last Edit: February 04, 2011, 01:13:17 pm by AudioArtist
I've been having certain thoughts about systematic theology as of late, and I'm not sure they're correct, but I thought it'd be worth sharing them here anyhow. Forgive me if I'm stating the obvious here - that might be the sleep deprivation!

I am going to take this a step too far and suggest that systematic theology (though not all theology) is a waste of time. This is coming from someone who used to obsess over theology and philosophy.

I see nowhere in the Bible where we're commanded to understand the attributes of God or His eternal operations in a "systematic" way. It's a specifically Western and quite un-Jewish way of approaching things, and reached its greatest heights in the Reformation (and then the influence of The Enlightenment pushed the approach within the Church even further.) Many protestants idolise the reformers and think that they are so very "Biblical", when they could at times be just as culturally bound as any other ideological group.

So many arguments and divisions in the Church are caused by the fact that one group has produced its own "system" relating to how the Bible describes God's operations. But the Bible is full of paradox, and you'd have to be quite arrogant to say that it isn't also full of mystery. Jesus Himself was constantly and joyously paradoxical, and Paul wasn't nearly as systematic as people think he was - even in Romans. Where there are systems at work in God's kingdom and in Scripture, we will only see them as through a glass darkly on this side of eternity - and they are probably far more multidimensional than we could ever realise. Our linear modes of thinking will never successfully unravel and depict the realities of God or Scripture, which is why we need faith and the new wisdom of the Spirit.

We also need one another, because I do believe that scriptural and spiritual truth is layered (which is not the same as pluralism). If there are many "facts" or phenomena associated with a single atom in the physical world, how much more could be this be true of Scripture, the spiritual world, and people's own relationships with Jesus? The logic of Heaven is quite different from the logic of Earth. How dare one person, with their little brain, declare another's experience or understanding false because it doesn't fit their (or their denomination's) system. Of course, some teachings and behaviours are blatantly heretical, but the "bigger picture" of sorietology, of eschatology, of the Atonement, of the Kingdom of Heaven - well, we ought to agree on the fundamentals, but I think there is infinitely more to all these things than we could imagine. Seeing The Atonement exclusively in terms of Penal Substitution, for example, is so odd to me. It is that, but so much more...what Christ did has cosmic reverberations. The whole of creation groans in anticipation of His return. The Gospel is simple enough to be understood by a child, but it'll take a lifetime to even scratch the surface of its depth. We probably don't know half of what was going on in the spiritual kingdoms as Christ hung on that tree, and while I have certain ideas about all these things and adhere to orthodox basics, I am happy to admit that there is much I do not understand.

I'm not denying the role of systematic reasoning in our faith - just the way some seem to claim that the Bible alone, the systems they've inherited, and their big brains (and hermeneutics) will guarantee a full understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. Their approach is alien to much of the world's population and ignores the fact that the way any given person understands and "lives out" a text is in some way influenced by their own culture. It also places an unusual amount of faith in the human mind and human reason, when we're told not to lean on our own understanding.

But, worst of all, it destroys the whole point of the Body of Christ - which is an organisation requiring the full participation and the full attention of every member. We have all understood different facets of God's character, and each of us will gravitate towards certain expressions and understandings of the faith. The simple can learn from the learned, and the learned can learn from the simple. Since truth is multidimensional (I believe - this is Jesus Christ, through whom everything was created, and His Scriptures we are talking about here!), one person may have heard and understood one aspect of it more clearly, and another person another. That is, if they are following their Father in Heaven, and not the voice of the accuser and his religious spirits. Practically speaking, I believe, we should seek first the Kingdom and keep in step with the Holy Spirit in humility, with the Bible as our fluid, authoritative and living guide (and our means to declaring and receiving the promises of God.)

The core issue is, I think, pride. And pride prevents people from being teachable, and so it prevents people from realising the great importance of the Body of Christ in our journey of understanding the nature of God and ways of God. We're not to be built around a shared system, but a shared Person.

jiminpa

A couple of additional observations. 

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a linear, systematic approach, but when it is idolized, as reformation theology loves to do, it becomes a major hinderance to understanding God's message to us.  The Bible itself is completely non-linear from the start.  Genesis starts with an overview, and then retells the same events in more detail.  The same with Revelation.  The remaining four books of Moses are chronologically concurrent with one another.  The book of Job may have been written before The Flood, but appears after the account of the Kings of Israel. 

Along with laying hold of the promises the scriptures are intended as a watchdog and for doctrine, (2 Tim 3:16).  Just trusting what we think we are hearing from God can be very dangerous.  We've all heard the stories of people who "God told" to commit adultery and I have no doubt that we all know people who would hear God say exactly that if He hadn't provided a very definite guardrail in the scriptures against that.  So there is truth in being guided by scripture as well as the Spirit. 

I think the key is to grow up to the place where we are looking for the heart of God in the scriptures first.  The doctrine thing will fall into place or become pretty unimportant if we do that.  Based on some of our recent threads I think we agree that reformation theology tends to miss God's heart in favor of accedemic knowledge. 

On a side note I find it interesting that you and I who both tend to steer away from calling out individuals both posted criticisms of John MacArthur within days of one another.  I wonder if God is about to reveal his true self soon.  I don't know, but I could be time.
I used to worry and stress and strive to "do my part," never believing that I had done enough of "my part."  Now I see my part as casting it off on Him, doing what I believe He is giving me, and letting it just be His problem.  I don't have to fix everything, but I get to work along side of God.

Hisgirl

Robert,


You're just too dang smart for me.   ;D


I like how Bill Johnson puts it... "Jesus Christ is perfect theology."


So yeah, theology isn't a teaching or a religion....it's a person. 
"It's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it."  My Mama

AudioArtist

Oh Dana, I'm not that clever! But you have a wisdom that is Spirit-inspired and I've learned (and will still learn) so much from you.

jiminpa, I really agree with what you've said. I too am not opposed to a linear, systematic approach if it helps people live out the faith - just the ugly way it is idolised in Reformed theology and the way some circles and their theological systems create a hinderance for others in their understanding of God's work in all of us. 

I believe Scripture does give us doctrine, and I think it is vital we hold to the orthodox truths revealed in Scripture. But who actually truly and fully "understands" orthodox truth? Who understands all The Atonement entails, for example, or the Trinity?

I've researched various denominational approaches to the Atonement. I believe both Eastern Orthodox and Reformed understandings (the most mainline and 'opposing' views I can think of - 'Christus Victor' and penal substitution) have truth to them, as does Ransom Theory. I know the Scriptures to do with Jesus' atoning sacrifice for our sins, and I have experienced God's glory and seen my sinful nature for what it is - so I know experientially that without the covering of Jesus' blood and the triune God's rescue mission to save humanity I would be burned up by His sheer holiness and carried off by those holy angels of judgement pretty quick! Thank you Jesus.

However, I know little of the exact process of how exactly Jesus' death and resurrection saved me from my sins - and not just me, but potentially the whole of humanity and the whole of creation! If pressed for further details, none of us know even the basic spiritual goings-on of this incredible event. Sure, we can say that Jesus became sin, that the Father could no longer behold Him (how did that work on the cosmic scale of things?), that He preached to the souls in prison, that the power of God rose Him on the third day, etc. But really, we fall back on childlike faith and a deep sense of Holy Spirit-inspired gratitude and an important but very general outline of what the Atonement is. We may meditate on Isaiah 53 and other passages - receiving by faith the basic reality of what Jesus did, but not claiming to understand all it entails.

The same goes for the Trinity. I believe the orthodox understanding of the Trinity, not because "The Trinity" is spelled out blatantly in Scripture, but because it seems like a necessary (and the best) explanation for how Scripture speaks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. My own experiences of God also confirm the orthodox notion of the Trinity (if they didn't, I'd have to admit I was being deceived or at least misunderstanding those experiences!) There is one God in three distinct persons; three persons in one God. But how exactly does this relationship work? What does it "look" like? Doctrine can only very roughly approximate what the living reality of the Trinity actually is. But I think we are given a beautiful poetic glimpse of the Father and the Son's relationship in Proverbs 8, where wisdom (Jesus is the 'power and wisdom' of God) speaks:

I was there when he set the heavens in place,
   when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
   and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
   so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30 Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
   rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
   and delighting in mankind.


It is my personal conviction that if you eschew an openness to supernatural and mystical revelations for even Christian basics, you won't ever understand them, no matter how much you wrote about them in your PhD. Nor can we let the imaginative and poetic method take second place to the scientific and logical. I am particularly opposed to many Reformed approaches to Scripture, because the life and mysteries of God are tied up and bound in favour of an advanced system. Men are treading where they ought not tread, forming systems out of paradoxes and comprehensive, logical packages out of divine operations far beyond our limited understanding. In our attempts to be deep and thorough, all depth and fluidity can be squeezed out of Scripture. Scripture is alive and multilayered and speaks of eternal truths, yet also speaks to every situation - and the events it describes probably have more dimensions to them than we could ever realise. You could study and then preach the life out of one of Ezekiel's visions - but perhaps, first of all, what we're supposed to take from them is, "God is amazing. His sheer beauty could overwhelm a man to the point of insanity. Just look at what Ezekiel saw!" And then, with prayer and study, we can begin to discuss symbolism and history and unlock a part of what is going on in those texts...

JTM³

Stop stealing my threads Audio !  ;)

What I mean is I also have many thoughts in this area.

I never knew about all this bickering until I went to a Calvinist high school.

The people were great, its just depressing being exposed to such faithlessness. :speechless:


Anyway, I may start my own thread sometime.

Today though, Java !



[spoiler]

Job got HEALED, and YOU can be too!!

Pro tip: Read to the END of the book. Not just man's ideas. They're usually wrong. =P

Jesus = The revealed will of God for all people for all time.
[/spoiler]

jiminpa

Quote from: AudioArtist on February 05, 2011, 06:53:13 am
Oh Dana, I'm not that clever! But you have a wisdom that is Spirit-inspired and I've learned (and will still learn) so much from you.

jiminpa, I really agree with what you've said. I too am not opposed to a linear, systematic approach if it helps people live out the faith - just the ugly way it is idolised in Reformed theology and the way some circles and their theological systems create a hinderance for others in their understanding of God's work in all of us. 

I believe Scripture does give us doctrine, and I think it is vital we hold to the orthodox truths revealed in Scripture. But who actually truly and fully "understands" orthodox truth? Who understands all The Atonement entails, for example, or the Trinity?

I've researched various denominational approaches to the Atonement. I believe both Eastern Orthodox and Reformed understandings (the most mainline and 'opposing' views I can think of - 'Christus Victor' and penal substitution) have truth to them, as does Ransom Theory. I know the Scriptures to do with Jesus' atoning sacrifice for our sins, and I have experienced God's glory and seen my sinful nature for what it is - so I know experientially that without the covering of Jesus' blood and the triune God's rescue mission to save humanity I would be burned up by His sheer holiness and carried off by those holy angels of judgement pretty quick! Thank you Jesus.

However, I know little of the exact process of how exactly Jesus' death and resurrection saved me from my sins - and not just me, but potentially the whole of humanity and the whole of creation! If pressed for further details, none of us know even the basic spiritual goings-on of this incredible event. Sure, we can say that Jesus became sin, that the Father could no longer behold Him (how did that work on the cosmic scale of things?), that He preached to the souls in prison, that the power of God rose Him on the third day, etc. But really, we fall back on childlike faith and a deep sense of Holy Spirit-inspired gratitude and an important but very general outline of what the Atonement is. We may meditate on Isaiah 53 and other passages - receiving by faith the basic reality of what Jesus did, but not claiming to understand all it entails.

The same goes for the Trinity. I believe the orthodox understanding of the Trinity, not because "The Trinity" is spelled out blatantly in Scripture, but because it seems like a necessary (and the best) explanation for how Scripture speaks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. My own experiences of God also confirm the orthodox notion of the Trinity (if they didn't, I'd have to admit I was being deceived or at least misunderstanding those experiences!) There is one God in three distinct persons; three persons in one God. But how exactly does this relationship work? What does it "look" like? Doctrine can only very roughly approximate what the living reality of the Trinity actually is. But I think we are given a beautiful poetic glimpse of the Father and the Son's relationship in Proverbs 8, where wisdom (Jesus is the 'power and wisdom' of God) speaks:

I was there when he set the heavens in place,
   when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
   and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
   so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30 Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
   rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
   and delighting in mankind.


It is my personal conviction that if you eschew an openness to supernatural and mystical revelations for even Christian basics, you won't ever understand them, no matter how much you wrote about them in your PhD. Nor can we let the imaginative and poetic method take second place to the scientific and logical. I am particularly opposed to many Reformed approaches to Scripture, because the life and mysteries of God are tied up and bound in favour of an advanced system. Men are treading where they ought not tread, forming systems out of paradoxes and comprehensive, logical packages out of divine operations far beyond our limited understanding. In our attempts to be deep and thorough, all depth and fluidity can be squeezed out of Scripture. Scripture is alive and multilayered and speaks of eternal truths, yet also speaks to every situation - and the events it describes probably have more dimensions to them than we could ever realise. You could study and then preach the life out of one of Ezekiel's visions - but perhaps, first of all, what we're supposed to take from them is, "God is amazing. His sheer beauty could overwhelm a man to the point of insanity. Just look at what Ezekiel saw!" And then, with prayer and study, we can begin to discuss symbolism and history and unlock a part of what is going on in those texts...
Yes, and amen.  I do lean more toward a modalistic view of the Trinity, and only know the term from a "discussion" with some reformationists on Facebook.  But, like you, I understand that we can't really understand.  My real explanation of the Trinity is two-fold.  There is only one God and He is one, period, yet there are definite distinctions between the Father, Jesus and the Spirit.  It doesn't make sense to our finite little minds, but it is true nonetheless.  The closest my little mind can come is to realize that we who are created in God's image are also body, soul and spirit, and I have had arguments between my flesh, mind and spirit, so I know they have distinctions.  One of the few things I actually liked about the book "The Shack" is that the author gets the whole "one God-three distinctions" thing, which is what started the discussion with the reformationists come to think of it. 
I used to worry and stress and strive to "do my part," never believing that I had done enough of "my part."  Now I see my part as casting it off on Him, doing what I believe He is giving me, and letting it just be His problem.  I don't have to fix everything, but I get to work along side of God.

DiscipleHeLovesToo

 
well, i'm gonna go out on a limb here and say something that would probably get me thrown out of most churches; but i believe that if i never reveal my ignorance, i will likely never recieve instruction.
Trinity - I don't see this clearly in the Bible. To my understanding, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are names for the three ways that men relate to one God.

The Father - God all mighty, all holy, perfect creator and judge
The Son - God in an 'earthsuit'.  We are spirits in earthsuits; so was Jesus; except His was the pure Spirit of God. God paying the price for our unbelief; showing us by example how we are to live in the power of love.
The Holy Ghost - God with and in us; leading, guiding, directing, comforting, teaching.

I usually don't like to quote men, but I'll make and exception here and share something from Clarke's commentary:


begin quote:
1Jn 5:7 There are three that bear record - The Father, who bears testimony to his Son; the Word or Λογος, Logos, who bears testimony to the Father; and the Holy Ghost, which bears testimony to the Father and the Son. And these three are one in essence, and agree in the one testimony, that Jesus came to die for, and give life to, the world.
But it is likely this verse is not genuine. It is wanting in every MS. of this epistle written before the invention of printing, one excepted, the Codex Montfortii, in Trinity College, Dublin: the others which omit this verse amount to one hundred and twelve.
It is wanting in both the Syriac, all the Arabic, Ethiopic, the Coptic, Sahidic, Armenian, Slavonian, etc., in a word, in all the ancient versions but the Vulgate; and even of this version many of the most ancient and correct MSS. have it not. It is wanting also in all the ancient Greek fathers; and in most even of the Latin.

The words, as they exist in all the Greek MSS. with the exception of the Codex Montfortii, are the following: -

   "1Jo_5:6. This is he that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness because the Spirit is truth. 1Jo_5:7. For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one. 1Jo_5:9. If we receive the witness of man, the witness of God is greater, etc."
.
The words that are omitted by all the MSS., the above excepted, and all the versions, the Vulgate excepted, are these: -

[In heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one, and there are three which bear witness in earth].

To make the whole more clear, that every reader may see what has been added, I shall set down these verses, with the inserted words in brackets.

   "1Jo_5:6. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. 1Jo_5:7. For there are three that bear record [in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. 1Jo_5:8. And there are three that bear witness in earth],the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, and these three agree in one. 1Jo_5:9. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater, etc."
  .
Any man may see, on examining the words, that if those included in brackets, which are wanting in the MSS. and versions, be omitted, there is no want of connection; and as to the sense, it is complete and perfect without them; and, indeed much more so than with them. I shall conclude this part of the note by observing, with Dr. Dodd, "that there are some internal and accidental marks which may render the passage suspected; for the sense is complete, and indeed more clear and better preserved, without it. Besides, the Spirit is mentioned, both as a witness in heaven and on earth; so that the six witnesses are thereby reduced to five, and the equality of number, or antithesis between the witnesses in heaven and on earth, is quite taken away. Besides, what need of witnesses in heaven? No one there doubts that Jesus is the Messiah; and if it be said that Father, Son, and Spirit are witnesses on earth, then there are five witnesses on earth, and none in heaven; not to say that there is a little difficulty in interpreting how the Word or the Son can be a witness to himself."
...
Though a conscientious believer in the doctrine of the ever blessed, holy, and undivided Trinity, and in the proper and essential Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, which doctrines I have defended by many, and even new, arguments in the course of this work, I cannot help doubting the authenticity of the text in question; and, for farther particulars, refer to the observations at the end of this chapter. end quote

What is not clear to me in scripture is the concept that God is three persons  in one - to me that's confusing.  We are spirit, soul and body but these three aspects of our makeup represent one person.  God is Father, Son and Holy Ghost, but these three aspects of His makeup represent one person.

The other scripture that comes to my mind that would seem to support the concept of the trinity is Mat 27:46 and Mark 15:34.  Once again I'll make an exception and quote from Clarke's commentary:


begin quote Mat 27:46 My God! My God! why hast thou forsaken me! - These words are quoted by our Lord from Psa_22:1; they are of very great importance, and should be carefully considered.
Some suppose "that the divinity had now departed from Christ, and that his human nature was left unsupported to bear the punishment due to men for their sins." But this is by no means to be admitted, as it would deprive his sacrifice of its infinite merit, and consequently leave the sin of the world without an atonement. Take deity away from any redeeming act of Christ, and redemption is ruined. Others imagine that our Lord spoke these words to the Jews only, to prove to them that he was the Messiah. "The Jews," say they, "believed this psalm to speak of the Messiah: they quoted the eighth verse of it against Christ - He trusted in God that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. (See Mat_27:43). To which our Lord immediately answers, My God! my God! etc , thus showing that he was the person of whom the psalmist prophesied." I have doubts concerning the propriety of this interpretation.
...
end quote[/font]

Clarke goes on to say that this quote from Psalms 22:1 was likely mistranslated in Psalms 22:1; this section is tedious for me with the mechanics of translating ancient text, so i'll omit it here for clarity's sake; but he goes on to this conclusion about how Psalms 22:1 should be translated:


begin quote Through the whole of the Sacred Writings, God is represented as doing those things which, in the course of his providence, he only permits to be done; therefore, the words, to whom hast thou left or given me up, are only a form of expression for, "How astonishing is the wickedness of those persons into whose hands I am fallen!" If this interpretation be admitted, it will free this celebrated passage from much embarrassment, and make it speak a sense consistent with itself, and with the dignity of the Son of God.
end quote

GLY!!!
Joh 17:3  And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

DiscipleHeLovesToo

wow; not sure what happened to the formatting in my post from February 06, 2011, 12:53:47 PM; it was supposed to be all in one font and font size - sorry about that! 

thanks for the grace!
Joh 17:3  And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.