Biblical Theology & Systematic Theology

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HoldFast

Puritan Board Freshman
What approach (Biblical Theology or Systematic Theology) do you use in your study of the Bible and why?
 

rbcbob

Puritan Board Graduate
Joshua, I think I could use a little help in better understanding your question.
 

HoldFast

Puritan Board Freshman
Bob,

Biblical Theology approaches the Bible with strict regard to the order of the canon and the progression of the text, while Systematic Theology approaches the Bible by focusing in on certain points in the Bible and extracting themes and ignoring the overall composition and canonical formula in order to organize/systematize doctrines and ideas from the Bible.

I was hoping some seminarians would comment on this topic.
 
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Bookmeister

Puritan Board Freshman
Ok, being a seminarian I will comment. You have set up a false dichotomy, so to answer your question, yes.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Biblical Theology approaches the Bible with strict regard to the order of the canon and the progression of the text, while Systematic Theology approaches the Bible by focusing in on certain points in the Bible and extracting themes and ignoring the overall composition and canonical formula in order to organize/systematize doctrines and ideas from the Bible.

Perhaps Geerhardus Vos (Biblical Theology, 15-16) can shed some light on the proper distinction between the two:

There is no difference in that one would be more closely bound to the Scriptures than the other. In this they are wholly alike. Nor does the difference lie in this, that the one transforms the Biblical material, whereas the other would leave it unmodified. Both equally make the truth deposited in the Bible undergo a transformation: but the difference arises from the fact that the principles by which the transformation is effected differ. In Biblical Theology the principle is one of historical, in Systematic Theology it is one of logical construction. Biblical Theology draws a line of development. Systematic Theology draws a circle. Still, it should be remembered that on the line of historical progress there is at several points already a beginning of correlation among elements of truth in which the beginnings of the systematizing process can be discerned.

On this definition it is not a matter of choosing one over the other. A balanced and integrated approach to theology will be tracing the progress of revelation in the canon, acknowledging the process of interpretation and formulation in the history of the church, using logic to systematise the truth into a conceptual framework, and demonstrating how this impacts on the faith and life of the Christian in the world. Any approach which denigrates one of these disciplines to the exaltation of the other is naive of the way theology develops and produces imbalance in the thinking of its proponents.
 

Calvinist Cowboy

Puritan Board Junior
I can only agree with the comments of those above. Both biblical theology and systematic theology affect how I study the Bible.
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
Perhaps what the OP is getting at is that you do not simultaneously do both biblical and systematic theology to the same extent. Yes, each impinges on the other, but it's also easy to tell the difference between the two disciplines. That's why you can have a work by Vos entitled Biblical Theology and one by Hodge entitled Systematic Theology.

So, to perhaps rehabilitate the OP somewhat, we could certainly ask people on which approach they focus more of their attention, or if they have any specific guidelines to balance their study.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
I think of myself as a biblical theology sort of guy, especially when I prepare a lesson to teach. BUT... I realize that my systematics is constantly in the background, so that the biblical theology observations I'm making are being tested by the systematics. It seems to me that this is important. Without it the biblical theology approach could easily lead me down some wrong paths.

In short, "both" is the right answer. Personally... biblical theology excites me. Systematics keeps me grounded.
 

HoldFast

Puritan Board Freshman
Ok, being a seminarian I will comment. You have set up a false dichotomy, so to answer your question, yes.

Could you elaborate on how I have set up a false dichotomy? And if I correctly see the route you are going, specifically why Biblical Theology cannot exist outside of Systematic Theology.



...using logic to systematise the truth into a conceptual framework, and demonstrating how this impacts on the faith and life of the Christian in the world.

This is an area that I find difficulty with. I disagree with the notion that a BT approach MUST incorporate the discipline of Systematic Theology in order to possess a framework of truths found in the text. While I agree that ST cannot exist without a strong BT presence I disagree that BT is dependent upon ST in order to understand the text in it's fullness.

...but it's also easy to tell the difference between the two disciplines.

I would agree.

...we could certainly ask people on which approach they focus more of their attention, or if they have any specific guidelines to balance their study.

Again, I believe the assumption that BT cannot exist without ST is incorrect. I understand that ST must be balanced by BT, but what imbalance does BT have that it must rely on ST?


...so that the biblical theology observations I'm making are being tested by the systematics. It seems to me that this is important. Without it the biblical theology approach could easily lead me down some wrong paths.

Why must your BT observation be tested? Is the progression and revelation of the text insufficient by itself? This is the clear distinction I think is being missed. The idea that reading and understanding the Bible as a book with a definite canonical formula and progression is the basis of Biblical Theology and is viewed as sufficient within itself. The notion that BT must be tested by a system outside of BT declares that the text itself (in it's original language, original formula, original progression) is not sufficient.

I hope I clarified things a bit. Thanks for being gentle! :book2:
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
Biblical Theology approaches the Bible with strict regard to the order of the canon and the progression of the text, while Systematic Theology approaches the Bible by focusing in on certain points in the Bible and extracting themes and ignoring the overall composition and canonical formula in order to organize/systematize doctrines and ideas from the Bible.

Perhaps Geerhardus Vos (Biblical Theology, 15-16) can shed some light on the proper distinction between the two:

There is no difference in that one would be more closely bound to the Scriptures than the other. In this they are wholly alike. Nor does the difference lie in this, that the one transforms the Biblical material, whereas the other would leave it unmodified. Both equally make the truth deposited in the Bible undergo a transformation: but the difference arises from the fact that the principles by which the transformation is effected differ. In Biblical Theology the principle is one of historical, in Systematic Theology it is one of logical construction. Biblical Theology draws a line of development. Systematic Theology draws a circle. Still, it should be remembered that on the line of historical progress there is at several points already a beginning of correlation among elements of truth in which the beginnings of the systematizing process can be discerned.

On this definition it is not a matter of choosing one over the other. A balanced and integrated approach to theology will be tracing the progress of revelation in the canon, acknowledging the process of interpretation and formulation in the history of the church, using logic to systematise the truth into a conceptual framework, and demonstrating how this impacts on the faith and life of the Christian in the world. Any approach which denigrates one of these disciplines to the exaltation of the other is naive of the way theology develops and produces imbalance in the thinking of its proponents.
In the Preface, Vos also offers a succinct summary that captures the differences between the two approaches:

“Whereas Systematic Theology takes the Bible as a completed whole and endeavors to exhibit its total teaching in an orderly, systematic form, Biblical Theology deals with the material from the historical standpoint, seeking to exhibit the organic growth or development of the truths of Special Revelation from the primitive pre-redemptive Special Revelation given in Eden to the close of the New Testament canon.”(pp. v-vi in the Preface).

I like that.

AMR
 

Bookmeister

Puritan Board Freshman
Joshua,
Ok, now I have a much better idea of where you are comming from. I sat under Redemptive Historical preaching exclusively before I came to seminary. I thought that was what reformed preaching was. I found out otherwise comming to the deep south where it is discouraged and even looked down upon by most. I think I would agree with you, Biblical Theology can stand by itself and Systematic Theology cannot, or should not. Biblical Theology is the foundation for how I view all of theology, including systematics. While I think many do set up a false dichotomy I don't think that's what you were doing and if I understand your question correctly now I would have to answer Biblical Theology.
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
No, BT cannot stand by itself. The reason is simple. For us to be tracing any kind of development, or for us to assume that it is possible to trace such a development, requires that there is an underlying systematic coherence. To trace the historical development even from Gen. 1 to Gen. 6 requires an assent to such systematic propositions such as, "The Bible is inspired," "Because the Bible is inspired, all of its parts exhibit coherence," and "Mankind has the epistemic capabilites to understand the unfolding of Scripture." All of that must be in place before your eyes hit Genesis 1.

From a historic standpoint, Christianity is founded upon the teaching of Christ as the end-time revelation of God (Heb. 1:2). The preaching of the early church was the preaching of the gospel, which is both a series of redemptive-historical events and a coherent logical system of ideas. The NT writings often argue using logical, not just temporal, categories and therefore testify that they were written as expressions of an already existing system of theology. They also draw systematic conclusions from earlier texts.

Really, this discussion is little different from the discussion in the scientific world about how science should be done. Logical positivists insist that science is simply the cumulative result of linear, empirical observation. This is analogous to a BT approach to the Bible. However, Michael Polanyi, Thomas Kuhn, and Alister McGrath have shown that such a view of science is naive. Which experiments are chosen, how they are weighted, how they are related, and what the results mean are all determined, not simply by an empirical process, but upon the pre-existing interpretive framework of the scientist. The experimental data and the interpretive framework can modify each other, resulting in a hermeneutical spiral. However, one is not possible without the other.

For a biblical hermeneutics text that shows how BT and ST are interrelated and mutually presupposed, I would direct you to The Hermeneutical Spiral by Grant Osborne.
 

Bookmeister

Puritan Board Freshman
Charlie,
I am not sure I agree. I think BT can stand on it's own, but I don't think it should. I am a huge ST fan but I let my BT inform my ST. If that helps at all. I have Osborne's book but have not read it yet. Maybe I can get to it over the summer, I will put it on "the list."
 

HoldFast

Puritan Board Freshman
No, BT cannot stand by itself. The reason is simple. For us to be tracing any kind of development, or for us to assume that it is possible to trace such a development, requires that there is an underlying systematic coherence.

I think you are confusing the discipline of Systematic Theology with a progressive textual coherence. Assuming that progressive textual coherence inside Biblical Theology IS itself Systematic Theology is inaccurate. Systematic Theology is far more than just textual coherence. A progressive coherence inside of BT is exactly what it is...coherence. It is not itself Systematic Theology.

Really, this discussion is little different from the discussion in the scientific world about how science should be done.

I strongly disagree. The study of science and the study of a God inspired book with particular canonical form and distinct progression are two completely different discussions.
 

jayce475

Puritan Board Freshman
Pardon, but I've only ever been exposed to systematic theology. What exactly is biblical theology? Can someone give a simple enough explanation for it?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
...using logic to systematise the truth into a conceptual framework, and demonstrating how this impacts on the faith and life of the Christian in the world.

This is an area that I find difficulty with. I disagree with the notion that a BT approach MUST incorporate the discipline of Systematic Theology in order to possess a framework of truths found in the text. While I agree that ST cannot exist without a strong BT presence I disagree that BT is dependent upon ST in order to understand the text in it's fullness.

Think for a moment upon what biblical theology is attempting to do -- it is tracing the development of revelation; it is looking at how the teachings of the Bible came to be revealed in process of time, at sundry times and in divers manners. The biblical theologian cannot even approach his subject without some conceptual framework as to what the Bible is. Is it a collection of folk stories, or is it a divine disclosure? Believing it is a divine disclosure, is the Revealer a God who is Himself in process of development or is He absolute? And understanding that He is absolute, how then could He reveal Himself in the thoughts of limited men without condescending and accommodating Himself to their capacity? And so on and so forth. Biblical theology from beginning to end not only should be dependent upon a conceptual framework to inform it, but it is by nature so dependent, and the person who denies this dependence simply fools himself and others.

The same applies to Historical and Practical Theology. No person approaches the text of Scripture in an historical vacuum. It is also the case that a person's understanding of Scripture has well and truly been shaped by his concern for practical Christian living long before he has heard anything about biblical theology. The study of theology is multi-faceted. It cannot and must not be restricted to a naive idea that an individual can immediately access the biblical revelation without the use of intellectual tools which have been shaped and moulded by numerous influences.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
...so that the biblical theology observations I'm making are being tested by the systematics. It seems to me that this is important. Without it the biblical theology approach could easily lead me down some wrong paths.

Why must your BT observation be tested? Is the progression and revelation of the text insufficient by itself? This is the clear distinction I think is being missed. The idea that reading and understanding the Bible as a book with a definite canonical formula and progression is the basis of Biblical Theology and is viewed as sufficient within itself. The notion that BT must be tested by a system outside of BT declares that the text itself (in it's original language, original formula, original progression) is not sufficient.

My biblical theology observations need to be tested because I'm capable of being an idiot and jumping to conclusions that aren't supported by the entire context of Scripture. Systematics as I think of it is NOT an "outside" system. Good systematics comes from within the Bible itself and recognizes that the Bible is unified, non-contradictory and espouses a coherent view of God and his mighty works.

Like I say, I'm a biblical theology guy. I really like biblical theology. But I'm not brilliant enough to navigate through a particular thread of progressive revelation and still keep the context of all other scripture in mind without some good "systematic" theology to help me.
 

HoldFast

Puritan Board Freshman
Biblical theology from beginning to end not only should be dependent upon a conceptual framework to inform it, but it is by nature so dependent, and the person who denies this dependence simply fools himself and others.

Good systematics comes from within the Bible itself and recognizes that the Bible is unified, non-contradictory and espouses a coherent view of God and his mighty works.

Like I say, I'm a biblical theology guy. I really like biblical theology. But I'm not brilliant enough to navigate through a particular thread of progressive revelation and still keep the context of all other scripture in mind without some good "systematic" theology to help me.

I agree that Biblical Theology should certainly have a conceptual framework. I disagree that said conceptual framework is or must be the discipline of Systematic Theology. This point seems to be falling on deaf ears. I am confused as to why a coherent conceptual framework inside Biblical Theology is being automatically labeled as Systematic Theology when Systematic Theology is far more than just a coherent framework.
 

jayce475

Puritan Board Freshman
Pardon, but I've only ever been exposed to systematic theology. What exactly is biblical theology? Can someone give a simple enough explanation for it?
See post #10 just above.

AMR

It sounds really theoretical. I get the idea, but could we have some specific examples on how they are different? Maybe this will also clear up the debate on whether biblical theology contains a systematic theology framework.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I agree that Biblical Theology should certainly have a conceptual framework. I disagree that said conceptual framework is or must be the discipline of Systematic Theology. This point seems to be falling on deaf ears. I am confused as to why a coherent conceptual framework inside Biblical Theology is being automatically labeled as Systematic Theology when Systematic Theology is far more than just a coherent framework.

I haven't labelled it as systematic theology. I have only sought to show that our theological outlook is equally dependent upon all four disciplines. All four disciplines are legitimate transformative reflections on the biblical text and therefore no single discipline can claim an exclusive place in understanding the Bible.
 

HoldFast

Puritan Board Freshman
The biblical theologian cannot even approach his subject without some conceptual framework as to what the Bible is. .....Biblical theology from beginning to end not only should be dependent upon a conceptual framework to inform it, but it is by nature so dependent, and the person who denies this dependence simply fools himself and others.

I haven't labelled it as systematic theology. I have only sought to show that our theological outlook is equally dependent upon all four disciplines. All four disciplines are legitimate transformative reflections on the biblical text and therefore no single discipline can claim an exclusive place in understanding the Bible.

It appears you did label the "conceptual framework" inherent in BT as Systematic Theology. You speak of four distinct disciplines:

1. Biblical Theology

2. Historical Theology

3. Practical Theology

4. This 4th discipline you did not outright name other than to allude to a "conceptual framework" within Biblical Theology. It is my understanding you are including Systematic Theology as 1 of the 4 disciplines and if you included all 4 disciplines in your previous post then the "conceptual framework" mentioned must be ST.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
4. This 4th discipline you did not outright name other than to allude to a "conceptual framework" within Biblical Theology. It is my understanding you are including Systematic Theology as 1 of the 4 disciplines and if you included all 4 disciplines in your previous post then the "conceptual framework" mentioned must be ST.

You are misunderstanding. The four disciplines are biblical, historical, sytematic, and practical theology. I spoke of a necessary conceptual framework in undertaking the study of biblical theology. The conceptual framework includes the individual's theological outlook, that is, the person's theology has already been shaped by all four disciplines as he comes to engage in his task. Therefore biblical theology cannot claim to come closer to biblical teaching than any of the other disciplines; a legitimate transformation of biblical teaching naturally takes place in all four disciplines.
 

HoldFast

Puritan Board Freshman
I spoke of a necessary conceptual framework in undertaking the study of biblical theology.

Ok. Then you did not speak of Systematic Theology in that post as you stated.

...the person's theology has already been shaped by all four disciplines as he comes to engage in his task.

I disagree. I have explained why in previous posts.

Therefore biblical theology cannot claim to come closer to biblical teaching than any of the other disciplines; a legitimate transformation of biblical teaching naturally takes place in all four disciplines.

I never claimed that Biblical Theology is "closer to biblical teaching" than any other discipline.

Thanks for your help armourbearer. I fully understand your position now. I was hoping to receive more feedback on the original post topic but it appears not too many folks are familiar with the discipline of Biblical Theology. Which is interesting because the PB Theological Forum's subheading is "Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology and just plain Theology discussions". :think: :lol:
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Thanks for your help armourbearer. I fully understand your position now. I was hoping to receive more feedback on the original post topic but it appears not too many folks are familiar with the discipline of Biblical Theology. Which is interesting because the PB Theological Forum's subheading is "Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology and just plain Theology discussions". :think: :lol:

Your OP asked, "What approach (Biblical Theology or Systematic Theology) do you use in your study of the Bible and why?" I believe your question sets up a dichotomy which folk have been concerned to remove in order to show that our approach to the Bible involves a complexity of disciplines. It might appear to you that folk are unfamiliar with biblical theology, but that would only be because they have adopted "reformed biblical theology," and have turned away from the liberal naivete with which the discipline was initially immersed.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
I was hoping to receive more feedback on the original post topic but it appears not too many folks are familiar with the discipline of Biblical Theology. Which is interesting because the PB Theological Forum's subheading is "Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology and just plain Theology discussions". :think: :lol:

My friend, I fear some have stayed away from this thread because it seems to have become an argument rather than a true inquiry as to how others study the Bible. The original question was interesting enough. I chimed in to share, not really advocating for a particular method but willing to let you know how my head tends to work. And there are plenty of other fine people here much better versed in the topic than I am. But I would suggest that to get responses to your question you might want to appear more grateful to those who share.

As for your challenges, might it just be that you and I differ a bit in what we mean by systematics? You call it "focusing in on certain points in the Bible and extracting themes and ignoring the overall composition and canonical formula." Well, if it were about ignoring the Bible I'd be opposed to it too. But I'm more likely to see it as a discipline that makes sure I don't ignore the Bible's big picture. Systematics and BT both do this. Each in their own way, which is the beauty of it.

I'm not ignoring the "canonical formula" if I'm doing biblical theology too, which I am. I'd never give that up. And both methods can be done badly if a theme or biblical thread is removed from the larger context of all Scripture. So I don't quite get the animosity. Have you had bad experiences with some less-than-honest, prooftexty systematics?
 

HoldFast

Puritan Board Freshman
My friend, I fear some have stayed away from this thread because it seems to have become an argument rather than a true inquiry as to how others study the Bible.

I apologize if this is this case. My replies are earnest inquiries and not meant to start a spitting match. I understand my lack of reputation on this board may obscure my good intentions.

But I would suggest that to get responses to your question you might want to appear more grateful to those who share.

I appreciate your replies and all the others. I'm not sure how I was ungrateful in my replies, maybe you could point me to something I said that was rude or demeaning. I do have questions as to why some think what they think but I would expect the same from other members in regards to my thoughts.

Well, if it were about ignoring the Bible I'd be opposed to it too.

Friend, I never mentioned "ignoring the Bible" in this context.

So I don't quite get the animosity. Have you had bad experiences with some less-than-honest, prooftexty systematics?

Where is the animosity in this thread? I have certainly inquired why certain things have been defined as such and why certain thoughts are held to but I don't see the animosity.

I've never had any bad encounters with anyone regarding these disciplines.

Again, my apologies if my frank replies have painted me as ungrateful or someone with an agenda.
 

Houston E.

Puritan Board Freshman
Friend, I never mentioned "ignoring the Bible" in this context.

Bob,
Biblical Theology approaches the Bible with strict regard to the order of the canon and the progression of the text, while Systematic Theology approaches the Bible by focusing in on certain points in the Bible and extracting themes and ignoring the overall composition and canonical formula in order to organize/systematize doctrines and ideas from the Bible.

I appreciate your replies and all the others. I'm not sure how I was ungrateful in my replies, maybe you could point me to something I said that was rude or demeaning. I do have questions as to why some think what they think but I would expect the same from other members in regards to my thoughts.

I was hoping to receive more feedback on the original post topic but it appears not too many folks are familiar with the discipline of Biblical Theology. Which is interesting because the PB Theological Forum's subheading is "Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology and just plain Theology discussions". :think: :lol:

:think:
 

HoldFast

Puritan Board Freshman
Friend, I never mentioned "ignoring the Bible" in this context.

Bob,
Biblical Theology approaches the Bible with strict regard to the order of the canon and the progression of the text, while Systematic Theology approaches the Bible by focusing in on certain points in the Bible and extracting themes and ignoring the overall composition and canonical formula in order to organize/systematize doctrines and ideas from the Bible.

I appreciate your replies and all the others. I'm not sure how I was ungrateful in my replies, maybe you could point me to something I said that was rude or demeaning. I do have questions as to why some think what they think but I would expect the same from other members in regards to my thoughts.

I was hoping to receive more feedback on the original post topic but it appears not too many folks are familiar with the discipline of Biblical Theology. Which is interesting because the PB Theological Forum's subheading is "Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology and just plain Theology discussions". :think: :lol:

:think:


The statement "ignoring the Bible", in the context it was used, does not carry the same meaning as my definition of Systematic Theology.

Secondly, my statement about the lack of discussion on this thread is not a dig or punch at anyone. I just thought it was funny, in light of the name of this specific forum, to have over 400 hits and only a handful of folks discussing. From now on I will be sure to check my humor at the door (or log-in screen).
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
What approach (Biblical Theology or Systematic Theology) do you use in your study of the Bible and why?

Secondly, my statement about the lack of discussion on this thread is not a dig or punch at anyone. I just thought it was funny, in light of the name of this specific forum, to have over 400 hits and only a handful of folks discussing.

I use a systematic approach. I began many years ago with a grounding in Biblical Theology and then moved towards systematics. That said, I remain ever-mindful of the historical organic development of doctrines within Scripture.

Why? It is where I feel my gifts lie as I enjoy synthesizing various doctrines from a large body of content into a coherent whole.

Why do you ask?

AMR
 
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