"Pedagogical Triumph of Biblical Over Systematic Theology"

Discussion in 'General discussions' started by Bill Duncan, Feb 4, 2019.

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  1. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    Has anyone read Carl Truman's series "Some Thoughts on Systematic Theology as Poor Relation?

    He makes the statement "Sadly the doctrine of God simply does not grip the cultural imagination of conservative evangelicalism in the way that other doctrinal loci do." I'm on board thus far. Then he says next, "At the heart of the problem from the perspective of theological education, at least as it manifests itself in reformed circles, is the pedagogical (and thereby metaphysical) triumph of Biblical over Systematic Theology as classically understood."

    Here I fall off ship.

    I've read both articles and await the next, where I hope he can recover me. His conclusion that the lack of interest in the doctrine of God is the fault of the methods of Biblical Theology and its having a prominent place in theological education seems extreme. Can anyone elaborate or give specific examples of who (seminary, denomination, religious personality, etc.) he is talking about?
  2. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

  3. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Yeah I'm not convinced. If anything, the current fad is all things metaphysical and Thomist, given the popularity of Richard Muller. Those of us who prize salvation history are called Vosians and pantheists.

    But in any case, the Bible has been let out of the bag. After seeing all these awesome insights from Vos, Beale, and others, I can no longer unsee them.
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  4. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    The Bible is God's self-revelation and this self-revelation progresses as we go through history. For people to criticize biblical theology seems very troubling. Yes, we can dissect the bible and try to fit into into our own logical categories and separate it into different topics, but we can also divide up the bible by history as God's progressive revelation marches forward.

    We should acknowledge how God tells the story Himself.

    Instead, among some Reformed Baptists I've noticed a recent disdain for biblical theology as if we were talking about two opposing enemies rather than 2 lenses by which to see the same truth.

    In tribal work, we always teach theology as God reveals it through the Bible. We tell bible stories and then draw points of theology from these stories. Why?....well, because God gave us these stories and there are a lot of them. The books we have printed are called, "Salvation History" - so I guess we have chosen Biblical Theology over Systematic Theology as a means to teach tribals.

    Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology should walk hand-in-hand and further one another, instead of dueling one another. I will note, for instance, that Biblical Theology is NOT un-systematic...it uses themes to divide up different topics by epoch. Systematic Theology better stresses the unity of the Scriptures and Biblical Theology helps to explain why some of the laws were a bit different or customs were a bit different in different epochs (and contexts) of Salvation History.

    Both are valuable.
  5. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Bill, he is primarily talking about the way WTS used to be, I think. He is certainly talking about the guild of exegetical theology, which has, by and large, attempted to throw off systematic-theological constraints, all the while being naively ignorant of the new systematic-theological constraints they unconsciously put in place of the orthodox ones.

    Exegetical guys tend to think of ST as a Procrustean bed imposed on Scripture. They have bought into the lie that Biblical Theology is more biblical than systematic theology is. As Vos pointed out in his Biblical Theology, neither discipline, properly considered, is more biblical in its content. Both BT and ST make the material undergo a transformation. The difference is the principle of transformation: BT has an historical principle, and ST has a logical principle.

    The problem with the exegetical guys is that they are not aware that they have imposed a new ST unknowingly on their own exegesis. Having an ST that acts as a boundary to one's BT is actually unavoidable. The question is not whether exegesis will be bounded by ST, but whether it will be bounded by good ST or bad ST.

    The ideal for the theologian is to have BT and ST in a completely interdependent relationship. BT helps keep ST nuanced as to historical considerations, and ST prevents BT from wandering off into realms of heresy. Even more closely, BT provides the fuel for ST, and ST acts as a roadmap for BT.

    The problem, as I see it, is people who favor one side or the other have both made a major pedagogical mistake. Those who favor BT too much are naively missing the place both of presuppositions, and of their own ST in how they do exegesis. They lack self-awareness, in other words. Those who favor ST as a supposed "end of the process" forget that ST, after having been served by BT, is supposed to turn around and serve BT again. Each serves the other. It HAS to be a two-way street, or else both will go off the rails.
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  6. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    Did you see where Trueman expressed his indebtedness to Beale and admitted the importance and usefulness of Biblical Theology?
  7. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    So you're in agreement with Trueman?
  8. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Yes, both are valuable. ST and BT. They should work together.
  9. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Yes. I know. Beale's his coworker. I just don't think that the current rage is Biblical theology. I think it is the other way around.
  10. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    That's true as far as academic institutions go (but even there it's a pretty recent trend). On the ground, however, biblicism is often the norm.
  11. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

  12. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    Thanks for this post, Lane. This is exactly right. As you say, Vos himself warned against pitting the two against each other. We need both.
  13. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    On to the actual articles:

    Maybe, maybe not. He doesn't quote any polls or surveys, and my own experience is that people are going "Thomist or Death!"

    Per his paragraph on the doctrine of God--I get it. Essence language, as confusing as it is, still has a place. I think the Bible actually gives us a way of saying divine identity, Two Powers in heaven, etc., but I could parse essence in the Fathers with the best of them.

    That debate didn't seem to be driven by biblicicsm, but by the desire to keep those uppity feminists in the kitchen.
  14. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    A good way for me to understand the real differences between ST and BT was using the Esv and the new Zondervan SB, as while both have many of the same authors in them for their study notes, the Esv is from the ST view, while the Niv from the BT view.
  15. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    Carl Trueman will be speaking at Westminster Seminary in California on March 5-6, for those interested.
  16. catechumen

    catechumen Puritan Board Freshman

    Perhaps it's because I'm not in the United States, but I am slightly bemused by the comments of some that it's the Thomist way or the highway!

    Of course, we all are preoccupied with what is immediately under our noses, and from your comments there are evidently some overly 'classical' trends amongst US Reformed Baptists. But I think we need to remember that Carl Trueman has always had a more international outlook than many, with as much a foot in British (and Australian) evangelicalism as he has in American. As an Australian, I would have to say Trueman is dead on the money - I would love my fellow Aussies even to think of opening the Summa Theologica at some point in their career! Biblical theology has pretty comprehensively cleared the deck of anything else, and I think Lane's comments about the unexamined ST baggage that comes with that are most pertinent.

    As so often, our view of such cautionary articles is influenced by our setting; in my context, Trueman's observations are a lifeline in rather heavy seas.
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  17. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Granted, I have a more American context and Trueman could possibly be the voice of World Presbyterianism.

    I hope we don't start reading Thomism--defenses of the Pope and that God is a cookie.
  18. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I get that it's probably important to read the scholastics just so you don't start saying Socinian stuff. I've read through Turretin (read volume 1 twice) and read through Bavinck's God and creation at least three times.

    But at the end of the day I just can't put that on remotely the same level as studying the languages, the context, and making connections in the text. It just is a lot better than abstracting the essence of essence which is beyond essence.
  19. Prolocutor Twisse

    Prolocutor Twisse Puritan Board Freshman

    Hello brothers and sisters,

    Long time reader, first time to post.

    From Gaffin's Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology:

    "There is no difference in that one [of the two disciplines] 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 principle by which the transformation is effected differs in each case. In biblical theology this 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."

    Most concerning to me is not a trend one way toward BT or another toward ST. As mentioned above, ST and BT work hand in hand guiding each other and correcting each other. Biblicism is my major concern, especially in the New Covenant Theology (NCT) Camp. The "show me where it says that in the Bible" crowd is where I fear many tend to make their most serious errors. I think Dr. Trueman is wise to call on each person to balance BT and ST against one another, but we should not simply proof text passages or we will fall prey to the word-concept fallacy that so many in the NCT camp fall into.
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  20. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    First, welcome to the Board officially! Happy first post! :cheers2:

    Second, you make an interesting observation regarding New Covenant Theology. Unfortunately, I have not done much studying in this particular area of controversy. So, would you mind fleshing out some examples of how NCT does this? I'm very curious.

    Thanks, brother! And, again, welcome!
  21. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Jordan, the quotation actually come from Vos's Biblical Theology, pp. 15-16.
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  22. Shanny01

    Shanny01 Puritan Board Freshman

    He's probably referencing NCT's rejection of of the Covenant of Works, Covenant of Grace, and identification of the 10 Commandments with Natural Law because they aren't in the Bible "kata lexin" (in as many words ala Turretin). They reject those categories because the Scriptures don't say "The 10 Commandments are eternal moral law, Modaic Law can be divided into three parts, Adam would have gained eternal life based on his own obedience to God's commandments, etc.".
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  23. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)


    Congrats on the first post! Welcome aboard.

    You wrote: "Biblicism is my major concern, especially in the New Covenant Theology (NCT) Camp. The "show me where it says that in the Bible" crowd is where I fear many tend to make their most serious errors."

    What's wrong with being part of the "Show me where it says that in the bible" crowd? I include myself in that crowd. The Bereans also did this.
  24. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    Adam noted the intent of what I think Jordan is getting at. The "show me" appellation speaks to the tendency of some to deny some key doctrine based upon a lack of explicit mention (e.g., the word "trinity") within Scripture, all the while ignoring what good and necessary consequences may be deduced from Scripture (WCF 1.6). I doubt the Bereans were wooden literalists as are most of the "Just Me and My Bible" crowd.
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  25. BottleOfTears

    BottleOfTears Puritan Board Freshman

    Part four

    I think this might add some clarity to what Dr. Trueman has been speaking about.
  26. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Good explanation. Thanks.
  27. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Per the "Show me in the Bible" crowd:

    a) On one hand, asking for "show me in the bible" for the word Trinity is a word = concept fallacy.

    b) On the other hand, it is legit to ask where in the Bible Thomist metaphysics are found and why all future generations are morally bound to follow Thomas. This happens a lot on the Reformed Thomism facebook group (there was a nasty sting operation around Christmas time).
  28. BottleOfTears

    BottleOfTears Puritan Board Freshman

    I suppose we could say that asking "can you show me that from the Bible?" is not an illegitimate question, it just might take more that 5 minutes of reflection on a surface reading of Scripture before we can fully justify and explain why we hold a certain view on the doctrine of God (for example).
  29. Prolocutor Twisse

    Prolocutor Twisse Puritan Board Freshman

    -->The most salient example is their denial of the three fold division of the law. NCT would argue that the law must be taken in entirety and cannot be divided into moral, ceremonial, and civil law. They commit the word/concept fallacy by denying these classic distinctions of the law because the words moral, ceremonial, civil law are not explicitly stated in the text of scripture.

    For further reading on this, see John Reisinger's "Tablets of Stone and the History of Redemption". If you would like a Reformed Critique of Reisinger's position, may I recommend you sink your teeth Philip Ross' "From the Finger of God" and Richard Barcellos "In Defense of the Decalogue" (This is out of print but I have a PDF copy I got from another board member. PM me if you are interested). If you don't have time to read those books or are more a podcast junky, may I recommend listening to:


    The first 8-9 episodes give a fairly thorough treatment to the NCT position.

    For an even more brief podcast critique of NCT, I would recommend this recent post from "Three Guys Theologizing":


    Much of the theology of NCT is based off, what I believe to be DA Carson's erroneous interpretation of Matt 5:17-48. For more on this please see:

    https://berbc.org/Library/Eschatolo...Confirmation of Mosaic Law - Greg Welty.shtml

    Hope that is helpful for a jumping off point. I myself only recently have begun to study the distinctive of NCT so the resources are rather fresh on my mind.

    -->Thank you for the correction. The article I have is Gaffin quoting Vos. You are absolutely correct. My previous citations is Vos. Thanks again for the clarification.

    -->Thanks for this comment. I agree we, like the Bereans, should search the scriptures to see if what men say is consistent with the Word of God. However, in the NCT camp, and any biblicist or literalist camp for that matter, there is extreme kick back against systematic theology for fear of imposing a system onto the Bible. While I would agree with this sentiment, it is impossible to study and understanding the Bible without, in some sense, developing theological terms. For example, the Covenant of Grace (C of G) is not a term explicitly seen in scripture but by reading the scriptures through a redemptive-historical hermeneutic and taking the scripture as a whole, we can clearly see a unifying principle of God's Covenantal Grace administered through the progressive revelation of scripture. NCT would deny G of C for the sole fact those words are not in the Bible. I would argue that this is why, despite NCT being around for 30+ years, it still has no systematic theology and is very hard to pin down on many key biblical issues.

    -->Yes, Sir. Thank you for this. This exactly what I meant and you wrote it much clearer and more precisely than I could have.

    -->Finally, I would like to be clear that I love my NCT brothers. I have a very close friend who is in this camp and we discuss these matters often. I do find their theology troubling for many reasons, but none the less, they love Christ and his Church and for that I am grateful.
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  30. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    One of the expressed purposes of the NCT group seems to be a desire to unit back, to get a middle position, between certain Covenant theology holders and the more progressive Dispensational theology members.
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