Sunday, June 10, 2007

Forest and Trees, Parts and the Whole

Our discussion concerning the role and authority of confessions leads us, quite naturally, into the somewhat murky relationship of systematic- to biblical theology. The former focuses on revelation as a whole and has been likened to a road map, whereas the latter focuses on the unfolding of God's redemptive plan, and has been described as a topographical map. In the former the dots are connected, while the latter displays the hills, valleys, and plot twists of the divine drama.

Systematic theology has traditionally been dubbed "the queen of the biblical sciences," and without a doubt, we ignore it at tremendous cost to our faith (which, I would argue, is happening in so-called Federal Vision circles as we speak). But at the same time, when Scripture becomes a "cul-de-sac of isolated proof-texts" to reinforce our dogmatic assumptions, we have fallen off the tightrope in the opposite direction.

"In both biblical theology and systematic theology," writes Michael Horton, "the dialectic of whole and parts, never resting on one or the other, is always generating greater refinement as well as scope" (Covenant and Eschatology, 240). In fact, a handful of professors at Westminster Seminary California are advocating a reintegration of these two disciplines under the rubric of covenant (an idea I plan to explore in subsequent posts).

When the eschatological subcurrent of Scripture is appreciated, doing theology becomes less clinical and abstract, and theology is approached the way one would approach a person rather than a subject under a microscope.
"[Biblical theology] is not theology from a 'God's-eye' perspective, but from down on the ground, where one is never quite sure what looms over the horizon of the next mountain range until one arrives there. To be sure, there are directions, prophetic anticipations of what one will find, but the fulfillment always surpasses expectations" (Ibid., 241).
Jesus Christ, the focus of Holy Writ, is not a "timeless idea" but a Person. But how do we study God's revelation of him while avoiding dogmatism on the one hand, and biblicism on the other?