Saturday, June 16, 2007

Westminster Systematics: An Oxymoron?

In his essay entitled "A System of Theology? The Centrality of Covenant for Westminster Systematics," Westminster Seminary California's Associate Professor of Systematic Theology David VanDrunen begins with "the provocative question of whether the Westminster Seminaries have ever actually done systematic theology." He argues that Murray, Gaffin, and Strimple were actually exegetes, not systematicians, "perform[ing] their 'systematics' task by exegeting passages related to various topics under consideration, [while remaining] relatively uninterested in developing a system as such" (see The Pattern of Sound Doctrine, p. 195-220).

Toward developing such a system, VanDrunen suggests that "the Reformed doctrine of the covenants [is] the place where a system of theology can be centered and from which it can emerge in orderly coherence and biblical fidelity" (p. 196).

Before outlining what this might look like, a few caveats are offered. First, since all theology arises from Scripture, "the rigorous exegesis that has marked the tradition must be sacrosanct." Further, Vos's appreciation for a redemptive-historical hermeneutic must be maintained, with biblical theology functioning as a servant of systematics. VanDrunen's final concern is to not allow a system to be forced upon Scripture as a straitjacket that controls exegesis and stifles God's Word.

As long as systematics' various loci are arranged around a single doctrine (justification for Lutherans, predestination for hyper-Calvinists), these dangers are not likely to be avoided. But if the Scripture itself provides "a way of expressing the unity and coherence of the whole of Reformed doctrine, an architectonic structure that undergirds all of the various threads of revealed truth," then we can begin taking steps in the right direction.

This idea that "centers" the system while not being "the center" of it, is the doctrine of the covenants. In subsequent posts I plan to flesh this out with the good professor's help. Stay tuned....