Is systematic theology a false idol?
March 14, 2006, 9:04 am
Filed under: uncategorized

O.k., folks, I’m ’bout to get heretical on y’all, so prepare your ammo . . . I probably deserve it.

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about the way we approach orthodoxy. We in the Western church have our creeds and code words and secret handshakes that we use to communicate to one another that we’re “safe.” And we spend a lot of time and money and energy learning all that stuff, so it’s clearly important to us. But how does one look at the area of missiology? I’ve always tended to think of it as some sort of a subset of systematic theology. But now I’m wondering if it shouldn’t really be the other way around.

Systematic theology has been a helpful resource to many modernistic thinkers for a long time now. That’s good. Even people who organize their lives more by postmodern thought patterns benefit from some of the way most theologians approach their systems. That’s fine, too. But what about the non-western world, which has been influenced by modernism on a more peripheral level. Do the “theologians” (or whatever the more appropriate term for them might be) of the Southern hemisphere or Asia need systematic theology?

Perhaps systematic theology has been a helpful missiological tool to explain Jesus and the Kingdom of God to the Western world. But it may have less value to cultures that organize themselves around different values than rationalistic logic. Narrative is a hip thing for emerging church types to think about, but there are a large number of cultures in the world that have organized themselves around narrative and oral history. What if we placed importance there instead of systematically trying to convice these people of the value of all the solas (scriptura, fide, etc.)?

The important thing when it all comes down is how people respond to Jesus, right?
Systematic theology may be a really great tool for us to use to explain Jesus in North America. But it is probably overstating the case to think of it on a much higher level than that. Missiology, though, defines how we will approach our theology (systematically? narratively?). Those who focus too much on their systematic theology may be compared to a woodworker who focuses more care and attention on his chisels than on the cabinets his chisels help create. The non-Western world is off using saws and hammers. Is it possible that the cabinets they create are essentially the same, despite having used different tools?

My biggest seminary books are the theology ones. Maybe I need to go get me some big fat missiology texts instead. Do such things exist?

Maybe my orthodoxy isn’t as important as I’ve come to think of it. I’m not saying there’s no value in it (after all, I do still live in North America, so being able to use those kinds of tools well helps me here). But mission trumps it.

O.k., you can start yelling at me now.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

No yelling. I rather like what you’re saying. I just wonder how long systematic theology is going to be very useful even in North America. I think a lot of the reason “spirituality” is so common right now is because people are looking for something that is less systematic and more experiential.

Comment by Steve

When I became a believer I didn’t know much about systematic theology, or much of anything else about being a christian. I appreciate systematic theology now because it challenges me to think deeper about my life as a christian and how I relate to God. I never thought of it as tool that would help win people to Christ. I would not want to loose it in the new church. There are essential truths that we have to hold to I think.

Comment by RockyR

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