Different ways to do theology and deal with challenges

One further thought on why you get differences and arguments between theologians that leave lots of on-lookers thinking things like

“What on worth was all that about?”

“That seems like something unpleasant – I’ll stay away from that”

“They seem to be talking past each other/saying the same things differently”

It’s something to do with theological disciplines and that also relates to personality style too!

Let me explain a bit more.

  1. A good theologian will know his own discipline in incredible depth but also have a deep engagement with the other disciplines.  These will help him to approach his own subject in a deeper way. For example, the Systematic Theologian writes about Doctrine but that doctrine will be based on careful Scriptural exegesis with an eye to historical theology.  The Biblical studies scholar focuses on understanding the text and is helped to ensure that they don’t interpret one passage to be out of step or repugnant to another by their knowledge of systematic theology.
  2. There are still differences in terms of priority. This means a Biblical studies guy may be less concerne dto draw out all the doctrinal nuances than a Systematician. They also won’t be afraid to tell the systematicians when the Biblical text causes their presuppositions some problems!
  3. Some disciplines are closely related but there are differences. Read a “Dogmatics” work and you’ll realise that although it’s closely related to a “Systematic Theology” it isn’t quite the same.  Dogmatics has a greater concern for restating and then engaging with the doctrinal position that has built up within a tradition over a period of time. It will give more attention to historical theology. Systematic theology is less concerned with this and more concerned with applying Scriptural texts.
  4. This relates to personality. Some theologians are primarily interested in stating and restating the orthodox position and then defending it. They are probably most comfortable with Dogmatics.  Others are more interested in problem solving. Their approach is to set out the systematic framework and then identify problems and engage with them within the boundaries. They tend to be a bit more willing to be speculative about ideas and probably don’t hold those speculative ideas too tightly. John Frame tends to fall into this category.

You can see then how people end up talking past each other and misunderstanding each other!