In Always Reforming there are two essays that touch on the idea of theology or doctrine as system. Kevin Vanhoozer contributes a whopping 58 pages ‘On the Very Idea of a Theological System: An Essay in Aid of Triangulating Scripture, Church and World’. I decided the chapter was too long to blog about. And I rarely understand much of what Vanhoozer writes anyway.
Stephen Williams with some ‘Observations on the Future of System’ is a little more accessible. Williams is professor of systematic theology at Union Theological College, Belfast. I once got a tour of the UTC building that included time on the roof to enjoy a view of Belfast. Alas I had no protest flag or banner.
Williams uses the open theism debate as a means to reflecting on system. He begins with some observations on two works by Charles Simeon, and offers the following theses:
1. Context is important for the coherence of our convictions. Religious or theological convictions do not necessarily sit easily when used in, for example, discussions of analytic philosophy.
2. Biblical theology is less about the mutual relation of doctrines, and more about their relation to life. Systematics should follow this example. The discussion includes the following line: “Obedient response to the word of God is not contingent on systematic explication.” I liked that.
3. There may be a ‘wider system’ but it must be shaped by biblical literature and the economy of salvation. That is basically to say that ongoing exegesis must keep the question of system open.
4. There is a difference between doctrinal rules and doctrinal moves. Rules should not be broken. As in a game of chess moves may or may not be good. Williams suggests that we should trade in rules rather than moves.
Williams concludes his essay with a brief survey of Berkouwer’s theological method, using Divine Election as an example.
Restless and Reforming verdict: More accessible than Vanhoozer but still hard going. We get the feeling that Williams thinks theology has its own logic and reasoning. It was interesting to be reminded of Simeon’s belief that the system of Scripture transcends both classic Calvinistic and Arminian systems.