Systematic Theology and Natural Revelation
In a recent post on John Frame and the task of Systematic Theology (here). I referred to Frame's admiration of John Murray's approach to systematic theology. Frame was one of Murray's students at the Westminster Theological Seminary. Murray has some very interesting things to say about the task of systematic theology. He argues for a revelation-based, progressive approach to the discipline that is rooted in Biblical exegesis. He makes some interesting proposals on the relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology. It is possible that Murray's blueprint may help to stimulate some fresh thinking in the world of Reformed Dogmatics. At the moment, opinion seems to be divided between the likes of Kevin Vanhoozer with this theo-dramatic reconfiguring of theology and Paul Helm and others who claim that Charles Hodge and Louis Berkhof were basically right in their approach.
In this series of posts, I hope to summarise Murray's views and discuss how they might be useful in reforming Reformed Theology. All page references are to Collected Writings of John Murray Volume 4: Studies in Theology, Banner of Truth Trust, 1982.
This is Murray's basic proposal,
"The task of systematic theology is to set forth in orderly and coherent manner the truth respecting God and his relations to the world. This truth is derived from the data of revelation, and revelation comprises all those media by which God makes himself and his will known to us men." (p. 1).
God has revealed himself first of all in creation, 'The heavens declare the glory of God' (Psalm 19:1). The study of nature cannot be left to to philosophy and science. The theologian must pay attention to what God has revealed of himself in creation. This does not mean that natural theology should develop independently of Scripture. But we study Scripture in the context of the world which is filled with a manifestation of the glory of God. Natural revelation is defined as,
"the revelation given in the works of creation and general providence and in the constitution of our own being...natural theology properly conceived, would be the setting forth of the truth of God and his relations to men and to the world derived from these sources." (p. 2).
Murray argues that this approach has relevance for apologetics. Because God has revealed himself to us in creation and providence, we may make use of cosmological and teleological arguments, as they may be inferred from the nature of the created universe. As far as I am concerned, such arguments may not be used to prove existence of God. But their value lies in demonstrating that there is nothing irrational in the fundamental presupposition that God exists.
Systematic theology then, is conceived in the broadest possible terms, paying attention to all the ways in which God has revealed himself, in creation, Scripture and above all, in Christ. Reformed theology does not recognise the Enlightenment's division of the world into noumenal and phenomenal compartments. The whole universe is a theatre of God's glory, while the Biblically scripted drama of redemption takes centre stage. In the next post in this series, I will reflect on what Murray has to say about theology and the revelation of God in Scripture.