Friday, November 06, 2009

Richard Gaffin Study Day: Biblical and Systematic Theology

I was really looking forward to hearing Gaffin at the Pastors' Forum, having appreciated his writings, especially the seminal Resurrection and Redemption, (P&R). It was well worth the trip across the Severn Bridge to Maesycwmmer to listen to the veteran WTS theologian. Here are some sketchy notes together with some thoughs of my own on what he had to say in the first session.
Session 1: Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology

I. What is Biblical Theology?

All revelation is divine self-revelation. Revelation falls into two categories, general revelation in creation and providence and special revelation. Special revelation is a redemptive-historical process. It includes verbal and nonverbal or deed revelation. Scripture is God's word: the record of redemption history. The focus of the written word on is on God's mighty acts, narrating and explaining what the Lord has done. Now that the work of redemption has been accomplished, biblical revelation has ceased. That does not mean that God no longer reveals himself to us. He speaks through his living and active word, the Bible.

"Biblical Theology" gives careful, methodical attention to the actual history of redemptive revelation. Its focus is the history of special revelation.

While it is true that Geerhardus Vos is the father of Reformed Biblical Theology, the church throughout its history has been aware of the historical character of biblical revelation. Calvin was especially sensitive to redemptive-historical concerns.

II. What is Systematic Theology?
Systematic Theology is topical in its nature nature, paying attention to different subjects in the biblical account of the history of redemption such as the doctrine of God and salvation. It treats Scripture as a completed and unified whole, asking, "What does the whole Bible say about this topic?" It is systematic not because the biblical data in its raw state is disorganised and therefore needs to be set out in a more orderly fashion. (A slight dig at Charles Hodge). Systematic theology proceeds on the assumption that underlying the diverse voices of Scripture there is a redemptive-historical unity and systemic harmony of truth, a "pattern of sound words", 2 Timothy 2:13. Systematics is not about erecting abstract systems unrelated to the biblical text. It must proceed from sound biblical-theological exegesis.
There is the biblical warrant for systematic theology in Scriptures such as Hebrews 1 :1-2. This text tells us 1) Biblical revelation is historical, God spoke "at various times". 2) In biblical revelation there is diversity in unity. Diversity: God spoke "in various ways". Unity "God spoke". 3) Christ is the end point of redemptive history and the manifestation of God's eschatological purpose, "in these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son".
III. The relationship between Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology
Biblical theology is the historical and systematic theology is topical. Thesis: "Biblical Theology the indispensable servant of Systematic Theology". This is the case because biblical theology enables systematics to treat the topics of Scriptural revelation with an appropriate feel for the redemptive-historical nature of the Bible. Texts should not be isolated from their biblical-theological context. Gaffin's emphasis is helpful because systematics often fails when it comes to biblical exegesis. In some forms systematic theology can seem little more than a dollop of Reformed doctrine followed by string of proof texts - see John Murray on this deplorable tendency here. Biblical theology follows the plot-line of God's self-revelation in Scripture. Systematic theology is about plot analysis, analysing the roles of the different actors and events in the great drama of redemption. With Gaffin speaking of theology in terms of and drama, I would have liked to have asked him what he makes of Kevin Vanhoozer's theodramatic proposals (see here), but didn't get the chance. Ah well.
Preachers need a good grasp of systematic theology that is informed by the fruits of biblical theology to given us a Scripturally enriched vision of the whole counsel of God. Biblical theology will give us a sense of Bible's redemptive-historical flow and make us sensitive to the distinctive contribution of diverse voices of Scripture. Systematic theology helps us to see how biblical truth hangs together to form a coherent and harmonious whole, a "form of sound words".
Reports on sessions 2 & 3 on 'Christ in the Old Testament' and 'The Resurrection in the Theology of Paul' to follow.


Phillip said...

Will there be CD'S available for the unfortunates across the pond?

Exiled Preacher said...

Not as far as I'm aware. Audio recordings will be placed on The Pastors' Forum website (see link in post), but they are password protected for some silly reason. Drop me an e-mail and I'll see what I can do.