A New Way to "Do Theology"

Calvary Baptist Seminary of Lansdale-
“Here at Calvary Baptist Seminary, we are re-packaging our systematic theology courses in a way that adheres more closely to the biblical narrative, even while retaining a doctrinal focus. We want our systematic theology to draw its content from Scripture itself. To that end, we are unveiling a new sequence of systematic theology courses that will hopefully result in a more biblical approach to systematic theology. Instead of our current six-course track, we will cover the tradition doctrinal loci with four courses that treat the major doctrines as they appear in the flow of God’s progressive revelation.”

HT:BW

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Ted Bigelow's picture

The real issue is if there will be a hermeneutic change. But i love the idea of studying antecedent revelation first, and building on it. I fear however it will leave student without the time to study the more intricate questions of systematic theology while getting their questions and struggle answered. After all, if the last 3 weeks of the course are the NT, is that really enough time? I hope they really help their student grapple with things, and not just give a merely biblical theology theology (I know that sounds horrible) masquerading as a systematic theology.

There is obviously some discomfort with the traditional approach here, but to say, "We [now ] want our systematic theology to draw its content from Scripture itself" is to imply they have been doing less than that in the past.

Any graduates out there who know if this true?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I don't really get it. Need to talk to some guys over there I guess.
If the problem w/systematic theology is, as the post states, verses incorrectly used as proof texts, then the solution is to more carefully select and interpret the verses involved.
Plus the new arrangement of subjects appears to be the same old set of topics arranged in different groupings with somewhat unfamiliar language.
So what's really wrong the old "-ologies"?

I don't think it's a big deal either way as long as students are still well trained in the classical categories of systematic theology so they are able to interact skillfully with the rich body of study our forbears have been cranking out for centuries.
But if you're going to go to that much trouble, why not just stick with the tried and true paradigm and refine it?

Donn R Arms's picture

Amen to Ted Bigelow. I hope it is not true but this sounds very much like they are replacing Systematic Theology with Biblical Theology ("Biblical Theology" as a specific label not to be confused with "theology that is biblical"). BT has already ruined good preaching in some Reformed circles and is becoming popular in some biblical counseling circles. Fundamentalists should be on guard.

Donn R Arms

Mark Farnham's picture

Great questions, Ted and Aaron. Part of the struggle over the last 8 years of teaching the traditional systematic courses has been convincing students that theology really was directly related to what they were learning in biblical studies classes (Old and New Testament exegesis courses). For many students there seemed to be a disconnect. This change is part of an attempt to integrate all our courses so that students see the direct connection between exegesis, theology and preaching, for example.

What we were hearing from students were questions such as, "Why don't we spend more time exegeting Scripture in our theology classes?" and "Why are we not required to follow the exegetical process for our preaching classes?" These are all great questions and it made us realize that our curriculum should be more integrated, or "holistic" as George Coon has written in this essay.

Also as he states, we were trying to emphasize our dispensational distinctives by more directly tying progressive revelation with systematic theology. This is something I learned at Westminster Seminary. Their covenant theology is the major thread that runs through all their courses. I began to realize how isolated our Dispensationalism class was; it was almost totally sequestered from the other systematic theology courses. If we truly believe that our dispensational hermeneutic is correct, then our hermeneutic ought to drive our systematics.

Aaron is correct that the content does not change tremendously in most of these classes, but the logical development and connection to the unfolding of the biblical narrative should make a major difference in the understanding of students. Problems with the old "-ologies" have been lamented for years, if not centuries. They developed as a result of modern tendencies to isolate doctrines from their organic position in the biblical narrative using a scientific method. We are trying to bring it back to a more intentional connection to biblical theology.

Ted, each of these courses is an entire semester, so we don't give the NT just 3 weeks, but two entire semesters. I think you may have misunderstood the layout. And yes, we are trying to be "more biblical," building on previous generations who attempted to do the same, while at the same time recognizing our fallibility and limitations. I think that's why George appropriately included the word "hopefully"!

Charlie's picture

I'm trying to understand exactly what is being done here. If I read it correctly, each class covers a particular section of Scripture along with certain doctrinal loci. So, "God, Revelation, and Creation" would cover what portion of Scripture?

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Joel Shaffer's picture

I actually like the change, but that is because I don't absorb things as well in systematic categories like I do in narrative form. It wasn't until I began viewing the doctrines of the faith through the meta-narrative of progressive revelation, did I really understand the Bible and all of the fundamentals of the faith.

jpdsr51's picture

A staunch a priori commttment to covenant theology or dispensationalism defeats the purpose of studying the development of theological themes as they surface and blossom in the progress of revelation. Hopefully, whatever system one tentatively starts with will undergo revision so that it categories and definitions reflect the language of Scripture.

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Pastork's picture

It is not too surprising that I agree with Aaron, I guess, since I usually do!

I can understand the desire to connect the study of systematic theology more directly with the way the Scriptures have progressively unfolded the various doctrines, but it seems to me this would be done much better simply by approaching each systematic category in this fashion so that the whole reason for doing systematic theology in the first place won't potentially be lost. So, for example, when studying the doctrine of the Trinity, one could study how the doctrine is progressively revealed in Scripture. Along the way, one could focus on the exegetical details of key texts so that the students can see clearly how such a doctrine really does come directly from Scripture. This was the approach to the study of systematic theology I experienced while at Covenant Theological Seminary under Robert Peterson, and I am profoundly grateful for it. It stressed the indispensable importance of Biblical and exegetical theology as the basis for systematic theology while not losing sight of the importance if systematic theology itself.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Edit: Pastork.. looks like I may be flip flopping on you here!

Quote:
the content does not change tremendously in most of these classes, but the logical development and connection to the unfolding of the biblical narrative should make a major difference in the understanding of students.

I'm glad to hear this. So my understanding now is that the aim is to shape the study of these doctrines in such a way that it all connects better to the rest of the curriculum. I do think that's a commendable goal.
As for a priori commitments, it all depends on what your overall sequence is. At some point, you do the study that is aimed at discovering how you will interpret Scripture as a whole. Then you're going to use conclusions from that to drive how you study doctrine systematically. But I do think we all agree that you have to hang on to some humility at all stages so that your interaction with the only thing that is inerrant can correct and refine your prior understandings.
Naturally, we're going to have different notions of how strong an a priori commitment to CT or Disp. ought to be... how strong is too strong, etc.

As a concept I love the idea of making the hermeneutic a more unifying principle for the whole curriculum. I'm sure the execution will continue to be challenging.

A. Carpenter's picture

Donn R Arms wrote:
BT has already ruined good preaching in some Reformed circles and is becoming popular in some biblical counseling circles. Fundamentalists should be on guard.

I agree that it sounds more like BT than ST, but please explain your caution.

Faith is obeying when you can't even imagine how things might turn out right.

MShep2's picture

I still am having trouble wrapping my mind around this idea - especially wondering how all of the doctrines will be properly covered, but overall the idea seems good. One problem I have had with the idea of "Systematic Theology" is that many (most?) times it means, Here's how I fit the Bible into my System, rather than I am studying theology in a systematic way. It seems the second "systematic" is what they are trying to do at Calvary.

MS
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Luke 17:10

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Pastork wrote:
I can understand the desire to connect the study of systematic theology more directly with the way the Scriptures have progressively unfolded the various doctrines, but it seems to me this would be done much better simply by approaching each systematic category in this fashion so that the whole reason for doing systematic theology in the first place won't potentially be lost. So, for example, when studying the doctrine of the Trinity, one could study how the doctrine is progressively revealed in Scripture. Along the way, one could focus on the exegetical details of key texts so that the students can see clearly how such a doctrine really does come directly from Scripture. This was the approach to the study of systematic theology I experienced while at Covenant Theological Seminary under Robert Peterson, and I am profoundly grateful for it. It stressed the indispensable importance of Biblical and exegetical theology as the basis for systematic theology while not losing sight of the importance if systematic theology itself.

Pastor K is touching on a major issue. I studied systematic theology with Dr. Myron Houghton at FBTS, and most of our class time was spent listening to him exegete key texts -- based on his belief (received, I believe, through Dr. Charles Ryrie) that every Bible doctrine stands on one major prototypical passage. What I left with was not the feeling of, "Here's what I believe, let me see how the Bible fits;" but, rather, "I need to learn every verse of every Book and could spend the rest of my life doing systematic theology!"
As Dr. Houghton taught us, systematic theology -- as a discipline -- involves more than the result of exegesis. It also involves "stretching" theology vertically (across the centuries) and horizontally (across the various denominational traditions) and learning what options have been presented so that you can (a) be informed and (b) pick the best option on any given question. Thus, ST courses are supposed to be radically different from Bible exposition courses.
Also, the first semester of theology began with an extensive review of background to studying theology, discussing history, various approaches and textbooks and what distinguishes systematic theology from Biblical theology, etc.
Having said all of that, I am not opposed to innovation -- but I think something would be lacking if the students were not at least exposed to the traditional approach so they can interact with it.
I am also encouraged by the effort to introduce dispensationalism more fully here -- assuming it is classical and not progressive dispensationalism (which is not really dispensationalism at all Wink ).

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Jonathan Charles's picture

How does teaching theology the way Calvary is going to do it rid theology of proof-texting? I assume with the time allowed, and the texts to touch upon concerning a subject like "God" that one is going to still going to have to give a survey of Biblical texts that deal with any particular sub-category under a topic like "God." I do like the idea of teaching theology using the Christian metanarrative. There are still some things I'm fuzzy on like the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the O.T. age. Maybe such a linear approach would help a student see such things better.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Mark Farnham wrote:
Ted, each of these courses is an entire semester, so we don't give the NT just 3 weeks, but two entire semesters. I think you may have misunderstood the layout. And yes, we are trying to be "more biblical," building on previous generations who attempted to do the same, while at the same time recognizing our fallibility and limitations. I think that's why George appropriately included the word "hopefully"!

Hi Mark,

Sorry - I misunderstood the format of the present discussion - thinking it was a single semester, and not several.

The plan sounds promising to me - similar to what Biblical Seminary has done, if I understand correctly. I am all for developing sound dispensationalists, and the plan looks promising. I hope you can write on it someday and let us know how it goes.

I went to Master's Seminary. One of the early professors in the school's history was sharing why they didn't approach the teaching of theology from more of an antecedent revelation/progressive revelation approach. His comment was that they didn't want to keep the students, while still in their first year of seminary, from partaking of some of the fruits of systematic theology. Sort of in the same idea as not waiting to teach the men systematics until they have Greek and Hebrew under their belts.

Ted Bigelow's picture

MShep2 wrote:
I still am having trouble wrapping my mind around this idea - especially wondering how all of the doctrines will be properly covered, but overall the idea seems good. One problem I have had with the idea of "Systematic Theology" is that many (most?) times it means, Here's how I fit the Bible into my System, rather than I am studying theology in a systematic way. It seems the second "systematic" is what they are trying to do at Calvary.

What you mention is the struggle, is it not!!

On one hand, we are all guilty of that to one degree. On the other, we are to tremble before the text, attempting to recognize our predispositions and preferences, and thereby submit them to the text.

Yet we can't wait for sinless hearts before we begin to study the text, so, with pride and humility inhabiting the same soul, here we go. "Open your Bibles please to...."

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I bet Calvary would love it if we all signed up for a class and sat in for a semester. I'm sure it would be much easier to get a feel for how this works with some on-site.
Alas, I'm a bit more than a stone's throw from PA.

MShep2's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
I bet Calvary would love it if we all signed up for a class and sat in for a semester. I'm sure it would be much easier to get a feel for how this works with some on-site.
Alas, I'm a bit more than a stone's throw from PA.
Add a hop, skip and a (lonnnggg) jump for me. Wink

MS
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Luke 17:10

Greg Linscott's picture

J. Gresham Machen, “Westminster Theological Seminary,” 1929 wrote:
But biblical theology is not all the theology that will be taught at Westminster Seminary, for systematic theology will be at the very center of the seminary’s course. At this point an error should be avoided: it must not be thought that systematic theology is one whit less biblical than biblical theology is. But it differs from biblical theology in that, standing on the foundation or biblical theology, it seeks to set forth, no longer in the order of the time when it was revealed, but in the order of logical relationships, the grand sum of what God has told us in his Word. There are those who think that systematic theology on the basis of the Bible is impossible; there are those who think that the Bible contains a mere record of human seeking after God and that its teachings are a mass of contradiction which can never be resolved. But to the number of those persons we do not belong. We believe for our part that God has spoken to us in his Word, and that he has given us not merely theology, but a system of theology, a great logically consistent body of truth.

That system of theology, that body of truth, which we find in the Bible is the Reformed faith, the faith commonly called Calvinistic, which is set forth so gloriously in the Confession and catechisms of the Presbyterian church. It is sometimes referred to as a “man-made creed.” but we do not regard it as such. We regard it, in accordance with our ordination pledge as ministers in the Presbyterian church, as the creed which God has taught us in his Word. If it is contrary to the Bible, it is false. But we hold that it is not contrary to the Bible, but in accordance with the Bible, and true. We rejoice in the approximations to that body of truth which other systems of theology contain; we rejoice in our Christian fellowship with other evangelical churches; we hope that members of other churches, despite our Calvinism, may be willing to enter into Westminster Seminary as students and to listen to what we may have to say. But we cannot consent to impoverish our message by setting forth less than what we find the Scripture to contain; and we believe that we shall best serve our fellow Christians, from whatever church they may come, if we set forth not some vague greatest common measure among various creeds, but that great historic faith that has come through Augustine and Calvin to our own Presbyterian church.

http://oldlife.org/2010/07/28/machen-day-2010/ Source

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Ted Bigelow's picture

Greg Linscott ][quote=J. Gresham Machen, “Westminster Theological Seminary,” 1929 wrote:
....there are those who think that the Bible contains a mere record of human seeking after God and that its teachings are a mass of contradiction which can never be resolved. But to the number of those persons we do not belong. We believe for our part that God has spoken to us in his Word, and that he has given us not merely theology, but a system of theology, a great logically consistent body of truth.

On one hand, we must all agree with the venerable Machen that the time line is not everything. But he also assigns less than godly motives to those who propose to teach biblical theology. We must take Calvary's words charitably, no?, and believe their intent to help their students to preach and learn systematic from the biblical.

Greg, is that second paragraph on Calvinism in context - did it originally follow Machen's quote on biblical theology? Just curious, it seems a little disjointed to me.

Greg Linscott's picture

TB,

I have not expressed any particular personal perspective on CBS's motives.

In the specific quote, Machen was addressing issues that led to the founding of WTS, which involved Machen, John Murray, and the other Westminster Divines leaving their positions at Princeton because of its liberalism. Machen does not have Lansdale specifically in mind in this quote. I am assuming that the quote is made in context- however, I do not have access to the full document from which the quote is taken.

I saw this quote today, and thought it provided another perspective than the one offered by Lansdale explaining why they have moved away from the model Machen defends.

As far as attributing motives, I do not think Machen does much different than Lansdale does when they make statements such as:

Quote:
We want our systematic theology to draw its content from Scripture itself. To that end, we are unveiling a new sequence of systematic theology courses that will hopefully result in a more biblical approach to systematic theology.

If I am understanding them, they are saying that the standard "systematic" approach is essentially less biblical and not as faithful in drawing content from Scripture itself. However, I would expect such language (both from Machen and Lansdale) from one attempting to establish and defend a position believed to be right and proper.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

hansontrek's picture

The question is less about right & wrong as it is how it is packaged. Having gone through CBS (graduated this past spring actually) the theology is solid and isn't changing because of the restructuring. The structure / format in which the courses will be packaged has changed, but I personally think that this model fits well with the "flow" of Scripture conceptually as it progresses through revelation. But since no two people think alike, structure is a subjective element. I would have liked to have experienced the classes in this format instead of just missing them in my seminary experience.

Mark
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MShep2's picture

Mark Farnham wrote:
Good news, Aaron and MShep2! These new theology courses and about a dozen others are offered online at Calvary: [url ]http://www.cbs.edu/calendar/class-schedule.html

Our online classes are not just glorified correspondence classes, but are streaming video over iTunes U with online discussions with resident students and other online students. Check them out!

Sorry, Mark; no streaming video here. I am just glad to have internet.

MS
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Luke 17:10

GeorgeC's picture

Hi All,

I'm George Coon, professor of Theology and Church History at Calvary in Lansdale. I'm new to SharperIron (in terms of posting comments), and I figured I'd chime in on this thread since I'm responsible for the article on the change in approach to teaching systematic theology at Calvary. I do appreciate the questions and comments, and I understand most of the concerns. Early on in the thread, Mark provided a good statement of explanation and clarification. I'll briefly add my own clarifications here.

First, this is not about choosing between biblical and systematic theology. Both are legitimate approaches to doctrinal study and can be done with fidelity to Scripture, while both can be grossly unbiblical as well. We are not leaving behind systematic theology. We are trying to maximize the rigor and effectiveness of our theology courses by blending systematic and biblical theology in our class presentations. The students' required reading will still largely consist of working through the standard systematic textbooks (Erickson, Grudem, Strong, Hodge, et al). They will be doing assignments that clearly evidence systematic theology coursework (e.g. writing confessions, catechisms, and research papers on contemporary theological debates, etc.). We want the class time to be unique and accomplish something complimentary to the textbook reading. Therefore, the lectures will employ the biblical theology approach.

Second, while we are frustrated with some of the proof-texting that goes on in systematic theology (who isn’t?!), we are not so naïve as to think we will avoid it altogether. Every theologian does this to one extent or another – this is necessary given our commitment to Scripture as the final authority for faith and practice. However, we desire to use the most appropriate texts to support our theological commitments, and we want to have stronger exegetical bases for our doctrinal convictions. We believe the biblical theology approach helps us do this. We do not anticipate jettisoning all sorts of theological commitments by insisting on legitimate exegetical evidence for our truth claims. We just want to hold our theological commitments with integrity, with deeper conviction, and with a determination to stand for God’s truth in an ever-changing world. This approach should make us more solidly committed to that which Scripture clearly affirms.

Third, some have suggested we keep the systematic theology approach but just do a better job at it. We do appreciate that perspective, and to be sure, there is much upon which we could improve! But we believe that with this shift in our approach to the class lectures, we are doing just that – improving. We are trying to unify our curriculum, gain deeper conviction concerning our theological commitments, and foster a greater understanding of and appreciation for the grand story of our great God. Does it produce more work? Certainly! But the extra work is well worth it if students are better equipped to unite theological commitments to legitimate teachings of Scripture.