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Prolegomena to Systematic Theology

Systematic Theology  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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A systematic study of God and his expectations for his creation.

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Basic Foundations for Systematic Theology

Proverbs 1:7 ESV
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The Hebrew word for beginning is רֵאשִׁית. It means the head, the starting point, or source. In other words, what is the head of knowledge? The fear of the Lord if the head, the beginning, the foundation of knowledge. This would make the fear of the Lord a necessary condition for human knowledge.
There is a difference between a necessary condition for something and a sufficient condition for it. Oxygen is a necessary condition for combustion but it is not a sufficient condition for it. A necessary condition is a condition without which, a state of affairs cannot obtain.
So then we must ask the question, what is the יִרְאָה יהוה? This is a fear of God associated with the worship of YHWH. This fear is, more particularly, associated with the worship of YHWH that is characterized by obedience to his decrees and commandments.
Psalm 119:63 ESV
I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts.
Ps. 119:
So, the fear of the Lord means to obey and keep God’s precepts. And if the fear of the Lord is the very jumping off point of knowledge, then it follows that those who do no obey God’s commandments do not, indeed cannot possess true knowledge.
The most basic question one can ask about knowledge then, is, what is it? Is it mere knowledge of a proposition? A is the opposite of B? Or is it something more than that?
I would like to suggest that knowing is more like an unfolding friendship anchored in a pledge or covenant, a marriage. We can profitably compare the act of knowing to a wedding ceremony. -Esther Lightcap Meek, Longing to Know., 177.
The most basic presupposition for systematic theology is that knowledge of God and his creation is possible.
If I fear the Lord, then I have the beginning of knowledge.
If I
What is theology? Theology is the study of God.
What is doctrine? Doctrine simply means teaching.
What is the goal of good theology? To humble us before the triune God of majesty and grace.
Luther says that assertions pertain to that which is plainly taught in Scripture and says that to make assertions regarding things that are doubtful, or unprofitable and unnecessary, such assertions are not merely stupid, but positively impious.
Therefore, I have the beginning of knowledge iff I keep God’s commandment
Apologetics Scenario: John thinks that the study of such things as theology are unimportant to the Christian life. What really matters is whether or not Christians are in healthy relationships at home, at work, at church, and that they are doing good as much social good as possible. How would you respond to John?
Ask John if his view of healthy relationships qualifies as a component of Christian theology. What about his view of doing good deeds? Ask John what his standards are for a healthy relationship? Finally, ask John what informs his standards for healthy relationships and good deeds?
Apologetic Scenario: In speaking with John about the importance of doctrine, you discover that John believes that doctrine is unimportant and that is mostly does little more than divide the church. How do you respond?
Step 1: Ask John to define the word doctrine. Remember, doctrine means teaching. Step 2: Ask John if his view that unity is good and division is bad qualifies as a doctrine. Step 3: Ask John if he believes that his doctrine is important?
Is it possible to have a personal relationship with God apart from theology?
Apologetic Scenario: You are chatting with an atheist who informs you that as human beings progress, belief in religious myths will wane, making the Christian religion and all others completely unnecessary and irrelevant to human experience. How do you respond to this atheist?
Be respectful. Ask the atheist to share his view on the nature of human beings. Then ask him, upon that view of human beings, what does he mean be progress? The very idea of progress itself presupposes a metaphysical reality of the world that naturalism, by definition, denies.

Drama: The Greatest Story Ever Told

What is a metanarrative? A story that pretends it isn’t one. [Horton, 15]
Think of the Bible as God’s infallible interpretation of God’s own acts of revelation throughout redemptive history.

The prophets and apostles did not believe that God’s mighty acts in history (meganarratives) were dispensable myths that represented universal truths (metanarratives). For them, the big story did not point to something else beyond it but was itself the point. God really created all things, including humans in his image, and brought Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground. He really drowned a greater kingdom than Pharaoh and his army in Christ’s death and resurrection. God’s mighty acts in history are not myths that symbolize timeless truths; they create the unfolding plot within which our lives and destinies find the proper coordinates.

Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 15.
The resurrection is not a symbolic repackaging of the teachings of Jesus that seemed to die with him only to be resurrected later by the church.

Metanarratives give rise to ideologies, which claim the world’s allegiance even, if necessary, through violence. The heart of the Christian narrative, however, is the gospel—the good news concerning God’s saving love and mercy in Jesus Christ. It is the story that interprets all other stories, and the lead character is Lord over p 18 all other lords.

History belongs to the divine decree.
Ephesians 1:11 ESV
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,
The attempt to turn the Bible into myth, into metanarrative, is nothing more than autonomous man’s attempt to place himself over the content of Scripture, steering it and guiding it, and interpreting it in line with his own ungodly agenda.

However, the Christian faith is a counterdrama to all of the meganarratives and metanarratives of this passing age—ancient, medieval, modern, and postmodern. It speaks of the triune God who existed eternally before creation and of ourselves as characters in his unfolding plot. Created in God’s image yet fallen into sin, we have our identity shaped by the movement of this dramatic story from promise to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. This drama also has its powerful props, such as preaching, baptism, and the Supper—the means by which we are no longer spectators but are actually included in the cast. Having exchanged our rags for the riches of Christ’s righteousness, we now find our identity “in Christ.” Instead of God being a supporting actor in our life story, we become part of the cast that the Spirit is recruiting for God’s drama.

Unless we understand Scripture as a whole, we are not likely to understand it’s individual stories, its movement across time, its characters what God is doing. Far too often our interpretation and instructions, our catechism ignores the whole and as a result, the individual parts that unfold in time lose their richness, their main purpose as it were.

The Christian faith is, first and foremost, an unfolding drama.

Doctrine: The Grammar of Faith

The gospel is good news, not good instructions, good ideas, or good techniques. It announces the “new thing” that God has accomplished in history for us and for our salvation

Where the world’s religions focus on timelessly eternal truths, the most important teachings of Christianity concern historical events.

The gospel tells the story of divine redemption. It is a story that takes place in human history; a history that has been divinely ordered by God himself for his own glory.

Doctrine simply means “teaching.” God not only promises and fulfills a particular future; he explains the implications.

As an effective communicator, God tells us what he is going to do, does it, and then tells us what he did. Doctrine summarizes these divine accomplishments.

The Christian has the highest ethical duty to approach this divine communication with humility, pleading with God for grace so that he may he able to understanding it and appropriate it, and so that he might avoid at all costs, misrepresenting it in any way. For too we often we engage divine revelation presumptuously, failing to consider the sinful nature of our own heart and its desire to eclipse the true meaning of Scripture with suitable to its own wicked motives.
Apologetic Scenario: John tells you that we all bring our own biases, prejudices, and presuppositions to the text. Since it is impossible to avoid such a situation, there is no way we can ever recover the true intended meaning of the author. How do you respond?
Were it not for the endowment of the Holy Spirit, discovering the true meaning of the text indeed would be impossible. But we have an anointing from the Holy One and all who know God know God’s word. Second, the first step in avoiding reading our own selves or biases into the text is awareness. John seems to be aware of them. Third, taken to its logical conclusion, if John is right, full-blown skepticism follows. And if that is the case, John is in no position to evaluate any interpretation of Scripture because his own prejudice make any objective evaluation impossible. In other words, John’s objection reduces to absurdity and dies by way of its own suicide.

In their epistles, the apostles unpack and interpret this drama under the Spirit’s inspiration (2 Ti 3:10–17; 2 Pe 1:16–21), relating the various aspects of the gospel and explaining its implications for the new society inaugurated by Christ’s resurrection.

It is the doctrine that defines and refines our understanding of the unfolding drama.

The epistles of the New Testament provide us with the clearest glimpse into the drama of God’s revelation in redemptive history. We look back into the revelation before the epistles through the clarity of those epistles to better understand what went before and to anticipate what is still to come!

By questioning and testing our interpretation of God’s Word, we come to know what we believe and why we believe it, so that the grammar of faith becomes our own language of worship through which we interpret all of reality and live in the world.

Theology is the concern of every believer because it is the grammar of the Christian faith.

First, we must do a better job humbly questioning our own interpretation of Scripture. Second, we must never forget how God patiently and graciously moved us from where we were to where we are. This helps us demonstrate mercy toward others who are on the same path we are, but not quite as far a long.

In systematic theology, we are drawing together all three of these stages at once: teaching the vocabulary and rules of speech (grammar) of Christianity, investigating its inner consistency and coherence as well as comparing and contrasting it with rival interpretations (logic), so that we can defend our faith in an informed, compelling, and gentle manner (rhetoric) (1 Pe 3:15–16).

Doxology: Saying Amen

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