Prolegomena to Systematic Theology
Basic Foundations for Systematic Theology
Drama: The Greatest Story Ever Told
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).