My friend and advisor is know for describing what some systematic theologians do with a Waffle House analogy. If you have ever been to a Waffle House restaurant and have ever observed the waffle making process, you might have noticed that while the waffle is cooking some dough tends to spill out and down the sides of the waffle iron. This renegade dough cooks just like the rest and I am sure that it is as tasty as the rest, but just before the waffle is removed from the iron the expert waffle maker takes a knife and cuts this unsightly waffle dough so as to produce a perfectly round waffle. Often, theologians, as they try to produce a perfect system, also take their knife and cut the renegade information that does not quite fit their system. This information is ignored, downplayed, or re-interpreted.
He goes on to issue a challenge:
So here is my challenge: let us commit to not allow systems to define our theology. Let us commit to only allow Scripture to define our theology. Let us not pull out our theological knife and trim what does not fit. Let us make sure that we do not ignore, downplay, or re-interpret anything that does not fit our theology. Instead let us be challenged by what does not fit. Will you join me? Be forewarned, it’s harder than you think …
In the comments I half-jokingly wrote:
I like your system, I think I’ll subscribe to it 😉
On a serious note. I don’t think anyone would object to this sentiment. In fact most systems I’ve encountered would claim to be “Scripture driven”.
So the real question is; How do we know when we’ve gone off the reservation and have allowed our theological systems to define our theology as opposed to the text? What are some objective warning signs we can all (irrespective of theological preference) use?
And to my pleasant surprise, Maël followed up a few days later with a post titled “Systems Enslaving Scripture – N. T. Wright” where he includes the following quote from NT Wright:
“Once you can make scripture stand on its hind legs and dance a jig, it becomes a tame pet rather then a roaring lion. It is no longer “authoritative” in any strict sense; that is, it may be cited as though in “proof” of some point or other, but it is not leading the way, energizing the church with the fresh breath of God himself. The question must always be asked, whether scripture is being used to serve an existing theology or vice versa.”
found in N. T. Wright, The Last Word (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 70.
I think Wright and Maël are on to something here. At the least it is worth pausing and thinking about the “excess dough” we might be tempted to cut off in our haste to cross our theological T’s and dot or exegetical I’s.