Tag Archives: systems

Isn’t biblicism enough?

Peter Lumpkins wrote recently regarding Molinism

First, like Calvinism and Arminianism, Molinism is a system, and being a system itself remains a weakness so far as I am concerned. From my standpoint, it is difficult to impossible to accept that a system is required to interpret God’s revelation. The nature of biblical revelation itself works against a rigid framework through which the biblical text must pass in order to understand it correctly. With dozens of authors writing over at least a 1,500 year span, what possible system developed 1,500 years later could suffice? What of those interpreters who read the biblical text prior to the system’s development? Is biblicism itself not enough?

Well quite frankly, no. What does “biblicism” mean exactly? That we no longer have to employ our minds to understand what the Bible says? If that is the case then I would be very interested in meeting the person who has managed to shut off their mental faculties in order to process (mentally?) the message contained within scripture.

God has designed us in such a way that we must process all information we accumulate and posses through our minds. And our minds are well adapted to systems of through in order to assist as we reason through various subjects. In fact, dividing all the information in the universe into subjects is, itself, a system designed to help us divide up the whole of knowledge into more manageable pieces.

No, systems of thought are not infallible. But it would be a gross miscalculation to discount something merely because it is part of a system. If anything we should be more wary of ideas that do not fit into any larger system as such ideas are prone to be incompatible with other ideas we hold.

How would we know that we hold conflicting ideas without an overriding system (or meta-narrative) acting as a higher vantage point?

Yes, Scripture is our ultimate vantage point, but that does not mean intermediate systems of thought are invalid or unnecessary.


Maël on theological systems

Maël from “The Adventures of Maël & Cindy” blog recently wrote a piece titled “Waffle House Systems“. Here’s a portion of it:

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.