Systematic Theology in Military Garb: B.B. Warfield on The Theological Task

warfieldThis year I am reading through the works of Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield. As I find various important points or quotes, I’ll try to put them up here. Today I offer this first quotation that pertains to the task of systematic theology and its relation to exegesis and biblical theology.

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“The Idea of Systematic Theology,” The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, vii 1896, pp 243–71; reprinted in The Works of B.B. Warfield, 9:67–68. Cf. Fred Zaspel, The Theology of B. B. Warfield81).

Using military imagery, Warfield explains how systematic theology takes the recruits of exegetical theology and the companies formed by biblical theology and marches them into battle.

The immediate work of exegesis may be compared to the work of a recruiting officer: it draws out from the mass of mankind the men who are to constitute the army. Biblical Theology organizes these men into companies and regiments and corps, arranged in marching order and accoutered for service. Systematic Theology combines these companies and regiments and corps into an army in a single and unitary whole, determined by its own all-pervasive principle. It, too, is composed of men—the same men which were recruited by Exegetics; but it is composed of these men, not as individuals merely, but in their due relations to the other men of their companies and regiments and corps.

The simile is far from a perfect one; but it may illustrate the mutual relations of the disciplines, and also, perhaps, suggest the historical element that attaches to Biblical Theology, and the element of all inclusive systematization which is inseparable from Systematic Theology. It is just this element, determining the spirit and therefore the methods of Systematic Theology, which, along with its greater inclusiveness, discriminates it from all forms of Biblical Theology, the spirit of which is purely historical. (The Works of B.B. Warfield, 9:67–68)

Systematic theology is an imminently biblical discipline. And as Warfield’s vivid illustration reports, any systematic theology that does not recruit from the scriptures and march with the organized companies of biblical theology has little power to defeat the dark armies of this world.

With that in mind, may we be biblical systematic theologians. And may our Bible reading grow into a strong army of systematic theology.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo credit: Banner of Truth

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