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.


“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

Israel and the Church: Continuity, Discontinuity, or Something of the Two?

haysIn his influential study on intertextuality, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of PaulRichard Hays argues the apostle Paul’s hermeneutic is “functionally ecclesiocentric rather than christocentric” (xiii). In a series of essays, he shows how the apostle applies Old Testament texts to the New Testament church, and in so doing he questions the commonly held assumption that Paul wrote with a Christocentric approach to the Old Testament.

In comparison to the Gospels, especially Matthew and John, Hays shows that Paul is much more reticent to cite messianic prooftexts. Rather, writing to local churches who are comprised of the eschatological people of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11), he applies the Old Testament scriptures semi-directly to the church. I say semi-directly, because the old covenant scriptures only apply through the mediation of Jesus Christ, a point Hays goes on to affirm: “christology is the foundation on which [Paul’s] ecclesiocentric counterreadings are constructed” (120).

For Hays, his aim is to observe the hermeneutical principles at work in Paul’s letters. My question is more systematic. What does Paul’s method of interpretation say to us about the relationship between Israel and the Church? Debates rage between Dispensationalists who make a clear division between Israel and the Church and Covenant Theologians who have ostensibly replaced Israel with the Church. Thankfully, these hard divisions have been revised in recent years—Progressive Dispensationalists see more continuity between Israel and the Church (even as they retain a unique place for Israel), and Covenant Theologians like Richard Gaffin and Anthony Hoekema have centered Old Testament promises in Jesus Christ and his new covenant people. Still, the debate continues: how should we relate the testaments? Continue reading

For Your Edification (5.25.12)

For Your Edification is a bi-weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Ministry, and Family Life.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.


Training Parrots or Making Disciples?  In his pastoral epistles to Timothy, Paul says that his son in the faith should rightly divide the word of truth (1 Tim 2:15).  Later, Timothy is exhorted to pass on all that he learned from Paul to the next generation of teachers and Christian leaders (2 Tim 2:2).  To say it another way, in order for maturing disciples to pass on the faith to future generations, they must learn how to handle God’s Word and not just parrot answers from other talking heads.

To this end, author, pastor, and professor, Jim Hamilton, has given a concise definition of three keys terms that relate to rightly handling the Word of God..  These terms—exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology—are a good place to begin understanding how biblical interpretation relates to theological understanding.

Here are Hamilton’s one sentence definitions to each.

Exegesis is the careful analysis of the meaning of a particular passage.

Biblical theology is canonical exegesis. That is, biblical theology seeks to correlate the meaning of relevant texts from across the pages of Scripture.

Systematic theology then seeks to bring everything together for a full statement of what the whole Bible teaches on particular topics.

If these terms are unfamiliar to you, or, alternately, if you have read numerous books on the subject, Hamilton’s short piece is helpful for defining and relating exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology.  Check out the whole thing to see why biblical interpretation is so important for Bible reading and teaching.

The Rose.  Southern Baptist Pastor, Matt Chandler, exposes the hypocrisy of many Christian preachers when he recalls an incident where a preacher uses fear as the primary weapon against sin.  By contrast, he states (screams!) that “Jesus wants the dirty rose!” because he has died to make us righteous.

You can find the whole sermon, ‘A Shepherd and His Unregenerate Sheep,’ at Desiring God, and his new book The Explicit Gospel is a helpful articulation of the gospel that is too often assumed.


Summer Family Activity Book.  Summer is a great time for rest, relaxation, and recalibration.  But, it is also a time for families to take extra time together and to use the summer as a time to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But where should a family begin?

Enter the Village Church, who has come up with an excellent children’s activity book for your summer.  This book is filled with ideas for instructing children in the gospel and having lots of fun at the same time.  Here is the outline of the chapters:

SET A RHYTHM: Activities to help your family set a rhythm [of Bible intake] as you spend time this summer

AT HOME: Activities to help you be intentional with time you spend at home

OUT AND ABOUT: Outings and adventures you can take as a family

ON THE WAY: Things to do as your family travels

You can find the whole PDF here: Summer Family Activity Book.

Childhood Conversion. While we are on the subject of children, you should be aware of helpful article by Jim Elliff on the subject of children’s conversion.  Elliff, a pastor of Christ Fellowship of Kansas City, examines the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of children and how conviction of sin, biblical revelation, and spiritual regeneration are necessary for true conversions.

Elliff points to the ways that many churches, pastors, and child evangelists have misled children and their parents by giving false assurance for salvation based on a prayer, a service, or some other outward act instead of the powerful inner-working of the Holy Spirit.  For ministers and church members, Elliff’s article is worth reading to have a better understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and how to share the gospel with children.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Read the Bible with the Church: A Wise Word from Charles Hodge

Protestant Christians have always believed in Sola Scriptura, but they have also read the Bible with the Church.  Until recently (since the American Revolution and the Enlightenment), the idea of “Me and My Bible” Christianity, or Solo Scripturahas not been advocated.  Like the Jews who plugged their ears and stoned Stephen, when we read the Bible without listening to the men who have gone before us, we endanger ourselves of committing many errors and foolishly rehashing untold biblical-theological arguments.

In this vein–reading the Bible with the light of Church History–is helpfully represented by American theologian, Charles Hodge.

Protestants admit that as there has been an uninterrupted tradition of truth from the protevangelium [Genesis 3:15] to the close of the Apocalypse [Revelation 21-22], so there has been a stream of traditionary teaching flowing through the Christian Church from the day of Pentecost to the present time. This tradition is so far a rule of faith that nothing contrary to it can be true. Christians do not stand isolated, each holding his own creed. They constitute one body, having one common creed. Rejecting that creed, or any of its parts, is the rejection of the fellowship of Christians, incompatible with the communion of saints, or membership in the body of Christ. In other words, Protestants admit that there is a common faith of the Church, which no man is at liberty to reject, and which no man can reject and be a Christian (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:113–14).

To learn more about the value of Charles Hodge for today, read my review of  Paul Gutjahr’s recent biography, Charles Hodge: Guardian of American OrthodoxyAnother fresh biography on Charles Hodge is Andrew Hoffecker’s Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

(HT: J.T. English)

God is a Wise Lover: A Helpful Illustration from R. L. Dabney on the Wisdom and Benevolence of God

In his Systematic Theology, 19th C. theologian, R.L. Dabney, provides two helpful illustrations explaining how our infinitely good God can at times, for reasons left unknown to us, constrain the excellencies of his love for purposes of greater good. In the first illustration, he writes,

“For instance a philanthropic man meets a distressed and destitute person. The good man is distinctly conscious in himself of a movement of sympathy tending towards a volition to give the sufferer money. But he remembers that he has expressly promised all the money now in his possession, to be paid this very day to a just creditor. The good man bethinks himself, that he “ought to be just before he is generous,” and conscience and wisdom counterpoise the impulse of sympathy; so that it does not form the deliberate volition to give alms. But the sympathy exists, and it is not inconsistent to give other expression to it. We must not ascribe to that God whose omniscience is, from eternity, one infinite, all embracing intuition, and whose volition is as eternal as His being, any expenditure of time in any process of deliberation, nor any temporary hesitancy or uncertainty, nor any agitating struggle of feeling against feeling. But there must be a residuum of meaning in the Scripture representations of His affections, after we have guarded ourselves duly against the anthropopathic forms of their expression.

Hence, we ought to believe, that in some ineffable way, God’s volition, seeing they are supremely wise, and profound, and right, do have that relation to all His subjective motives, digested by wisdom and holiness into the consistent combination, the finite counterpart of which constitutes the rightness and wisdom of human volition. I claim, while exercising the diffidence proper to so sacred a matter, that this conclusion bears us out at least so far. That, as in a wise man, so much more in a wise God, His volition, or express purpose, is the result of a digest, not of one, but of all the principles and considerations bearing on the case. Hence it follows, that there may be in God an active principle felt by Him and yet not expressed in His executive volition in a given case, because counterpoised by other elements of motive, which His holy omniscience judges ought to be prevalent.”[1]

In this way, Dabney offers a plausible explanation of the way God’s manifold perfections may check his omnipotent love.  Some may revolt at such a display of God, but I think it preserves God’s unfathomable wisdom, his holy nature, and his absolute deity, that is over and above our own understanding.
God is God and we worship him truly only when we marvel at the depth of riches, wisdom, and knowledge.  As Paul exclaimed,
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?  For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom 11:34-36).
Soli Deo Gloria, dss

[1] R.L. Dabney, Systematic Theology (1878; reprint: Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1985), 530.

John Murray on Systematic and Biblical Theology

Writing on the relationship between systematic and biblical theology, John Murray writes with great balance, saying

Systematic theology is tied to exegesis.  It coordinates and synthesizes the whole witness of Scripture on the various topics with which it deals.  However, systematic theolgoy will fail of its task to the extent to which it discards its rootage in biblical theology as properly conceived and developed.  It might seem that an undue limitation is placed upon systematic theology by requiring that the exegesis with which it is so intimately concerned should be regulated by the principle of biblical theology.  And it might seem contrary to the canon so important to both exegesis and systematics, namely the analogy of Scripture.  These appearances do not correspond to reality.  The fact is that only when systematic theology is rooted in biblical theology does it exemplify its true function and achieve its purpose (John Murray, “Systematic Theology: Second Article,” WTJ 26, no. 1 (1963), 44-45).

Well said.

(HT: Brian Payne, from his doctoral dissertation, The Summing Up of All Things in Christ and the Restoration of Human Viceregency: Implications for Ecclesiology, SBTS 2008, p. 15)

Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama

Michael Horton’s Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama is a book about theological method.  Unashamed of his Reformed heritage, the Westminster professor, draws on the redemptive-historical insights of John Calvin, Hermann Bavinck, Geerhardus Vos, and others, to speak to issues of post-modern literary theory and the narrative theology of George Lindbeck, Hans Frei, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.  As Kevin Vanhoozer puts it, “Messieurs Lindbeck and Wolterstorff, meet Geerhardus Vos and Herman Ridderbos!”  The result is an erudite and creative proposal that instructs Christians to conceive of the Bible as a Divine Drama.

In brief, Horton employs biblical theology and speech-act theory to show how this biblical drama–God’s acts of redemption and his interpretive revelation– should be the starting point for doing theology.  In this regard, Horton’s proposes an inductive method of doing theology.  Still, he relies on other theologians and philosophers to shape his thesis.  He depends heavily on Post-Reformational theologians and appropriates many of their redemptive-historical insights to combat and correct the modern philosophy and postmodern literary theory.  Yet, like Kevin Vanhoozer, Horton is adroit in gleaning from postmodern theories and philosophical instrumentation to better articulate what the Bible is doing.

The book is broken into two sections: “God Acts in History” (ch. 2-4) and “God Speech” (ch. 5-9); however, the contents of each chapter seem to move from one problem area to another.  In other words, instead of delineating a clear line of explanation, Horton responds to the problems and counter-proposals as he sets forth his case.  In this, he makes countless contributions to the subject of theological method; however, it is challenging to finish this book with a step-by-step program for ‘doing theology.’  Nevertheless, in the narrative of his book, there are four ideas that find repeated attention and that Horton sets out from the beginning.  They are a redemptive-historical method, an analogical mode (of discourse), a dramatic model, and a covenantal context.  We will consider these in turn.

First, Horton argues that we should read the Bible along redemptive-historical or biblical-theological lines.  Following the Dutch-American Reformed tradition, Horton conceives of biblical theology as an organically-connected development in biblical history–one that is laced with eschatological anticipation.  In this way, eschatology is not simply a systematic loci, but an interpretive lens.  Promise-fulfillment is the basic structure of the biblical narrative.  And the entire Bible itself takes on an escalating covenantal shape.

Horton contrasts the Platonic dualism that has lurked within the church from Augustine to Bultmann with the biblical, “two-age model”  which integrates history and eschatology.  Whereas the former sets up an unbiblical noumenal-phenomenal antithesis, the latter places eschatology within history and sees one age following another.  Jesus inaugurated the age to come with the ratification of the new covenant–the shedding of his blood on the cross– and his triumphant resurrection/ascension.  Today, we await the culmination when the King of Kings comes again.  Thus, according to Horton, we should read the Bible redemptive-historically.  I agree.

Second, Horton addresses the subject of biblical language.  Is it univocal, equivocal, or analogical?  He argues for the last of these three, and shows how and why proposals that turn away from analogical discourse result in aberrant doctrines.  For instance, in chapter two he shows the difficulty of fusing liberal, God-denying action in history with biblical & orthodox language (e.g. when Bultmann uses the language of resurrection, he is not speaking of physical, historical event).  Horton supplies four possible ways that the Bible and the world relate: (1) “mythological-symbolical-metaphorical” language where the God has spoken in his word but not in a way that comports with history, (2)  “communal interpretation of natural occurencce” where God acts providentially in history but does not provide sufficient interpretation of explanation, thus communities of faith are left to devise their own meaning, (3) “narrative interpretation” in which the Bible gives a plausible explanation of reality, but which may not in fact correspond to reality, and (4) “immanent interpretation” where belief is held that God lives, moves, and has his being in the world–this is a panentheist approach that blurs Creator and creation.

Horton lists all these to show the competing (and false) models in the church and academy today and to argue for a view of the Bible that recounts both God’s acts in history, as well as his covenantal speech found in Scripture.  God acts in his works and in his words, and Horton emphasizes that while the Bible only gives us analogical expressions of the God who acts and speaks, these analogical accomodations are true interpretations of God’s work of redemption.  He goes further though, asserting that Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, is in fact the univocal center of revelation, and that in him their is a univocal and irreducible core to the revelation of God in redemptive history.

Third, building on the redemptive-historical storyline and the way that God reveals himself through redemptive acts and inspiring nterpretive speech, Horton shows that this results in a divine drama where the world is a stage, the Bible a script, the people of God actors, and the covenantal structures (e.g. circumcision and the sacrificial system under the Mosaic administration; baptism and the Lord’s supper under the New Covenant) serve as visible props to reenact the drama.  This dramatic ideal is not held exclusively by Horton.  Hans von Balthasar developed it at length in his 5-volume Theo-Drama, and before that John Calvin even appealed to theatrical language.  More recently, Kevin Vanhoozer has appealed to this understanding in his The Drama of Doctrine

As with his emphasis on “two-world” model mentioned earlier, this historical progression of people and plot, which is sovereignly written and directed by God himself, overturns the static, platonic view of reality.  Instead of a purely vertical understanding of the platonic cosmology, with the earthly, material world somehow reflecting the timeless, immaterial noumenal worls, the Bible as Divine Drama puts the story on a horizontal axis that is moving from Creation to Consummation.  Simultaneously, the biblical drama casts God as the intervening hero who descends from heaven to earth to wisely, powerfully, and gloriously deliver his people–this is seen typologically in the OT and definitely in the NT with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Fourth, Horton develops this drama along the unifying theme of the biblical covenants.  He maintains that biblical canon itself is a covenantal document (a la Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority), and that the revelation of redemption contained therein reflects the gracious initiative of God to save a people for himself, a people who journey in this age as pilgrims but in the age to come as partakers of the Kingdom of God.  As Horton works out this proposal, he on more than one occasion emphasizes the necessity of a theology of the cross, over against a theology of glory.  The Christocentric reality is that the covenantal pattern of the Bible is that those who will enter into glory must travel the road of redemption as sojourners and sufferers (cf. Phil. 2:5-11).  He critiques any reading of Scripture that purports an overrealized eschatology, and he cautions those of us in covenant with Jesus Christ to realize that the cross comes before glory.

So overall, Horton’s proposal is compelling, even if it is hard to follow at points.  His argumentation is strong and his knowledge of biblical theology and postmodern philosophy is vast.  Furthermore, it is obvious that his intention is not to advocate a system of theology.  This is seen in the way that he answers objections from liberal theologians on his left and the way he challenges hyper-conservative theologians on his right.  He aims to traverse a narrow path between “experiential-expressivists”  who subvert the Bible to contemporary prejudices and “cognitive-propositionalists” who in the name of orthodoxy reduce the Bible to a series of eternal truths and miss the narrative, historical, and eschatological framework of the Bible. 

Similarly, Horton’s use of speech-act theory and double author discourse does not distort the text or run into the rocks of Tillich’s method of correlation.  Instead, Horton deftly employs philosophical language to articulate what the Bible is in fact doing.  This selective use of literary theory and philosophy, along with his repeated appeals to biblical theology, serves as a needed corrective against extreme liberalism and reductionistic biblicism.  Against both of these polarities, Horton is emphatic on the covenantal structure of the Bible, the way in which God has time and again redeemed a people for himself, something that the Divine Drama is continuing to do today.  Which leads to a final point.

Horton concludes his work with a chapter on the “Community Theater” where he suggests ways in which the twenty-first century church is called to perform the drama found in Scripture.  Appealing to the likes of Calvin, he shows how preaching the Word, performing the sacraments–his word, not mine, and effecting church discipline display for a watching world the Divine Drama.  Thus the church is to appropriate the speech and acts found in the biblical narrative, the language of the covenant, and to continue walking by faith in the redemption once for all accomplished in Christ and once for all delivered (read: spoken) to the saints.  While the objective work of redemption and revelation is completed, its local reenactment by the redeemed people of God will continue until the end of age.

On the whole, Horton’s book is an enriching proposal on how to do biblical and systematic theology.  It is not for the faint of heart, though.  It is a technical work that requires background knowledge of contemporary theology and Post-Reformation Reformed theology.   Simultaneously, it is a book that while written clearly could be structured better.  The book is generally organized by the four emphases consider here, but the execution of explaining these ideas is lacking.  Nevertheless, his main point of reading the Bible redemptive-historically, analogically, and covenantly comes through, and his model of a Divine Drama is one that helps unify the gap between theory and practice.  I commend Horton’s book to you and hope that it helps you delight in the God who acts and speaks!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Marriage: A Theological Helpmate

Have you ever reflected on how indebted Systematic Theology is to Marriage? Have you considered how many doctrines are improved by the biblical teaching on marriage and the earthly reality of this blessed institution? Moreover, have you thought about how many doctrines would be lacking nuance and passion without the marital imagery employed by Scripture to flesh out these truths? Or finally, have you paused to think about how your own marriage has enhanced your understanding of sin, sanctification, the gospel, and eschatology, or any other biblical or theological truth? I have been thinking a lot about this lately, and here are a few doctrines inspired and improved by marriage:

The Attributes of God are impoverished without marriage–in particular, the love of God. God who is love (1 John 4:18) is most passionately displayed in the passages of Scripture that demonstrate his love for his people as the kind a lover has for his bride (Zeph. 3:17-18). Take away the Song of Songs and a gaping hole is left in the Scriptures to be able to understand the zealous love God has for his treasure–the blood bought bride of Christ. God’s love sings, but without marriage there be no such occassion for songs of love.

Ecclesiology, or the nature of the Church, is emptied without the Bridegroom and the Bride. Remove Ephesians 5:22-33, which speaks of the glories of marriage and the mystery of Christ and the church, and you lose the loftiest description of what the church is to be like. Moreover, without Ephesians 5 the picture of Christ’s faithfulness to wash his bride and make her spotless and radiant is depleted. The tenderness and power of God’s sanctification is portrayed in Christ washing his bride clean (cf. Ezek 16).

The doctrine of Justification is a public declaration of a new legal status. Marriage does the same thing, and provides a wonderful analogy to understand this doctrine. An impoverished woman, who is doted on and loved by a kind suitor, is made in an instant the heir of all his wealth, reputation, and regard. How? Through the pronouncement of vows and the recognition of witnesses. This is just like justification by faith. So it is with justification by faith. We who trust in Christ for our lives and our righteousness find ourselves unified to him as a committed wife, one absolutely dependent on his leadership, and one who gladly exchanges our old name for a new.

This marital analogy also applies to understanding the New Covenant. Surely covenants were made throughout the Bible between males and co-laborers (cf. Jacob and Laban), but all of these covenants were devoid of love. In marriage, covenant faithfulness meets sublime love and tender mercies. In this, marriage serves as a picture of the new covenant with Jesus Christ. Whereas the old covenant could be construed as a workman’s contract, the new covenant is certainly the bond of a husband and a wife.

The converse to faithful marriage–adultery and divorce–also speaks to doctrinal matters. Harmatiology, the doctrine of sin, is improved (if you can or should say such a thing) by the devastating effects that a broken marriages depict. In other words, in divorce and adultery, sin is seen in its baldest form. The wickedness of a man who forsakes the woman he loves, or loved, unveils the wretchedness of humanity, the total depravity of the human condition. Moreover, adultery which breaks the covenant to ones spouse invokes a response of jealousy and rage. This it would seem is the fire necessary to destroy the covenant breaker. In this jealousy, hell is inflamed. God will punish in hell those who have broken covenant with him, those who have run out to adulterate themselves with this world (James 4:4), and have willingly rejected God’s kind offer to renew their vows through repentance and return. Without marriage though, the ravaging effects of sin would not be as clear.

Finally, without marriage, Eschatology would be neutered. The doctrine of last things is filled with joy for so many reasons, but the crown jewel of the coming millenium and the return of Christ is the marriage feast with the lamb. Oh, how I look forward to that day! But without marriage and the joyous occassions of weddings that mark our calendars, we would be less informed about the joy and purpose of two souls joining as one. But with marriage, we understand and are enlightened to the hope of a eschatological marriage that will be forever and without end. The celebrations we experience now in this age when a man and woman join together in holy matrimony are but dim reflections of the cosmic celebration that is coming soon (Rev. 19:6-10).

These are just some of the ways marriage informs our theology. God has given marriage to all humanity for pleasure, procreation, and purity (no particular order), but it seems that he has also given it as a picture for us to see him more clearly. May we with the light of Scripture embrace our spouses and consider the biblical teaching on marriage so that we might better know our Lord.

Lord Jesus, thank you for marriage…For the wife you have given me…For the biblical portrait of marriage…And for the way you have designed it to reveal to us your glory and your goodness. Amen.