Monthly Archives: April 2014

Faith vs Reason or Faith and Reason ( a Philosphical review of Systematic Theology)


            Philosophy is simply a love of wisdom. Norman Geisler points out, “Philosophy is the love of wisdom, but if one loves wisdom that is not Christ (the sum of all wisdom, Colossians 2:3), he loves an empty idol.”[1] Yet as simple as the definition is, it raises a new issue, the combination of faith and reason. Within Christianity, and particularly within Protestantism, the idea of combining philosophy and Christianity together exist within a precarious scenario. Warren C. Young details such a view:

Christianity is not a philosophy, but rather, a way of life based, not on human reason and speculation, but on faith in the supernatural. Philosophy is rationalistic; Christianity is non-rationalistic. Philosophy is man-made, speculative; Christianity is God-given, dogmatic. Hence, Christianity must not be contaminated with the foul epithet, philosophy.[2]

 If one takes this position, then not only philosophy but all evidence and methodologies based on reason are anathema.

However, someone apparently forgot to tell Jesus, Isaiah, Paul, and Peter faith and reason do not go together. The New Testament states Jesus was in the Temple as a young boy reasoning with the elders (Luke 2: 41-52). Isaiah, in the opening chapter of his book, recorded, “Come let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). Paul, on numerous occasions, reasoned with the Jews and Gentiles concerning the truths of the Kingdom of God (Acts 9:22; 17:2–4, 16–17; 18:4, 19; 19:8–9). Finally, Peter delivered a great admonition to all believers, “. . . always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

            Faith and reason have always had a relationship of complementarism. Culver states, “True faith and sound reason are still steadfast friends. The Bible does not even hint that one must be unreasonable to believe God’s Word.”[3] The issue is not philosophy versus no philosophy, but rather good philosophy versus bad philosophy. The foundation for this relationship must rest on the authority of faith.[4] George F. Herrick rightly confesses:

No perfect theology, no sound philosophy, no ideal “republic,” Platonic or other, no faultless social order, no perfection of humanity, in short, individually or as a whole, is possible except that which rests on the practical principle of recognizing the supreme authority of faith, the transcendent value of the spiritual intuition; in other words, the sovereign authority of a personal God over the thinking and the acting of a being he has chosen to create in his own image.[5]

 The danger of not using faith as the foundation of philosophy sets up the scenario seen during the Era of Enlightment of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The idea proposed was that purely secular reasoning encompasses the tools necessary to discover the truths of the universe without the help of any agent of divinity. The problem was that the concept of truth changed from one person to another. Postmodern thought centers on the idea of relativistic foundations, not absolutes. A Christian philosophy is the only philosophy built upon stable and permanent truth.[6]

            William Van Doodewaard states Christian philosophy as thus, “The task of Christian philosophy is nothing less than to interpret the whole of created reality in the light of God’s revelation to man in the Bible.”[7] This definition when placed beside that of systematic theology shows how the two disciplines do not conflict but rather can contribute to each other. Richard B. Cunningham supports this position, “In any case, Christian philosophy and systematic theology engage in distinctly different tasks that can nevertheless complement and enrich each other.”[8]

            Three men have made particularly important contributions to performing a philosophical review of systematic theology. The first is Socrates, who lived in Greece during a time in Greece when a group called Sophists were in control of most of the intellectual endeavors of Greece. The Sophists were secular humanists.[9] Sophists saw everything as relativistic. There were no absolutes and one path to knowledge was just as worthwhile as any other. Craig G. Bartholomew asserts, “Socrates set himself against the Sophists’ epistemological and ethical relativism with the goal of uncovering transcendent norms for true knowledge and behavior.”[10]

The method of Socrates has lasted longer than just about anything else he stated. His method was to ask questions driving people to dialogue and movement in the course of developing new and differing concepts. Today the Socratic Method is a common practice. Yet it is much more than just asking questions, Bartholomew points out the ultimate goal of this methodology, “Thus truth emerged by way of a dialectical method—careful reasoning and rigorous dialogue that would move beyond inadequate definitions and particular instances to abiding and universal definitions of goodness.”[11]

       The second individual that left an enduring legacy to philosophy was Plato. At the age of twenty Plato became a student of Socrates. Socrates wrote nothing; therefore, a lot of what we know about Socrates comes from Plato. Plato believed the sensory perception could not be trusted because they were constantly changing.[12] In fact, Plato believed nothing in this world could be trusted and from that came up with the idea that contained in another world or location were universal essences he called ideas and forms. Bartholomew provides the following principle, “A major insight of Plato is the recognition that the ordering principle for the world cannot be found within the world itself, and this is one reason that Christians have found his philosophy so attractive.”[13]

       The last of these individuals is Aristotle, a student of Plato. Aristotle came under the mentoring of Plato at the age of seventeen and for the next twenty years served under his tutelage. Unlike Plato, Aristotle believed that, through acute observation, analyzing, and the use of correct reasoning and logic, man could learn everything about the universe and the world man inhabits. Aristotle was so focused on the idea of reason and logic he was the first one to document the difference between deductive and inductive logic. Deductive reasoning starts with specific postulates and then moves to a general statement. Inductive reasoning starts with a general premise and then moves to making specific statements.

       Aristotle made many attempts to use reasoning and logic to answer the why questions he encountered. Bartholomew records a sad commentary on Aristotle’s life, “Nevertheless, in the end Aristotle was unable to accomplish what he wanted to do with his metaphysics—gain wisdom by answering the question of the why.”[14] A philosophical review of systematic theology must be willing to ask the why question, “Why do systematic theology?”

       Grudem, in his magna opus Systematic Theology, provides several specific answers to the question, “Why do systematic theology?”[15] Grudem’s reasoning falls into two broad categories. The first is: Why should one do systematic theology? The second is: How should one do systematic theology?

       Before looking at Grudem’s reasons, a comment needs to be made concerning the type of reasoning used in systematic theology, inductive reasoning. As an illustration, consider the statement, “The Holy Scriptures are the infallible and inerrant revelation of God to man.” Starting with this premise, systematic theology seeks to collect data, categorize it, develop specific points, and finally communicate those findings to the twenty-first century Christian to assist in answering contemporary questions about faith and practice. Going from general to specific is the definition of inductive reasoning.

       Grudem starts off his discussion by stating systematic theology’s most basic philosophical reason, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them [sic]to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20). In the narrow sense, to teach what Jesus taught could be restricted to the gospels. Grudem views this command from a broader sense:

However in a broader sense, all that Jesus commanded includes the interpretation and application of his life and teachings, because in the book of Acts it is implied that it contains a narrative of what Jesus continued to do and teach through the apostles after his resurrection. All that Jesus commanded can also include the Epistles, since they were written under the supervision of the Holy Spirit and were also considered to be a “command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37; John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 2 Peter 3:2; and Revelations 1:1-3). Thus in a larger sense all that Jesus commanded includes all of the New Testament.[16]

 The first reason to do systematic theology is because Jesus commanded all disciples to teach what he taught. How can the commandment to teach be satisfied unless a systematic theology exists? If someone asks, “When will Jesus come back?” teachers and preachers need to be ready to answer the questions. Considering the confidence Jesus placed in the Old Testament, they also must be included in what man determines to teach.

            This command, known as the Great Commission, has spurred in many a seal for evangelism. Yet a closer examination reveals the command to also teach. What does the Bible teach about the Holy Spirit? What does the Bible teach about redemption? What does the Bible teach about saluto ordo? Life is too short to try finding all these answers, among many more, from the Bible. Systematic theology provides a methodology that enables the disciple and the teacher to find and answer these why questions. Grudem summarizes, “The basic reason for studying systematic theology, then, is that it enables us to teach ourselves and others what the Bible says, thus fulfilling the second part of the Great Commission,”[17]

            The second answer to the question, “Why do systematic theology?” is the benefit to our lives. Studying theology helps the church overcome wrong ideas. The admonition to Timothy was to “. . . rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). One look at the history of theology and hermeneutics within the church shows how often this did not happen. If someone within our church does not think Jesus was divine, a teacher could then show them a verse or two. The individual might dismiss those verses, but if the teacher were to show him twenty or thirty verses, he would be more apt to change his mind. Systematic theology gives the church the means to accomplish such a task.[18]

            Third, studying systematic theology helps us to make better decisions as new doctrines arise.[19] New controversies will inevitably arise within the church. The person who studies systematic theology is better prepared to give an answer to these doctrines and opinions.

            This answer also pertains to applying the truths from the Bible. The difficulties in doing doctrine pale in comparison to the issue of applying Scriptures to a disciple’s daily life. What does the Bible say concerning husband and wife relations? What does the Bible say concerning raising kids? How is the church to respond to the homosexual agenda? How does the Bible guide the disciple in making decisions about money, investments, and general financial methodologies? The perspective one gains from studying systematic theology can help in determining how the teachings of the Bible relate to the issues of life.

            Finally, the study of systematic theology can help disciples grow as Christians.[20] The Bible connects sound doctrine with good behavior (1 Timothy 1:10; 6:3; Titus 1:1). The disciple needs to be aware there are major doctrines and minor doctrines. The authority of the Bible, deity of Christ, justification by faith, and many more are major doctrines. Questions concerning practice of the church ordinances, church government, and eschatological timing are minor doctrines to some disciples.[21]

            The second major category of Grudem’s discussion on the philosophy of systematic theology focuses on the methodology used. First, Grudem believes prayer should accompany the study of systematic theology. Prayer can open our eyes to God’s truth. Jesus spoke of how the Comforter would guide us in all truth (John 14:26).

            Second, the disciple should study systematic theology with humility. Rudolph Otto speaks of the majesty of God and his holiness, “The holy will then be recognized as that which commands our respect, as that to be acknowledged inwardly.”[22] Any time a disciple approaches God or his Scriptures, he should approach it with humility. Respect for who God is and his majesty is prominent in whatever theological endeavor one attempts. Third, the disciple should study systematic theology with reason.[23] Grudem confirms, “We are free to use our reasoning abilities to draw conclusions from any passage so long as those conclusions do not conflict with teachings found elsewhere in the Scriptures.”[24]

            The disciple should study systematic theology by collecting and understanding all relevant passages of Scripture on any topic.[25] Grudem provides a three-step process: Find all relevant verses, read and make notes, and summarize the teachings in one or more points that the Bible affirms.

            Finally, study systematic theology with rejoicing and praise.[26] “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalms 119:103). “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalms 19:8). Rejoice, for you have discovered that which can lead to a closer personal relationship with God.

            Systematic theology is a deliberate effort to organize the teaching of God’s revelation to man. The reason for doing systematic theology is to satisfy the command to teach God’s Word to others, protect the church from erroneous doctrine, and help the disciple grow in Christ.

[1] Norman L Geisler, “Colossians,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), p. 677.

 [2] Warren C. Young, “Is There a Christian Philosophy?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 1 (1958): p. 6.

 [3] Culver, p. 25.

 [4] Ibid.

 [5] George F. Herrick, “The Authority of Faith,” Bibliotheca Sacra 26 (1869): p. 286.

[6] Ibid., p. 283.

 [7] William Van Doodewaard, “Van Til and Singer: A Theological Interpretation of History,” ed. Joel R. Beeke, Puritan Reformed Journal 3 (2011): p. 353.

 [8] Richard B. Cunningham, “A Case for Christian Philosophy,” Review and Expositor 82 (1985): p. 498.

[9] Craig G. Bartholomew, and Michael W. Goheen, Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), p. 40.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., p. 41.

 [12] Ibid., p. 45, citing Frederick Copleston, Greece and Rome, vol. 1 of A History of Philosophy (New York: Image Books, 1946), p. 128.

 [13] Ibid., p. 46.

 [14] Ibid., p. 54.

 [15] Grudem, pp. 26-37.

 [16] Ibid., p. 27.

[17] Ibid., p. 28.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., p. 29.

[21] Ibid., p. 30.

[22] Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy (London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1936), p. 54.

[23] Grudem, p. 34.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., p. 35.

[26] Ibid., p. 37.


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Introduction to Systematic Theology-Bibliography

Did you ever want to get started on an introduction to Systematic Theology? Here is a starter list of resources.

Bartholomew, Craig G., and Michael W. Goheen. Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

 Berkhof, L. Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1932.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry. “Unabridged Systematic Theology Part I.” Bibliotheca Sacra 91 (1934): pp. 7-23.

 _______. Systematic Theology, 4 volumes. Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947.

 Copleston, Frederick. Greece and Rome,vol. 1 of A History of Philosophy. New York, NY: Image Books, 1946.

 Couch, Mal. “What Is Systematic Theology.” Conservative Theological Journal 8 (2004): pp. 9-19.

 Culver, Robert Duncan. Systematic Theology. Ross Shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2005.

 Cunningham, Richard B. “A Case for Christian Philosophy.” Review and Expositor 82 (1985): pp. 491-505.

Foos, Harold D. “The Pastor and Theology.” Conservative Theological Journal 2 (1998): pp. 5-15.

 Gaffin, Richard B. “Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology.” Westminster Theological Journal 38 (1975): pp. 280-299.

 Geisler, Norman L. “Colossians.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

 Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1994.

 Hamlyn, D. W. “Epistemology, History of,” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards, 8 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1967.

 Herrick, George F. “The Authority of Faith.” Bibliotheca Sacra 26 (1869): pp. 268-290.

 Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

 _______. Outlines of Theology. London, UK: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1879.

 Ladd, George T. “An Essay in Systematic Theology.” Bibliotheca Sacra 36 (1879): pp. 706-729.

 Lawrence, Michael. Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

 Lightner, Robert. “A Case for Systematic Theology.” Conservative Theological Journal 4 (2000): pp. 32-45.

 Lints, Richard. “Two Theologies or One? Warfield and Vos on the Nature of Theology.” Westminster Theological Journal 54 (1992): pp. 233-253.

 Miley, John. Systematic Theology. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989.

 Mohler, R. Albert. He is not Silent. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2008.                                     

Murray, John. “Systematic Theology-I.” Westminster Theological Journal 25 (1962): pp. 132-142.

_______. “Systematic Theology-II.” Westminster Theological Journal 26 (1963): pp. 32-46.

Otto, Rudolph. The Idea of the Holy. London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1936.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Introduction to Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991.

Simon, D. W. “The Nature and Scope of Systematic Theology.” Bibliotheca Sacra 51 (1894): pp. 586-603.

Shedd, William. Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes. 3rd ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publications, 2003.

Thiessen, Henry Clarence. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949.

Turner, David L. “A Study in Presuppositional Apologetics.” Grace Theological Journal 2 (1981): pp. 45-81.

Van Doodewaard, William. “Van Til and Singer: A Theological Interpretation of History.” ed. Joel R. Beeke. Puritan Reformed Journal 3 (2011): pp. 339-362.

Van Til, Cornelius. A Survey of Christian Epistemology. Phillipsburg, NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1969.

Warfield, Benjamin B. “The Indispensableness of Systematic Theology to the Preacher.” Master’s Seminary Journal 7 (1996): pp. 239-249.

_______. The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Studies in Theology. Vol. 9. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008.

Wells, David. No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1993.

Young, Warren C. “Is There a Christian Philosophy?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 1 (1958): pp. 6-12.

Zaspel, Fred G. The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2010.

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