"For us let it be enough to know ourselves to be in the place where God wants us, and carry on our work, even though it be no more than the work of an ant, infinitesimally small, and with unforeseeable results."
-- Abbé Monchanin

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Problem of Systematic Theology

More and more I am driven to the conclusion that systematic theology is one of the major impediments to authentic Christian faith today.

Systematic theology seeks to organize knowledge about God in such a way that we have encompassed God within our own understanding.  God becomes reasonable.  God is defined.  God is comprehended.  God is under control.

However, God in His wisdom did not provide us with a theological text book. He gave us the Bible, a compilation of stories and poetry.  That is because authentic theology is acquired by osmosis rather than by reason and logic. We come to know God by repeatedly encountering Him in the stories of the Bible and the stories of our own lives.  We come to know God separately from, maybe even before, our coming to know about God.

An example of the problem:  In my youth Southern Baptists were aware of the difference between a personal relationship with God and an objective understanding about God.  That awareness affected Baptist practices. Baptists insisted that a personal experience with Jesus was the prerequisite for baptism and church membership, not rote recitation of an approved creed.  For that reason, Baptists were uncomfortable with and even suspicious of those who practiced confirmation, insisting upon a personal confession of faith rather than knowledge of a catechism.

In recent decades things have changed among Southern Baptists.  A person's personal faith and relationship with God is now decried as emotional subjectivism, lacking the substance and validity of intellectual acceptance  of systematic theological statements concerning the nature of God. Commitment to correct propositional statements about God is now seen as what defines a Christian.  The result is that the emphasis has come to be centered upon an intellectual affirmation of theological pronouncements formulated by a few and voted upon and approved by a majority of the representatives from local congregations, a majority of whom have limited understanding of the implications of the actions they have taken. Propositional statements have superseded personal relationships.

The sad result is that now Southern Baptists are more confident in their knowledge about God while knowing God, Himself, less and less.

Where we once looked to God to define who we are to be, we now look to systematic theology, and it's derivative Baptist Faith and Message, to define who God must be.

The servant seeks to rule the Master.

Sadly, this rebellion is not limited to Southern Baptists.