the death of systematic…


A blog entry at The Scientist magazine bemoans the decline and literal ‘dying off’ of expertise in the area of systematic and taxonomic biology. While I am not too worried about the future of human civilization if this concern is true, the article may give us some thoughts concerning the value of systematic theology.

I think it is well known that I consider biblical theology to be superior to systematic, but systematic theology does have some value.

Consider this description of systematic biology:

It’s not just an academic issue: Systematics and taxonomy are crucial for identifying potentially harmful species of insect, fungi, or plant, fully understanding ecosystem services analyses, and tracking and combating climate change, among other roles.

Interesting point… and perhaps the best value of systematic theology, especially with reference to the essential doctrines. A well-articulated system will identify aberrant theology. Good Christology eschews all forms of Arianism, for example.

With respect to doctrines that divide true Christians (i.e., soteriology or polity), the value of a clear system enables believers to decide about levels of fellowship. It is possible that some differences are tolerable in a local fellowship, but there are some churches composed of true believers that I couldn’t work with… I suppose there are many who feel the same about me.

“It’s a matter of changing trends in what’s fashionable in universities,” David Hawksworth, renowned British mycologist and former director of the International Mycological Institute, told The Scientist. UK universities no longer offer strong programs in systematic biology, added Hawksworth, who also contributed written evidence to the Science and Technology Committee report.

The situation is probably different in theology. It seems to me that systematics may becoming somewhat over-emphasized. They do have a function and place, but they should not be supreme in theological thinking or training. First among reasons for my opinion is that systematic theology is a human construct laid on top of Biblical revelation. The potential for human error is therefore always present, whereas the Bible is without error. The great danger of systematic theology, to me, is that it can make the system the judge of Biblical truth. The opposite should be true. And… where the system ‘fills in’ the details the Bible has not given us, a good deal of humility is required. (Unfortunately, a quality sorely lacking in many theologs today.)