a side-bar issue: biblicist

A recent discussion at Mike Riley’s blog raised the term ‘biblicist’. It is a term that seem to raise the ire of some. Mike Harding, in post #5 calls it a ‘euphemistic term’ and a ‘circumlocution’. Mike Riley, responding to me in post #6 says it is ‘unhelpful’ and ‘presumptuous’.

Mike rightly pointed out that my focus on the term would distract from the subject matter of his post. But I thought I would do some thinking about the term here on oxgoad and invite the response of readers. (By the way, Mike’s post and the discussion that follows are quite interesting. You should also read Mark Snoberger’s follow-up and Mike’s response. And also, congratulations to Mike and his wife on the arrival of their first-born daughter!)

So… Biblicistwhat does the term mean and is it presumptuous or a circumlocution?

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what is passive justification?

I recently listened to a message on sanctification that contrasted sanctification with justification. Several statements were made. “Justification is passive.” “There is no imperative to seek justification.” “Justification is monergism.” (Monergism = one worker, i.e., God)

Some of this is true enough. Justification is indeed the work of God, not the work of man. You can search the scriptures and see that it is God who justifies man, man is always justified, always the one receiving justification from God not obtaining it through the works of the law.

The way the two doctrines were contrasted in the sermon I was listening to, however, was as if justification = salvation and that the fact that it is God who justifies men means men are entirely passive in salvation. That is to say, the sermon was thoroughly neo-Calvinist, and triumphantly so.

But is this equation actually presenting a true picture of salvation according to the Scriptures?

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theological disciplines

As I plod slowly through Warfield’s essay, “The Idea of Systematic Theology”, I come now to a section where he discusses the various ‘theological disciplines’.

He says there is a traditional categorization of theological disciplines around four heads, Exegetical, Historical, Systematic, and Practical. To these four he adds a fifth, the Apologetical. I’m going to take a few posts to talk about ideas suggested by this section of Warfield’s essay.

First of the five, Warfield lists Apologetical Theology. He says:

Apologetical Theology prepares the way for all theology by establishing its necessary presuppositions without which no theology is possible – the existence and essential nature of God, the religious nature of man which enables him to receive a revelation from God, the possibility of a revelation and its actual realization in the Scriptures. It thus places the Scriptures in our hands for investigation and study.1

What comes to mind from this definition?

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  1. Warfield, Works: Studies in Theology, p. 64 []

the source of theology

In two earlier posts, we have consider theology as science and attempted to define theology as ‘the science of God’.

This post continues our look at an essay by Warfield entitled "The Idea of Systematic Theology". Today our subject is the source of theology. In short, the source of theology is revelation. Without revelation, we could know nothing of God. Warfield earlier made the point that the fact of revelation by itself implies a personal God who is interested in His creatures. If there were no such person, there would be no revelation. There would be no idea of God if existence were truly random, uncaused, entirely by chance. The very ordered systems in which we live (water cycle, food chain, etc.) speak of an Orderer, not disordered random chance. If disorder were true, our world (if it could exist at all) would be chaos.

From these thoughts of the physical world, we find that revelation is not solely confined in Holy books. It is not merely written. Revelation is in ‘divers manners’. Revelation comes, Warfield says, from God’s ‘work or word’:

"Our reaching up to Him in thought and inference is possible only because He condescends to make Himself intelligible to us, to speak to us through work or word, to reveal Himself."1

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  1. Warfield, Works: Studies in Theology, p. 58 []

a definition of theology

More Warfield today….

Warfield moves on in his discussion of theology to give us this definition:

A science is defined from its subject-matter; and the subject-matter of theology is God in His nature and in His relations with His creatures. Theology is therefore that science which treats of God and of the relations between God and the universe.1

Warfield says the simple phrase ‘the science of God’ can be used as a sort of shorthand for this definition, since it implies the notion of God as God and God in relation to His creatures. (By the way, this ‘relation to creatures’ is essential for there to be a theology at all – if the Deists were right there could be no theology for God would have no interest or part in his creatures, if they could be called that. It seems to me that theistic evolutionists have something of the same problem.)

Terms like ‘the science of faith’, however, or ‘the science of religion’ or even ‘the science of Christian religion’ confuse the issue and are inadequate as definitions of theology. Why is this so? They are inadequate primarily because they are subjective.

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  1. Warfield, Works: Studies in Theology, p. 56. []

God save the queen

In Canada, this is something we sing and mean it. However, this post isn’t about her. It is rather about the “queen of the sciences”.

What is the queen of the sciences? Google it… and you will see the title claimed for either mathematics or theology. Who is the usurper here? How dare they! Which queen should we ask God to save?

Of course, you may guess that I am interested in the theological side of the question. I am doing a little reading in Warfield and thought I might muse on something he said in his essay, “The Idea of Systematic Theology”.

Warfield wrote the article in response to a somewhat sneering evaluation of the term ‘Systematic Theology’ in the 1894 Bibliotheca Sacra, where a Dr. Simon declared the term to be an “impertinent tautology”. Dr. Simon finds the tautological term offensive because it suggests that there are other departments of theology “which are not methodical.”

Dr. Warfield wrote in defense of the notion. I am just getting into this essay, I read Warfield when I have a few minutes here and there, so we will only progress on this at a snail’s pace (my favourite way). Warfield argues that the idea of systematic theology has to do with what is meant by its presentation, as a system of ideas (or a philosophy or science of theology) rather than as suggesting other types of theology are not methodological.

Now, I have been known to suggest that systematic theology is inferior to other forms of theology because it suffers a particular failing. Dr. Warfield, I find, is convincing me that I am perhaps too hasty, at least as far as the idea of systematic theology is concerned.

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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.

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