systematic theology and the dreaded loose ends

I want to talk for a minute about systematic theology [readers scream and hit the browser’s back button so fast and hard many broken mice result].

Don’t get anxious, I just want to talk about the bane of any systematic theology – the dreaded loose ends. See every systematic approach puts what it thinks is most important up front and builds the system on and around that beginning. The further away you get, the less important, and the less likely to fit into the framework erected at the beginning.

And here is where things usually get ugly. If we treated theology like the science that it is, we would look at that mess of loose ends and say, “well this disproves the hypothesis I started with, guess I have to start over.“ But rare is the author who is eager or even reluctantly willing to toss thousands and thousands of words just like that. No, we take those left over square pegs, and gosh darn it, we hammer them into that nice smooth, round hole we worked so hard on. A few mental gymnastics and crafty reinterpretations later, and we’ve origami-ed that square into fitting, or at least appearing to do so.

If we spent less time yelling at scientists and more time talking to them, we might learn something from the brutal honesty they approach their work with (when they are actually following the scientific method, and not ignoring it, but we’ll leave that to another post). If a hypothesis fails, it fails. Most likely, there is something you can learn from the failure, but any investment you have made based on that hypothesis is for the most part lost.

What I’m saying is that if by the approach you have taken, you have painted yourself into such a corner that you wind up saying something like, ‘women are not allowed to teach in church, or at least not men, and not from the pulpit,’ then you went wrong somewhere at the beginning. If your system leads you to positions Jesus did not hold (or would not hold), then your system does not work within the confines of Christian theology (by the definition indicated by the adjective). I’m looking at you Wayne Grudem.