When I went to seminary, great importance was placed on Systematic Theology. I read works by
- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology
- Millard Erickson, Christian Theology
- John Leith, Basic Christian Doctrine
- John Calivn, Institutes of the Christian Religion.
The goal of reading such awesome works was to help organize and categorize the bible’s revelation of God in a nice organized manner around various themes.
In my own Presbyterian Tradition, we have our book of confessions, which includes shortened versions of systematic theology
- Westminster Confession of Faith
- Westminster Shorter Catechism
- Hiedelberg Catechism
- Scots Confession
In systematic theology, themes are developed using Scripture and reason, and we attempt to tie it all together in a nice neat package, find the holes, and fill them in with more logical thinking about God.
This is a helpful pursuit as we seek to understand what the Bible says about God, about Jesus, the work of Salvation, role of the church, end times etc.
The shift of postmodernism
Systematic theology is based on reason. It is the skill of the theologian, and in modernity, the experts were the source of authority.
One could appeal to Charles Hodge, John Calvin, or your favorite author and make your case based on their authority as experts.
Postmodernism has shifted the locus of authority from the philosopher, scientist, and theologian, to the individual.
The individual looks for what makes sense of their world. The locus of authority has shifted from rational thought to narrative story that explains their world.
Just because “so and so said” as an appeal to authority no longer communicates as effectively as it used to when it comes to communicating with people who don’t share that source of authority.
So how do we connect our theology and beliefs to a culture that doesn’t hold the authority of Scripture like we Christians do?
How do we communicate the gospel when the Bible is just another book that one can get in the store, next to Deepak Chopra, the Koran, Dianetics or A Course in Miracles?
Aside: Systematic Theology remains important
Let me be clear.
Systematic theology has it’s place. It is important what we believe as Christians and that our belief system is logical and coherent.
When we come to trust the Scriptures and it’s reliability as our source of authority and truth, systematic theology helps us organize our thoughts.
How we communicate that systematic theology is where the rub is when doing personal or church based evangelism.
Preaching Systematic Theology
Take for example, the art of preaching.
I’ve occasionally listened to sermons that are intellectual masterpieces, even exploring the secondary consequences of our belief system.
If we believe God is sovereign, is God sovereign over our will?
If we believe in God’s foreknowledge and election, what of those passed over?
Such preachers present intellectual puzzles in their sermon and explore the implications – the goal is to help the listeners think academically. The goal is to think rightly and there is great pride in our rational abilities.
The end result is that I think correctly, but often I hear little practical connection to my life.
Some preachers can bring such lofty thoughts down to real life, and in spite of our inability to do so, the Lord can use the spoken word to draw hearts towards him.
Perhaps an unintended consequence is that we reduce belief to intellectual agreement to a set of propositions.
Perhaps we have idolized rationality and forgotten to embrace the mysteries of faith.
Information without transformation.
Dogma without mission.
Gospel Scripts are Systematic Theology
Note: I’m working out my own thinking here, so it is subject to change. These are my thoughts out loud so to speak.
Gospel Scripts are a form of systematic theology.
They are attempts to reduce the fullness of the gospel message to a simple 3-4 four point actionable outline.
If one agrees with the main points, one responds and gets the results of the promises.
If one follows the mechanics of the actionable steps, is that a true conversion? [Read more at The Mystery of Christian Conversion]
Gospel scripts assume a biblical worldview (to agree to the propositions) and assume that the listener agrees with it.
Communicating a postmodern gospel
I’m not changing the gospel message or any of its elements: Christ died for our sins and rose again on the third day.
I’m not watering it down either. I can’t stand cheap prayers as the fruit of slick presentations.
I have been so impacted by the grace of Christ, that in no way do I want to cheapen it, devalue it, or cut theological corners.
I want people to discover this amazing grace that has captured me.
I want to present the gospel in a manner and way that will connect to the person I speak with and how they have learned to think under the influence of postmodernity.
I want to connect the gospel story, the story of redemption, to the story of the person I speak with.
The issue is finding an approach that will
- biblically communicate
- a biblical gospel
- in a way that explains sin,
- connects the story of redemption, and
- the story of God’s unfolding plan.
To keep posts readable and digestible in a blog format, so over the course of a few days, I’ll be sharing my thoughts postmodernism on it’s impact in personal evangelism. Grab the RSS feed to get new articles automatically.