A Theology of Theology

theology: the study of God and of the nature of religious truth; a school of thought arising from such study; an organized course of study within the academic field of religion

There is no theology in the Bible. There entire concept arises from Aristotelian epistemology. Aristotle made a god of his logic. He was pretty sure his conclusions and the very path by which he reached them were self-evident. What he really did was explain how one should go about the process. His logic demanded that human efforts to understand things should be divided into certain fields of knowledge. Thus, the majority of our entire academic curricula around the Western world owes much to Aristotle.

It’s not as if ancient civilizations before Aristotle and friends didn’t study things. It would be wholly untrue to suggest they didn’t follow logic, but it was a different logic from that of Aristotle. One more time: The logic God taught His people to use is not Aristotelian; it was surely different from Aristotle and better. Aristotle’s logic starts with the assumption there can be no revelation from God. From that assumption, his whole system was derived. If you insist on using his system of logic, you cannot force the revelation of God back into it. You are bringing in a factor that does violence to his system, because it’s a presupposition that is ground to bits by his procedure. In other words, if you read the Bible through Aristotelian logic, you will always be wrong about what the Bible actually says.

The Bible is a narrative record of what God wants us to know as humans after the Fall. The central focus of the Bible is teaching humans to see the logical system God proclaimed as the best way to understand His Creation and all He did to redeem us. It doesn’t solve the problem of the Fall; it establishes the frame of reference for His redemption.

Aristotle’s logic assumes an analytic approach to human knowledge. A fundamental assumption is giving the mind first a good education in his logic so that it can properly disregard false information, as he saw it. When properly cleared of falsehood, the mind can be competent to observe and process human experience into a matrix of truth. With the proper matrix of truth, one can act rationally and get the desired results. Because Aristotle wholly and flatly rejects the fundamental fabric of morality revealed by God as a necessary element in Creation, Aristotle’s reason will always come up short. You’ll have to generate your won morality through your experience and logic. Because God tends to operate on a much longer frame of reference, a frame including reference to a plane of existence outside this one, a great deal of critical input is missing. Adhere to Aristotle and you’ll never understand why the world works as it does, not even the mechanics of matter itself. God’s moral provisions do affect matter at the fundamental level of subatomic processes.

So a proper theology from Scripture starts with an entirely different set of assumptions about reality. The words in the Bible are meant to be taken a certain way, and you can most certainly read them wrong, simply because the words and images have a distinctly different meaning when you take them outside the original frame of reference. A proper theology starts first with discarding Aristotle as irrelevant for the most part, and embraces the Hebrew intellectual foundations on which the Bible is built.

From such a frame of reference, it is really not so hard to formulate and enunciate certain doctrines as taught by Scripture. It most certainly does offer a self-consistent frame of understanding with certain concepts and ideas rather bluntly stated. It also offers a frame of reference by which we can deduce and extrapolate for questions not directly answered by the narrative. As we drift farther into speculative territory, you are on your own. That is, given the vagaries of human nature and individual talents and experiences, you’ll inevitably develop a frame of reference which is neither denied nor supported well by Scripture, but seems to account for your direct experience of God’s hand in your life. Such speculative theology is your own personal organization in your mind of how you will obey God.

That speculative theology is what most people call Systematic Theology. It is by far the least reliable outside your own head. It is the most dangerous and shaky ground, wholly unsuitable for building blocks of cooperation with other believers. There may well be some overlap because it is inevitably culturally derived. However, the very suggestion it is somehow normative is blasphemous. A proper course of Systematic Theology in seminary should assert this up front, and keep reasserting it throughout the course of study, and remains standing when the student is finished. As you might have observed, this is the reverse of what normally happens. Someone with a talent for persuasion convinces some segment of the world that his bright vision is God’s own. He builds on the assumptions of Aristotle’s categories of reasoning and believes unconsciously that what seems obvious to him is obvious because it is the absolute truth.

Humility goes out the window.

The strong foundation of Christian faith is Hebrew biblical theology, called “doctrine” in the New Testament. On these things I tend to be unyielding, as they are the proper ground for prophetic messages. Deductive theology attempting to answer questions not directly addressed in biblical theology is fairly trustworthy, but that assumes your deduction is closely linked the well recognized doctrine. You could hold others accountable to it, but only as your faith, not your logic, demands. Anything the least bit speculative (based on analytical reasoning) is merely personal. It is wholly unsuitable for making demands on anyone outside your own skin.

Systematic Theology invariably gives us bad religion.

Addenda: An offline question indicates I could have been little more pointed.

The reason we have a Bible is so we can initiate the process of redemption on our human level. It provides sufficient grounds for whatever part we can play in the quest for escaping the consequences of the Fall. As noted, that assumes you aren’t so stupid as to reject the fundamental epistemology of the Hebrew people. We can characterize the question answered as, “What do we do now?” It answers the question of what you need to know only in passing, as the question of what we need to know addresses a condition of obedience. The point of the Bible is to inform your obedience. In the broadest sense, the only thing you can know about God — the only proper objective of theology — is knowing what God demands of you on a human level. All this business of trying to understand what we are (the question of being) is simply wrong-headed. It is not answered in Scripture except in the most brutal assertion that we are fallen, hopelessly lost and at war with the God who made us.

Proper theology: To know God is to know what He demands of us. The primary answer of obedience is glorifying His Name. The primary means to glorifying His Name is figuring out how to live after the Fall. Your proper application of intellect is organizing how you will implement that in your personal life.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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2 Responses to A Theology of Theology

  1. David Engel says:

    I once listened to a preacher point out that the beginnings of original sin in Genesis boiled down to theology. Adam and Eve started talking *about* God (with the serpent/Devil) instead of talking/communing *with* God.

    Like

  2. Ed Hurst says:

    That’s just delicious, David. Thanks.

    Like

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