@Ryan-Robinson said in Do We Need Systematic Theology?:
You said, “My exegesis of a particular passage should be controlled by what other Scriptures say on that topic, as well as on an accurate understanding of the storyline of Scripture (not forgetting exegetically-based historical theology as well).”
This statement made me pause. I’d love to hear more thoughts on what that looks like.
I immediately thought, well, you control one (or more) passage by another passage that you might like more because of your system rather than letting the author communicate what the author was conveying. I think you can understand where I am coming from on that possibly being a slippery slope of dogmatism over exegetical honesty.
It would be easy to slide away from exegetical honesty if you simply prioritize a passage that you like better than the one you’re working on; that’s a fair point. But we shouldn’t jump headlong into the other ditch of interpreting each passage as a discrete unit, unconnected to the rest of Scripture.
I’ve been reading Carl Trueman’s book on historical method and fallacies called Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History, and he made a point that made me pause and think of our current discussion of systematic theology. He talks about the “explanatory schemes” that historians necessarily have in their minds as they interpret history; however, they “need to be aware” of these, and remember that such schemes are “hypotheses that are themselves open to correction or modification in light of the evidence” (97).
This is how we should view the conclusions of systematic theology, I think: we should have an overall framework for the doctrine of God, of salvation, and so on, while remembering that our framework must be open to correction according to the exegesis of a particular passage.
All that being said, when we do interpret an individual passage, there are (at least) two guidelines to keep in mind with relation to systematic theology:
- You interpret an obscure passage in the light of a clear passage.
Some passages of Scripture are clearer than others - that’s reality! We must use what is clearly taught as a flashlight as we peer into the dark corners of obscure passages.
It is even easier when a doctrine is clearly taught in multiple passages, and a difficult passage is a single one; then, as Sam Storms says, we should “interpret the singular and obscure in the light of the plural and explicit” (Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative, Kindle ed., loc. 2311).
This assumes, of course, that there are no contradictions in Scripture.
- You prioritize the immediate context over the entire biblical context.
This came to my mind when thinking about what John MacArthur said about preaching through 1 John; he found it difficult to balance not softening the edges of John’s black-and-white statements (by interpreting them in the light of other Scriptures and thus blunting their edge) with accurately interpreting them in the light of other revelation.
I think what would help in this is to prioritize the immediate context of a verse over the entire biblical context. Using 1 John as an example, we could show that John is not saying that a Christian never sins in 3:6 by referring back to 1:10. What we shouldn’t do is emphasize that Christians really do sin a lot; that would destroy John’s point in 3:6 that habitual sinning is a mark of unbelief, and work against his goal of keeping believers from sinning (2:1).