Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On the Methodology of Systematic Theology (or You Can Take Sexy Back)

By Andrew Faris

I recently heard that Dr. Henry Holloman, a Talbot systematic theology prof, has memorized most, if not all of the Bible.

Most of us would at least pay lip service to the impressiveness of that accomplishment. But how much clout does that give him in the minds of we who study theology on even a partially academic level?

Having been at least somewhat in the academic theology world for the last 6+ years now, it troubles me that this doesn't make more students flock to sit at Dr. Holloman's theological feet. Insofar as systematic theology's chief end is to increase our knowledge and love of God (and make no mistake- our academic accomplishments do not matter at all if this is not our end) and insofar as its content is what the whole Bible says about, well, everything, then why don't we respect (not just admire) this kind of knowledge more?

Memorizing the Bible isn't as sexy as all of the academic nuance of, say, Barth's approach to Scripture (the sexiest current theological discussion?). But if I understand Ps. 1 and Ps. 119 correctly, then what we really need is meditation on the text- the kind that gets it into our heads, hearts and souls. That's the kind of theology we should care about most.

Don't get me wrong: I love the academic theology world. My entrance into it under the supervision of profs who went through all of it changed my life. But the ones who seem to be doing the most for the church and for the kingdom and the ones who seem to have the most vital spiritual lives and who spend a lot of time with the text (and with their students and churches). I find no Biblical command that says, "Do nuanced theology." I see a lot that say things like, "On His Law I will meditate day and night" and "I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you."

And if we can't understand what those passages are saying, then we're definitely not good theologians.


Scott said...

Andrew, I do understand the importance of knowing the Word more than systematic theology, or any other sort of labeled theology. Yet, I know many people who have used the whole thing about memorizing Scripture in legalistic ways. I remember someone asking people how long they had been a Christian - 2 months, 5 years, 42 years, etc. Then the person asked everyone if they could quote one Bible verse for every year they had been a Christian. While the person's heart was noble, I am not sure it communicated the heart of God.

God's heart is for us to know His Word, but that does not always come through straight up memorization. The point of meditating on God's Word is not so that we can quote the verse or have them memorized, but so that Word can soak into us. Thus, for me, I can't quote very many passages word for word, but I can tell you very close to what a passage says and give you the main gist of it. I think that is the purpose of such practices - get the Word in us, even if we can't quote or memorize it. Not to mention that our verse and chapter breaks aren't helpful. Sometimes it is just catching a phrase from a passage, like 'I will make a way' in Isaiah 43:19.

I think you would agree, I was just sharing some thoughts and experiences from my life. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

Like Socrates' critique of the Sophists: What is knowledge? Knowledge is not memorizing and regurgitating, but rather internalizing and understanding.

But Andrew, I understand exactly what you are getting at, and I couldn't agree more.

I think that in theology there is a strong tendency to study theology, read theology, and generally just "do" theology. One of my former Bible college professors quipped, "This isn't a Bible college, it's a theology college."

So I agree with you completely, in that respect. I think that there can be no healthy theology without tremendous insaturation with scripture.

I know what Scott is getting at though, too-- I was just reading about one professor's "Bible reading plan," but his method insisted on using the same bound Bible and memorizing locations of passages on pages, etc. This is not "knowing" the word of God, it is cramming printed text into your skull ;-D.

Anonymous said...

Amen Andrew! Regarding Memorizing, the evidence of the importance of a subject is how well you know it. I know many kids who can spout the lyrics of multiple songs and movies, but don't know any Bible verses. Why? It is a matter of what is important to them. It is not a legalistic question, but a question of what is important to you. No one made them memorize song lyrics, itwas the constant meditation andsaturation ofthe music. We need to have that same desire for the Word.

Andrew Faris said...


Just about anything good can be misused, no doubt. But in general, I don't find that too many of us are trying too hard to memorize Scripture!


Scott said...

Thanks Andrew.

Carrie Allen said...

Wow. I feel convicted now. I'm gonna go read my bible...