Monday, February 28, 2011

Biblical Theology

On an internet theological discussion forum several years ago a member asked,  “what is the difference between Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology"? I, providentially, didn’t jump into the discussion thinking that there is no difference between the two. One is just the basis for the other and all theology is Biblical Theology and this questioner will soon be set straight by the other members. Well, I was wrong. I had never heard of the term “Biblical Theology”. I must have 14 different sets of books entitled Systematic Theology written by as many authors ranging from Calvin to Hodge, Dabney and to Berkof and none, that I recall, ever mentioned the term Biblical Theology and that is quite understandable given the purpose of a book on Systematic Theology. Systematic theology is the study of the doctrines contained within the bible and the study usually begins with the Doctrine of God and ends with the Doctrine of Last Things or Eschatology.

So, what is the difference? I purchased a book recently from Westminster Theological Seminary entitled, guess what..., yes, that’s right... Biblical Theology. This 400+ page paper back was written by Geerhardus Vos. (a fellow Dutchman) So far I have read about a fourth of the book, which, in some circles, could make one an expert, especially if he were 50 miles from home...but I’m still trying to absorb the teaching contained within it’s covers and I am still at home. Perhaps as a definition of Biblical Theology the current popular phrase, “what did they know and when did they know it” would apply since this particular area of theology begins at the beginning and traces God’s revelation of Himself through the pages of the Bible. Here is Vos’ definition: Biblical Theology is “the study of the actual self-disclosures of God in time and space which lie back of even the first committal to writing of any Biblical document, and which for a long time continued to run alongside of the inscripturation of revealed material. (It is).. that branch of theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible.”

I have discovered that there are actually four branches of theology. They are: Biblical Theology, Historical Theology, Systematic Theology and finally Practical Theology. Biblical Theology attempts to classify and arrange the facts of revelation as it unfolded; Historical Theology traces the development of doctrine as it unfolded in the Church since the Apostolic age; Systematic Theology takes the material of Historic and Biblical Theology and organizes it into a consistent whole of everything we know about God and His universe; and Practical Theology is what you hear from your Pastor on Sunday from the pulpit as he brings to bear God’s truths to men individually and to the Church how should we then live.

Several years ago our congregation was challenged to read the Bible from cover to cover in one year beginning at Genesis and finishing in Revelation. I can see that this exercise was perfect preparation for the study of Biblical Theology. I am looking forward to this particular study of the unfolding of God’s revelation in time utilizing Geerhardus Vos’ Biblical Theology. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Lost: A Sense of Sin

I remember as a child and even as a young adult that my dad seemed to have an answer for every question that I ever had. He read constantly and his knowledge of a wide range of subjects continues to amaze me even today, and he’s been with the Lord since 1997. Now-a-days I refer all my questions to “google”, whom I facetiously call “Dad”. Dad knows everything! When my father died, I inherited most of his library of theological books. I have often wished that I had gotten to know my father more intimately than I did, and that we could have shared some of the deeper aspects of the Reformed Faith, but we were both very busy. He, as a Pastor, with the nurture of his local congregation and me....well, with my latest self-indulgence. (cars, girlfriends, cars, hot-rods, parties, cars, girls..etc...etc)

One of the ways that I have found to reacquaint myself with my father is through the books that he read. I have mentioned this in previous blogs. I have just recently come upon another of his books, this one entitled, “Basic Beliefs of the Reformed Faith”, by Felix Gear, 1960. The stated purpose of this little 80 page booklet, sanctioned by The Presbyterian Church in the United States (Dad’s Church), subsequently the PCUSA, is this: “This book can be used by an individual to get new insights into the Word of God as a foundation for theological truth.” Given the PCUSA’s latest stance against maintaining the Book of Order standard which requires those ordained into the Church to “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness”, I found the teaching on page 22 of this book worthy of revisiting, verbatim:

(under the heading, Knowledge of sin brings unrest and torment. Psalm 51:3-5)

“Sin’s hectic, haunting, disturbing nature is vividly expressed in the poignant words: “And my sin is ever before me.” He sees it every second, thinks about it constantly, and suffers from it all the time. A thousand different things daily remind him of it; he has no rest, no relief. One of Evelyn Waugh’s novels gives a modern description of how one feels when caught in the grip of sin: “Living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out. Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing the curtains drawn on sin, bathing it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it showing it round, giving it a good time, putting it to sleep at night with a tablet of Dial* if it’s fretful.” Sin follows us, presses down upon us as a crushing burden, tortures us mercilessly; there is no escape from its sneering, mocking shadow. It is constantly before the mind as something black, thick, nasty, sticky, and sinister, ever present yet just beyond reach. Why is it...?.......because his sin is against God.”

Now, this brief paragraph really does strike home personally, and I think that is intended by the author. And it makes me wonder in this day and age of tolerance, have we lost the sense of sin that the Psalmist so vividly describes in this Psalm 51?

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom 6:1-2)

(*sleeping pill)