Dogmatics and doxology
October 15, 2015
I have the delightful day job of teaching systematic or dogmatic theology. The study and teaching of systematic theology is delightful because systematic theology is preeminently concerned with the Bible, the living and loving address of the Most High God to poor and miserable sinners in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Systematic theology is especially concerned with the Bible as a whole."The whole counsel of God" (Acts 20.27) constitutes the scope of this discipline. Systematic theology does not pretend to exhaust the unsearchable riches of Christ as they are put on display in the Bible. But systematic theology is responsible to trace out the breadth and length and height and depth of those unsearchable riches, ignoring none, cherishing all. It may not pick and choose between biblical teaching about God and biblical teaching about creatures or between biblical teaching about grace and biblical teaching about gratitude. God and creatures, grace and gratitude belong to the whole counsel of God and so God and creatures, grace and gratitude command the attention of systematic theology.
Systematic theology is not only concerned with the Bible as a whole. It is also concerned with the relationships between various aspects of biblical teaching. It is one thing to know what the Bible teaches about law and gospel and quite another to know how the Bible relates those two topics to each other, and great systematic theological mistakes are made when we fail to rightly relate various aspects of biblical teaching.
The most delightful dimension of systematic theology lies in its calling to relate every aspect of biblical teaching to the one who is the author and end of everything about which the Bible speaks: the blessed Trinity. "Of him and through him and to him are all things," Paul tells us (Rom 11.36). And that too sets an agenda for systematic theology. Not only must systematic theology rightly relate creation and fall, law and gospel, justification and sanctification. Systematic theology must also show how each of these subjects relate to God, the efficient, exemplary, and final cause of all creatures. Systematic theology is about God and all things in relation to God.
For this reason, systematic theology is through and through a doctrine of God. As Herman Bavinck well observes: "Dogmatics . . . describes for us God, always God, from beginning to end--God in his being, God in his creation, God against sin, God in Christ, God breaking down all resistance through the Holy Spirit and guiding the whole of creation back to the objective he decreed for it: the glory of his name. Dogmatics, therefore, is not a dull and arid science. It is a theodicy, a doxology to all God's virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a 'glory to God in the highest' (Luke 2:14)."
If systematic theology is through and through a doctrine of God, then it is ultimately a doxological discipline, a field of study that arises from and terminates in wonder before the Lord our God. Systematic theology is a meditation on the glorious splendor of God's majesty, and on his wondrous works (Ps 145.5). It is an intellectual and affective engagement of the human person with the whole of biblical teaching that seeks to turn biblical understanding into a song of biblical praise to the Alpha and the Omega of all things, the first and the last, the Lord God Almighty.