January 21, 2009

B.B. Warfield, "The Idea of Systematic Theology"

In spite of a genuine appreciation for his important contributions to pneumatology and bibliology, one ought not care for Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield's definition of systematic theology as a discipline shaped by human philosophy, nor may one agree with his rejection of theology as a Christocentric enterprise. Like many theologians and preachers today, Warfield was never able to comprehend fully the diversions from biblical theology that often result from Reformed commitments. However, one must laud the final paragraph of his essay, "The Idea of Systematic Theology." While downplaying such ideas earlier, Warfield in the end indicates how theology must inculcate a living faith through biblical preaching in order to be truly orthodox, thus demonstrating why the free churches have some limited communion with the evangelicals. It is repeated here in its full Victorian structure:

"If such be the value and use of doctrine, the systematic theologian is preeminently a preacher of the gospel; and the end of his work is obviously not merely the logical arrangement of the truths which come under his hand, but the moving of men, through their power, to love God with all their hearts and their neighbors as themselves; to choose their portion with the Saviour of their souls; to find and hold Him precious; and to recognize and yield to the sweet influences of the Holy Spirit whom He has sent. With such truth as this he will not dare to deal in a cold and merely scientific spirit, but will justly and necessarily permit its preciousness and its practical destination to determine the spirit in which he handles it, and to awaken the reverential love with which alone he should investigate its reciprocal relations. For this he needs to be suffused at all times with a sense of the unspeakable worth of the revelation which lies before him as the source of his material, and with the personal bearings of its separate truths on his own heart and life; he needs to have had and to be having a full, rich, and deep religious experience of the great doctrines with which he deals; he needs to be living close to his God, to be resting always on the bosom of his Redeemer, to be filled at all times with the manifest influences of the Holy Spirit. The student of systematic theology needs a very sensitive religious nature, a most thoroughly consecrated heart, and an outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon him, such as will fill him with that spiritual discernment, without which all native intellect is in vain. He needs to be not merely a student, not merely a thinker, not merely a systematizer, not merely a teacher--he needs to be like the beloved disciple himself in the highest, truest, and holiest sense, a divine."