The True Principle Of Theological Progress -- By: James H. Fairchild

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 041:163 (Jul 1884)
Article: The True Principle Of Theological Progress
Author: James H. Fairchild


The True Principle Of Theological Progress1

James H. Fairchild

Theology is the science of religion. Religion has a twofold bearing; it looks toward God as the object, and toward man as the subject, of religious regard. Theology, then, involves a knowledge of God, and of man in his relations to God. As a science, it is an orderly and systematic statement of our knowledge; and as our knowledge of God and of man extends, and must forever enlarge, so our theology must attain constantly a clearer and more satisfactory statement. We shall probably never, either in this world or in any other, reach a point where it will not be preposterous to say that our theology is complete, and can never be improved. The truth pertaining to God is absolutely inexhaustible, and that pertaining to man is practically so. What is known of God and of man is the accumulation of generations and of ages, and the work of accumulation must still go on.

A confusion has sometimes prevailed in regard to this matter. It has been said that the truth pertaining to God is forever the same; and also that the facts of human nature are essentially the same from age to age. Therefore theology, which is a statement or expression of those truths and facts, must be the same and unchangeable. The difficulty here is a failure to distinguish between the facts themselves and the knowledge we have of the facts. Theology is not the exact statement of the absolute facts, but of what we suppose we know or apprehend of the facts. The heavens and the system of the universe have not changed since men began the systematic study of them three thousand years ago; but;

the science of astronomy has made vast progress, and has received material additions within the memory of men now living. The truths and principles of mathematics, as facts, must be forever the same, without a shadow of change; but the science of mathematics is enlarging and extending with every generation. Yet this science lies wholly in the sphere of rational or speculative truth, the principles of which are accessible to every man.

Another misapprehension arises from the fact that much of our knowledge of God, and of man in his relations to God, comes to us by revelation. We are not left to gather these facts from reason and nature and experience, but have, in the Sacred Scriptures, a divinely authoritative guide to all the great truths of theology. Hence theology is distinguished from all other sciences in being independent of human thought and investigation. There is a basis of reality in this claim, but it does not cover the ground. We have a revelation containing the great elementary facts of rel...

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