The Nature And Scope Of Systematic Theology -- By: D. W. Simon

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 051:204 (Oct 1894)
Article: The Nature And Scope Of Systematic Theology
Author: D. W. Simon


The Nature And Scope Of Systematic Theology

Prof. D. W. Simon

The expression “systematic theology” is really an impertinent tautology. It is a tautology, in so far as a theology that is not systematic or methodical would be no theology. The idea of rational method lies in the word logos, which forms part of the term theology. And it is an impertinence, in so far as it suggests that there are other theological discipline, or departments of theology, which are not methodical. There doubtless may be, nay more, there certainly are, treatments of the subject-matter of all the branches of the great family of sciences known as theology which are far enough from being rationally methodical;—the same thing is true with regard to other groups of sciences, such as medicine or economics— only too true;—but in neither case would a suggestion of the kind referred to be warranted.

The title “systematic theology,” common as it has been, and is, in this country, can claim no prescriptive right. Indeed, if we look beyond our own country, or even beyond the United States, we shall find that it is one of the designations which are less sanctioned by scientific usage. The majority, or at all events a large proportion, of recent German works do not bear the title. During the present century, influenced by the example of Schleiermacher,1 the name

Glaubenslehre, Christliche Glaubenslehre,—which may be somewhat freely rendered “Doctrine or Science of the Christian Faith,”—has become almost as current in Germany as Systematic Theology has been among us, though it is not open to the reproach deserved by the designation which we have preferred.

The subject-matter which it is the business of the systematic theologian to investigate belongs primarily to the domain of history; and what is commonly designated systematic theology may therefore be described as a chapter in the science or philosophy of history. If it were permitted on the one hand to extend, and on the other to narrow, the meaning of the word Christianity, I should speak of it as, “The Philosophy of Christianity”—a designation for which I might plead the authority of eminent German authorities like Weisse and Hofmann. The reasons why I do not straightway follow their example are, first, that the mission and work of Christ and his apostles constitute apparently the whole of the historical matter of which they treat; in other words, they restrict themselves mainly to the first century of our era; then, that they mix up the subject-matter with what I regard as properly forming part of the philosophy of the subject-matter; and thirdly...

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