The Existential Interpretation of Doctrine Part I -- By: Bernard Ramm

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 112:446 (Apr 1955)
Article: The Existential Interpretation of Doctrine Part I
Author: Bernard Ramm

The Existential Interpretation of Doctrine
Part I

Bernard Ramm

It has been the major affirmation of Christian tradition that Christian theology deals with truth, not with speculation or subjective opinion or poetry. Theology is accordingly defined as the knowledge of God. This knowledge has been given through divine disclosure in the Sacred Scripture. Hence within its right, theology is a science.

In asserting that theology is a science, theologians have not intended that theology is something empirical or experimental. It is not scientific in the sense that chemistry or biology is scientific. They did not mean that theology was the study of religious phenomena (history of religion, sociology of religion, psychology of religion) as religious liberalism so framed the domain of theology. They meant that Christian theology dealt with truth in the form of knowledge.

Neither did the theologians forget the spiritual element necessary in the appropriation of truth. Theology is religious truth and therefore can only be appropriated meaningfully by the religious man. To this extent it is subjective, i.e., its truthfulness is apparent to those who have undergone regeneration and to them only. But in that it is truth given of God it is objective, i.e., it is not merely the science of religion.1

The revelation does not come in first form as systematic theology, but it is spread out basically as a historical

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Ramm is Professor of Religion and Director of Graduate Studies in Religion at Baylor University, Waco, Texas, and the author of several volumes in the field of Christian apologetics.

document. Some of its theological truth is like gold nuggets found on the surface of a dried creek (e.g., the Ten Commandments), and some is buried deeply and requires much digging and construction to formulate (e.g., the Trinity). But the basic conviction of all orthodox theology is that if the gold is correctly mined, i.e., if the Bible is correctly interpreted, that which is brought to the surface will be truth. This truth consists in dependable assertions about God and man, and their relations.

Neo-orthodoxy is critical of this view as was religious liberalism. Liberalism, in accentuating the centrality of religious experience, greatly reduced the stature and importance of dogmatic theology. Accordingly it rejected the orthodox construction of theological science. Neo-orthodoxy disagrees with the liberals’ meager evaluation of systematic or dogmatic theology, and sets out to reconstruct theology in a way which is different from the approaches of both o...

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