When someone has reservations about the value and legitimacy of systematic theology, it’s not uncommon to hear them say that it seems to entail ‘putting God in a box’ or imposing too stringent a framework on the faith and thought of God’s people. At this point, it can frankly be tempting to wonder whether these sentiments might betray intellectual sloth, myopic disinterest in the church’s theological heritage, or a misunderstanding of the nature and responsibilities of systematic theology.
Although he wrote before the more developed fourfold theological curriculum emerged to prominence with its clearer distinction between biblical and systematic theology, Peter van Mastricht makes a helpful point about the importance of gathering up biblical teaching under the various heads of dogmatic reflection and providing an organized account of it. He insists that those who undertake this task are not succumbing to unnecessary rigidity; instead
[s]e filios Dei probant, quippe ejus imitatores, qui ordinis est Deus, non confusionis (Theoretico-Practica Theologia, I, 8). (“They prove themselves sons of God, indeed imitators of him, who is a God of order, not of confusion.”)
Certainly, growth in the spiritual life and in theological understanding occurs often along a winding and convoluted road. At the same time, Mastricht’s point is an important one and full of significance for, among other things, catechesis, which requires an orderly presentation of theology for the sake of apprehension and memory.
Any thoughts here?