The “Promise” of Systematic Theology

‘Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father j20webster201_black20and20whitewho is in heaven’ (Matt. 16:17). Christian systematic theology takes place in the wake of that breathtaking dominical announcement. Yet it remains an earthly, flesh and blood enterprise, far indeed from the theology of the blessed, communicated to the perfected saints by the permanent intellectual light of the presence of God through the mediation of the Son. It is the rational work of the children of Adam who are only slowly learning what it is to be the children of God. This relativizes systematic theology in the  present condition of creaturely infirmity after the Fall; yet it is accompanied by a promise of divine wisdom, already given and to be given again, by which creatures can be conducted from ignorance and unhappiness to knowledge and bliss. If systematic theology is to survive in a culture which has been deprived of a sense that rational creatures have a celestial final cause and which cannot envisage contemplation as a mode of science, it will find itself turning with some urgency to the divine promise.

John Webster, “Principles of Systematic Theology” in International Journal of Systematic Theology 11/1 (January 2009): 71.


4 thoughts on “The “Promise” of Systematic Theology

  1. As always, brilliant. There is no finer dogmatician under heaven (at this moment) than John Webster, but I’m a bit biased, being that he’s my Doctorvater… from the last of his oxonians.

  2. I haven’t read the book. But who was it that said that the whole phrase and concept, “Systematic Theology,” was an oxymoron?

    Isn’t it really true that most serious scholars have given up on trying to “harmonize” or reconcile – or systematize – all the parts of the Bible; especially Old and New Testaments?

    Given that, is there a reason that “Promise” is put in quotes here? To signify an ambiguity between a) firmly promising something soon; vs. b) having “promise” as something that might firm up some day?

    To be sure, the effort to try to deliver a justification of Christianity to “rational” people, seems useful. Though perhaps athetists will not be impressed by the empty promises, as they might see them, of miracles. Nor even John Paul’s “hope” of things, either.

    Can we go beyond “empty promises”? The “East Wind”?

    To see, “relativize” classic theology – and Christianity? – as a mere flesh- and-blood, fallible activity, no doubt helps. But as for for the promise of access thereby, to a divine certainty?

    It is much easer to promise things, than actually deliver them.

    Still, to be sure, we can hope. And dream. But as to how firm those dreams may be?

  3. Pingback: End of Week Round Up | Byrnesys Blabberings

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