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  In Defense of Systematic Theology: An Interview with Carl F.H. Henry

I have the honor of saying that Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003) was my professor. When I graduated with an MDiv from Trinity and proceeded from there to Yale Divinty School, Dr Henry was instrumental in preparing me for the theological landscape of my new advisor, David Tracy

 

 Carl FH Henry is by all accounts a monumental figure in the rise of the "evangelical" movement with his seven volume opus magnum entitled God, Revelation and Authority.

 

Rather than a comedic presentation, I will simply provide a very brief quote from Dr Henry's writings outlining his understanding of "Theology".

 

Speak of an introduction to God, or to the science of God, and some people are sure to look for the nearesrt exit. ...

 

For our generation, is not theology a questionable concern at best? Contemporary man is far more sure of the landing of astronauts on the moon than he is of God's incarnation in Jesus Christ, more sure of scientists propelled into outer space than of the Logos "that came down from heaven" (John 3:13) as the eternal Word become flesh (John 1;14). To secular Western man, no world seems more remote than that of theology

 

Religion has now become "everyone's own kettle of fish" -- a matter of personal preference rather than a truth-commitment universally valid for one and all.

 

Is theology then sheer bunk? Are we merely chasing a will-o-the-wisp? Has theology not been taught for centuries by men ordained by the various world religions to [simply propogate their own world view]? Is it, as some have suggested, a specialized and rather bogus form of philosophy in which the conclusions are laid down before the argument begins? Is it a spurious form of philosophy that sets out with unquestioned and unquestionable assumptions, refuses to face problems, and corralls its converts into irrational commitment that is academically closed and intellectually dishonest? Is the skeptic's doubt about Christianity to be overcome by a hurried appeal to Pascal's "wager" -- a gambling of life on the view that even if a person is intellectually mistaken he stands to gain more by betting on God than on not-God

Theology, we shall insist, sets out not simply with God as a speculative presupposition but with God known in his revelation. But the appeal to God and to revelation cannot stand alone, if it is to be significant; it must embrace also some agreement on rational methods of inquiry, ways of argument, and criteria of verification. The critical question today is not simply, "What are the data of theology?" but "How does one proceed from these data to conclusions that commend themselves to rational reflection?" The fundamental issue remains the issue of truth, the truth of theological assertions. No work on theology will be worth its weight if that fundamental issue is obscured.

 

Dr Henry was an amazingly kind and humble soul despite his formidable influence and always wholly encouraged me to pursue even those avenues which at that time lay outside mainstream evangelical investigation.

 

 

 

In Defense of Systematic Theology : An Interview with Charles Hodge

 

 

 

One of the great benefits of being webmaster here is the ability to interview important theological figures including those of centuries past. Due to the unrivaled prominence and sheer BLING of TheologyWebsite, I was able to secure an interview with the stellar systematic theologian Charles Hodge.

 

The following interview consists of only two key questions:

 

What is Systematic Theology?

 

Why is Systematic Theology necessary?

 

Answers by Chuck (as I like to call him) are taken from his highly influential 1901 Systematic Theology. Read on if you dare... (especially you Avi :P !)

 

SDF: Mr. Hodge, may I call you Chuck?

 

Charles Hodge (CH): My friends call me Chuck. You can call me Professor Hodge, or even Charles, but certainly not Chuck.

 

SDF: Uh, Righto. Sorry about that. (Really.) Anyway, In light of certain questions raised (ON THIS VERY SITE!) regarding the value, validity and role of systematic theology, I was hoping you could perhaps shed some light on this issue.

 

CH: No problemo. Let's set those backsliders straight.

 

SDF: Cool Chuck!

 

CH: What did you just call me?

 

SDF: Question number one: "What exactly IS systematic theology?"

 

CH: What? You guys are living in the year 2005 with your skinny lattes and global internet and still you need to ask me "what is systematic theology?". Dude! Way Bad! I bet you slackers don't even know how to read Latin. You know, the first letter in Latin is "L" which you "Losers" should paste to your forehead.

 

SDF: Whoa, Chucky-baby, settle down.

 

CH: What did you just call me?

 

SDF: About the "What is systematic theology" question?

 

CH: Oh yeah. Well, here's my answer to that question (you slackers):

 

The Bible is no more a system of theology, than nature is a system of chemistry or physics. We find in nature the facts which the chemist and physicist has to examine, and from them to ascertain the laws by which they are determined. So the Bible contains the truths which the theologian has to collect, authenticate, arrange, and exhibit in their internal relation to each other. This constitutes the difference between biblical and systematic theology. The office of the former is to ascertain and state the facts of Scripture. The office of the latter is to take those facts, determine their relation to each other and to other cognate truths, as well as vindicate them and show their harmony and consistency. This is not an easy task, or one of slight importance.

 

SDF: Man, you can talk up a storm can't you Chuck?!

 

CH: What did you just...

 

SDF: Oops! Forgot. Sorry. The second question is: "Why is systematic theology necessary?"

 

CH: You know "SDF", if you were a pupil in any of the courses I taught at Princeton and you dared ask such a question, you'd be sitting a very long while in the corner wearing one of those hilariously long pointy caps with "DUNCE" written on it. Those hats were a riot!

 

SDF: Uh, yes. I am a little familiar with the "dunce cap".

 

CH: I bet you are! (giggles)

 

SDF: Getting back to the issue at hand... Is systematic theology simply an artificial human construction (aimed at diverting authentic religious sentiment toward a vacuous idol) or is systematic theology somehow an integral part of humanity's notion of God? In other words, "Why is systematic theology necessary?"

 

CH: Now I can't get the picture of you wearing that hat out of my mind. In any event, here is how I generally answer those who suggest systematic theology is not a neccesary core endeavour of Christians:

 

It may be naturally asked, why not take the truths as God has seen fit to reveal them, and thus save ourselves the trouble of showing their relation and harmony?

 

The answer to this question is, in the first place, that it cannot be done. Such is the constitution of the human mind that it cannot help endeavouring to systematize and reconcile the facts which it admits to be true. In no department of knowledge have men been satisfied with the possession of a mass of undigested facts. And the students of the Bible can as little be expected to be thus satisfied. There is a necessity, therefore, for the construction of systems of theology. Of this the history of the Church affords abundant proof. In all ages and among all denominations, such systems have been produced.

 

Second, a much higher kind of knowledge is thus obtained, than by the mere accumulation of isolated facts. It is one thing, for example, to know that oceans, continents, islands, mountains, and rivers exist on the face of the earth; but it is a much higherthing to know the causes which have determined the distribution of the land and water on the surface of the globe; the configuration of the earth; the effects of that configuration upon climate, on the races of plants and animals, on commerce, civilization, and the destiny of nations. It is by determining these causes that geography has been raised from a collection of facts to a highly important and elevated science. What is true of other sciences is true of theology. We cannot know what God has revealed in his Word unless we understand, at least in some good measure, the relation in which the separate truths therein contained stand to each other. It cost the Church centuries of study and controversy to solve the problem concerning the person of Christ; that is, to adjust and bring into harmonious arrangement all the facts which the Bible teaches on that subject.

 

Third, We have no choice in the matter. If we would discharge our duty as teachers and defenders of the truth, we must endeavour to bring all the facts of revelation into systematic order and mutual relation. It is only thus that we can satisfactorily exhibit their truth, vindicate them from objections, or bring them to bear in their full force on the mind of men.

 

Fourth, Such is evidently the will of God. He does not teach men astronomy or chemistry, but He gives them the facts out of which those sciences are constructed. Neither does He teach us systematic theology, but He gives us in the Bible the truths which, properly understood and arranged, constitute the science of theology. As the facts of nature are all related and determined by physical laws, so the facts of the Bible are all related and determined by the nature of God and of his creatures. And as He wills that men and women should study his works and discover their wonderful organic relation and harmonious combination, so it is his will that we should study his Word, and learn that, like the stars, its truths are not isolated points, but systems, cycles, and epicycles, in unending harmony and grandeur.

 

Besides all this, although the Scriptures do not contain a system of theology as a whole, we have in the Epistles of the New Testament, portions of that system wrought out to our hands. These are our authority and guide.

 

SDF: Verbose man, very verbose.

 

CH: Maybe you slackers were expecting "McTheology"? You know, if you were a student in one of my Princeton classes...

 

SDF: I and TheologyWebsite would like to thank Charles "Chucky" Hodge..

 

CH: What did you...

 

SDF: for his valuable contribution in the ongoing debate (between Avi and Systematic Theology). Hopefully souls willing to read a VERY little bit will gain some perspective.

 

CH: Ciao. I'm outta here dude. (you slackers.)

 

SDF: Thanks and seeya Chuck

 

CH: What did you just call me?

 

  *** Good Luck ***