The Enlightenment and the Fragmentation of Theology

The Enlightenment is responsible, I believe, for the fragmentation of theology into the various disciplines that now view each other with suspicion. I have never seen a good systematics professor feel threatened by exegesis or biblical theology. Quite to the contrary, the professors I had in seminary spent half to two-thirds of their time in exegesis. On the other hand, I wish I had a dollar for every single time I’ve seen in a commentary, “That’s a systematic category, and we can’t talk about that.” If you believed most exegetes today, systematic theology has no place at all in the theological curriculum. Richard Gaffin, however, said it best: “Biblical theology follows the plot line of the Bible, whereas systematic theology is a plot analysis.” But this wedge between biblical theology and systematic theology (of which exegetes seem to me to be utterly unaware: witness the blatant open theism of John Goldingay in his OT theology and in his commentaries, about which no one seems to be commenting) is part of a far larger fragmentation of theology that started with Schleiermacher’s Enlightenment-influenced Kurze Darstellung (translated here), wherein he parceled out theology into various disciplines. Schleiermacher’s work precipitated the great German theological encyclopedias of such men as Hagenbach, Rosenkranz, Rothe, von Hoffmann, Heinrici, Räbiger, as well as the English works of Schaff and Cave.

The problem with this whole system (Hagenbach’s system of division into exegetical, systematic, historical, and practical was much more influential than Schleiermacher’s own of philosophical, historical, and practical, and wound up being decisive in the formation of university faculties, and, later, when the universities banned objective theology in favor of religion, seminaries) is that increasingly different methodologies start competing instead of complementing each other.

What is vitally important for theologians today to recover is the generalist theologian. This was a comment made by Carl Trueman at a talk he gave a year and a half ago at the PCA General Assembly. That is what sparked me to do research into this fascinating area (the interdependence of the various disciplines) that is practically abandoned. The only modern works are by Ebeling, Pannenburg, Farley, and Muller, and the most recent one (Muller) is now showing some signs of age. It is past time for a more recent treatment. There is an historical treatment now of the German university system that has a fairly decent discussion of the theological encyclopedia. However, there is nothing modern in the way of a complete systematic treatment of the subject.

My post here is an expansion of a comment I made over on Biblical Theology.



  1. ReformedSinner said,

    November 13, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    It’s not just in seminaries, but specialization seems to be a global affair. Have you look at university majors lately? In the past maybe there’s one hundred different majors total in a major university. But now open a college catalog and you will see at least 2-3 hundreds of different majors if not more majors.

    As for specialization vs. generalist, I think the WTS model is already working towards that end (although we can question the result.) WTS emphasize on the original languages, you have to demonstrate ability to exegete passages competently, you have to master a list of systematic theology, you go through 4 full courses of church history, learn Van Tilian apologetics, and finally a list of different practical theology. Every M.Div. is pretty “generalist” in my opinion.

    Now, of course Trueman might have a super-generalist in mind. Someone who masters every single field with equivalent to Ph.D. level. But let’s be realistic, is that possible anymore?

  2. greenbaggins said,

    November 13, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Trueman is, if I understand him correctly, arguing that seminary-trained students need to be competent in all fields on a master’s level, but that we also need our top-flight theologians to be proficient in all areas of theology on a much deeper basis. They did it in the time of the Reformation and post-Reformation. It is not necessarily impossible, although it is still necessary to rely heavily on the contributions of others. But then, so did the Reformers and the post-Reformers!

  3. tim prussic said,

    November 13, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    The MDiv is, beyond doubt, a very general (but narrow) vocational degree. There is some specialized knowledge involved, but not highly specialized by any reasonable standard. The seminary student can even attain a very high degree of generalized knowledge in Christian theology and history and still be quite narrow. What about broader religious (and irreligious) theology and history? What about science, literature, music, art, and on and on and on? A Renaissance Man in the Renaissance was hardly possible; a Renaissance Man in modernity is even less so.

    I remember reading of Warfield that one couldn’t raise a subject that he didn’t know something about. Maybe he’s something of a model of us. The important part is that Jesus Christ is the Arche of the whole created order and of our knowledge. That gives us the Uni of the universe. That’s very important and a good place to start.

  4. November 13, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    Carl F. H. Henry, R. J. Rushdoony, and Harold O. J. Brown were superb generalist theologians. All could speak with felicitous authority on topics as diverse as art, music, metaphysics, culture, science and economics.

    Few such towering generalists survive.

  5. November 14, 2008 at 12:23 am


    Just to be clear, you also strongly advocate a fragmentation a knowledge. You simply expend a great deal of energy to conceal that fact and to depict those with whom you disagree as “others” who fragment the field. For you “exegetes” who complain about ST participate in fragmenting knowledge. For them, however, your ST (with which they disagree) participates in such fragmentation.

    Having to work with your version of ST and the place you really give it would shackle historical-exegetical work, from my point of view. Your ST, for example, directly controls what acceptable exegesis can be. Gaffin himself teaches this (though he teaches such “control” as dictated by Scripture). The symbiotic relationship of BT and ST only exists in-so-far as “exegesis” operates according to rules largely established by ST. You might claim such rules derive from exegesis, but when we try to have that discussion you claim that any exegesis that does not start with X, Y, and Z assumptions (presuppositions), which are largely Reformed Historical-Theological/Systematic-Theological constructions, is illegitimate and an example of someone fragmenting the field.

    From my point of view this move on your part and others in the Reformed world constitutes an active fragmentation of knowledge. You dispense with Biblical Studies, at least by establishing it as completely subservient to your Systematic Theology. I do not accept “exegesis” dictated by rules from Historical or Systematic theology as legitimate exegesis. This is, by the way, exactly what many in the Reformed world explicitly advocate. This does not make it wrong. It does, however, mean such people “fragment” the field just as much as Goldingay, Enns, etc.

    You also fragment the field by largely ignoring the insights modern sociology, anthropology, ethnology, and psychology, might bring to the analysis of the social dynamics within our social formations…especially in our theological discourse. For example, an entry-level trained sociologist would look at your proposal (in context of our world) and observe a basic power-authority legitimating strategy. You construct in ideal of a unified field of knowledge/theology that can only operate under the conditions of your theology. Furthermore, you can “analyze” people with whom you disagree as those who fragment the field, functionally marginalizing any disagreement of substance they might have with you. Thus X, Y, or Z, “exegete” (who holds contrary positions and/or whose readings of the Bible challenge your readings) should really be understood as someone who (unconsciously?) participates in this deplorable fragmentation of knowledge. All the while your work implicitly (and sometime explicitly) functions to valorize your theological tradition (or possibly non-existent ideal version of it you construct) as the legitimate one striving for unified knowledge. Surprise surprise, all things in it must pass the check-point of your ST. Again, this does not mean your theology is wrong. It does, however, at least mean you too function with a “fragmented” field of knowledge.

    To be clear, I fully advocate some form of a unified field of knowledge and, more importantly, unified and whole communities of the Spirit. I do not know exactly what the dynamics within them would look like, though I suspect they should differ depending upon the various locations and contexts to which God has called each of them. I fully advocate conversation between the various specializations and, even better, people competent in multiple sub-fields. But, again, I do not know how to describe how that should look.

    It remains clear to me, however, that your proposals arbitrarily enshrine your ST as functional King and thus, functionally, leads to just as much fragmentation as you complain of among others. To be honest, any proposal of mine would probably functionally enshrine specialists in my areas of interest as rulers. Maybe (I am thinking-typing “out-loud” here) this means the best unity we can seek is a communal unity of us all striving to serve Christ together in the Spirit, where we prize humbly and charitably submitting to each other in love and serving with each other as a marker of this ideal unified field actually operating? I am not talking about “tolerance,” but fruit of the Spirit experienced by others through living out Christ together.

    Lastly, if you truly cultivate interests in seeking unified fields of knowledge and theology, I suggest basic readings in sociology and anthropology. Maybe you already have this under your belt. If not, I will happily recommend some social theorists…perhaps starting with so-called Practice theorists such as Pierre Bourdieu(!), Giddens (perhaps), and/or Theodore Schatzki.

  6. ReformedSinner said,

    November 14, 2008 at 4:04 am


    “The symbiotic relationship of BT and ST only exists in-so-far as “exegesis” operates according to rules largely established by ST. You might claim such rules derive from exegesis, but when we try to have that discussion you claim that any exegesis that does not start with X, Y, and Z assumptions (presuppositions), which are largely Reformed Historical-Theological/Systematic-Theological constructions, is illegitimate and an example of someone fragmenting the field.”

    Interesting, exegesis should not start with X, Y, and Z assumptions by ST; yet you are perfectly willing to let it start with “insights modern sociology, anthropology, ethnology, and psychology, might bring to the analysis of the social dynamics within our social formations…especially in our theological discourse” – hence human autonomy, or if that’s too strong, human knowledge and insights trump theological knowledge and insights on itself.

    The issue isn’t a blanket statement of: “well, of course ST guy will emphasize ST, and BT guy will emphasize BT, that’s just human nature.” The issue is according to God’s revelation what does He has to say about the whole endeavor of theology discourse: exegesis-systematics-etc. The answer, the Reformed Tradition believes, is that both. Theology-Exegesis are distinct but inseparable. We need to study God’s Word to derive a working theology (exegesis), yet however, we also realized the paradox that we can’t possibly know God’s Word without an implant of God’s knowledge implicit in us already (images of God.)

    Or to say it another way: we listens to God to understand Him, but as creatures we don’t have the referential source to properly understand Him without God being the referential source at the same time.

    When God say, “I am holy” to the Israelites: yes it’s written by an Israelite, yes it is a Hebrew word, but does that automatic translates into that when God says “I am holy” it’s limited to the Hebrew cultural and limited understanding of the word “holy?” Or is there something more in God’s self-revelation of Himself that even the Israelites have to learn to grow out of their context and learn from God’s self-referential self-revelation of Himself? And if that is true how? That’s the difference between exegeting the Bible “biblically – i.e. God speaks for Himself and we listen”, and exegeting the Bible “extra-biblically – insights modern sociology, anthropology, ethnology, and psychology, might bring to the analysis of the social dynamics within our social formations…especially in our theological discourse” – once again we are repeating ourselves but I will again, the issue isn’t we don’t use any of hte modern insights, but the issue is they shouldn’t have final authoritative say to the definitive meaning of Biblical words, phrases, concepts, etc. They are handmaiden, but at the end subserviant to the self-disclosure of God’s self-revelation.

    Finally, this breakage of BT-ST, or even the possibly of discussion of such a breakage, simply didn’t exist before the Enlightenment (which is the original point.) For example: if we would of approach John Calvin and ask him which does he favor more: exegesis or ST he would be scratching his head and replied: “what?” In Calvin’s days there is no such thing as BT vs. ST as competing theological endeavors. Calvin naturally conforms all of his systematic conclusions on his careful historical-grammatical exegesis, and yet at the same time he realizes historical-grammatical exegesis must be within the bounds of the grander picture of God’s self-disclosure of Himself. Nowhere is that more evident then Calvin’s own take on how to use his “Institutes” and “Commentary”: Calvin said they are not meant to stand as two separate indepedent products that can stand on their own. Calvin’s commentaries deals directly with God’s revelation, but many of the concepts are systematically written out by the Institutes, vice-versa, the Institutes will have minimal Scriptural exegetical support and if you want them go read his commentaries. The two are meant to be read together by the learned preacher. If we were force Calvin to a corner and ask him which is first, which one should set the tone, that is a question Calvin cannot answer (and anybody trying to force an answer are putting modern controversy into Calvin’s mouth.)

    Interestingly enough reply #5 is exactly the mentality the original post laments: BT and ST are so distrusting of each other and it shouldn’t be this way.

  7. D. G. Hart said,

    November 14, 2008 at 8:23 am

    FTH: ST as functional king may be actually more objective than FTH as functional king. It does seem to me that your standards are even more arbitrary than the original post, because you as king are so much harder to please, and your own views are so much harder to access. At least, the confession of faith is out there for everyone to see and subscribe. Does FTH have a creed? Is it posted somewhere on line?

  8. Jeff Cagle said,

    November 14, 2008 at 8:36 am

    FTH (#5):

    Hi again, Steve. Your post re-raises the question I asked last time: should all cultural embeddedness be treated equally, or should some be privileged over others?

    In other words, I’m explicitly asking a power-structure question: are there *legitimate* power structures in Scripture? If so, what are they?

    And assuming Yes, then what norms does this place on our practice of exegesis?

    For my part, I see the possibility of including insights from any science whatsoever in our exegesis (all truth is, after all, God’s truth). BUT — I am also deeply skeptical of the degree of certainty of results in the “soft sciences” like sociology. It’s not a power-structure problem, but a method problem.

    Jeff Cagle

  9. greenbaggins said,

    November 14, 2008 at 9:48 am

    FTH, in all honesty, you don’t have a clue as to what you’re talking about. Everyone already has a systematic theology that controls their exegesis. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sneak in their ST under the rug without anyone knowing it. Please explain to me how ST having an effect on exegesis is a FRAGMENTATION of theology, when, as a matter of fact, such a move BRINGS THEM TOGETHER, and keeps them from being divorced one from another. Read Michael Horton’s excellent article on this is _The Pattern of Sound Doctrine_. Read Poythress’s article in the recent WTJ on different kinds of biblical theology. If you read Vos, you will know that his ST exercized a decisive influence on his exegesis. And, of course, types like you typically forget that Vos wrote an entire systematic theology.

  10. ReformedSinner said,

    November 14, 2008 at 11:23 am


    Is FTH WTS product? If yes I don’t see how he can take Poythress’ Hermeneutics class and not remember the infamous hermeneutical circle: Exegesis –> Hermeneutics –> Theology –> (back to exegesis)

  11. November 14, 2008 at 11:27 am

    Strong words, Lane.

    What everyone has are social practices into which they are habituated that direct how they live. This includes how they think about the world, read texts, understand truth, etc. I have them, you have them, everyone here has them.

    When you only discuss this in terms of everyone having a ST that influences their “exegesis” you continue to divorce the issues from important social-dynamics and, again, power-legitimating issues. Everyone has many such inherited (and modified) practices that influence what you would call their ST.

    Above I explained “how ST having an effect on exegesis is a FRAGMENTATION of theology.” Interestingly, I discussed it more in terms of ST controlling exegesis, which is what you and others really advocate, and I do not think I am putting words in your mouth by saying that. If I proposed readings of passages in our Bible that have them overtly “contradicting” each other and/or manifesting “errors,” ultimately your response would rest on the presupposition that the Bible just can’t behave that way. Sure you might try to give me some “careful exegesis,” but you would legitimate it over mine at some point by claiming that you “allow Scripture to interpret Scripture” (implying I do not) or that a Christian reading presupposes that the Bible cannot have such errors and that, therefore, any approach that might allow them must be illegitimate. At some point you would seek to marginalize me before others in the PCA world by showing how my readings depart from how we know a good Christian reading should be done. This is your “exegesis” being controlled by your ST. Again, from my point of view you have thus fragmented the theological field by making your ST king over historical-biblical studies. How do I know our Reformed world operates this way? I just lived through it happening at WTS and watched all of you voice endless support for people who argued thus against Enns. I bring up Enns as that example remains fresh in our minds.

    For you such ST “influence” of exegesis is a unifying of the theological field. For people who disagree with you it is fragmentation. The legitimacy of your position depends upon the legitimacy of your ST and, more importantly, the social dynamics of our world in which you and other like you can impose such order on everyone else…marginalizing those who disagree with you.

    At this point more circular arguments usually enter the picture. Your ST is correct because it is the tradition, good exegesis proved it in the 17th century and it is arrogant for upstarts such as myself (and millions of other Christians!) to question it, because the only legitimate exegesis is exegesis that presupposes rules from your ST, etc. Again, all this does not mean you and your ST are wrong. It does, however, mean you beg a whole host of questions at the outset, ultimately function upon circular reasoning, and are just as tradition-captive as Rome ever was. Oh, this also means that functionally your unified theological field only has a place for the matriarch of biblical studies so long as it submits to and has been domesticated by the patriarch of Reformed Historical and Systematic Theology.

    Interestingly, you did not really disagree with this analysis. You proffered examples of good biblical theology by people who stillreally did their BT in line with ST.

    Yet again, I do not know what a unified field of theology would look like. I suspect it requires us to realize that no one can really be a virtuoso, competent in all necessary areas. In fact, we all really need each other. The theologians NEED the biblical scholars and the biblical scholars NEED the theologians…all of them NEED the Church Historians, Practical Theologians, counselors, pastors, and most importantly the lay-people, etc. I do not know how this would work out such that one particular group of specialists does not establish itself at the top of the hierarchy. I do know that your proposal firmly establishes Systematic Theology in the patriarchal position and that your work would be better and more honest if you acknowledged this.

  12. greenbaggins said,

    November 14, 2008 at 11:40 am

    First of all, I cheerfully acknowledge that I put ST in a position of unifying all the other disciplines. I am not quite sure how you got the impression that I am trying to hide this. I thought I had placarded it as plain as plain. I have thought, for instance, of where I would want to put my thesis, or, in other words, what would my thesis be in, in terms of disciplines, and the answer is definitely ST.

    Secondly, you most certainly did not explain how you thought having ST as an influence on exegesis fragments theology. You merely claimed that it did that. Let me put it this way: how is having ST have absolutely no relations at all with exegesis (except in a one-way relation with exegesis influencing ST, but not vice versa) anything other than a divorce between the two? I believe that the relationship between ST and BT is a spiral. Each mutually influence one another, such that ST does not domesticate exegesis, nor does exegesis go off the deep end, forgetting that the Bible is a whole. Again, go back to Gaffin’s analysis: BT follows the plot line, while ST is a plot analysis. Vos says that BT follows the line, while ST draws a circle. Interestingly, Vox claims that BT, just as much as ST, makes the material undergo a change.

    My question for you is this: is there any influence AT ALL that ST should have on exegesis? Does an exegete have the right to go to a phrase that says “God repented,” and conclude that God ultimately responds to humans, and is not sovereign over the affairs of man? Does the exegete have the right to interpret one passage of Scripture, ignoring all the rest of Scripture? See, I think you’re working here with a wrong conception of what ST does. I think that your definition of ST is such that it imposes foreign categorical conceptions (probably Greek philosophical categories, which is Waltke’s unbelievably misguided position) on the text, rather than ST being a discipline which simply asks what Scripture as a whole teaches about Scriptural things like God, sin, punishment, Christ, salvation, eschatology, etc., which are of course BIBLICAL categories, not Greek philosophical categories.

  13. tim prussic said,

    November 14, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Here’s a thought: knowledge and its increase is similar to wealth and its increase – think Adam Smith, here. As specialists do their work (obviously with some level of general knowledge), it gets distilled into the pot of general knowledge, of which we all partake. Thus, to raise the general level of knowledge, we need more specialists pursuing their own specialties. We also need a theory (and practice) of knowledge that brings all the specialized knowledge together into ONE body of knowledge.

    (I’m trying to prevent FTH from hijacking this conversation entirely.)

  14. greenbaggins said,

    November 14, 2008 at 11:44 am

    Tim, I agree, and there certainly is a place for specialists. I will not advocate the elimination of specialists. However, we are woefully short on people who can pull it all together.

  15. Joseph Minich said,

    November 14, 2008 at 11:50 am


    Can’t it be the Bible itself (exegesis) which warrants the task of integrating its message into a coherent whole (plot analysis)? The Bible is God’s speech (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and God does not lie. Doesn’t this shape how we deal with the tensions in scripture?

    For instance, the Bible seems to portray the sun as revolving around the earth. But…since we know God does not lie…we feel warranted (and we are!) to say that God accomodates Himself to the scientific knowledge of the time, and that the intention of Jesus’ statement “the sun rises” is not to teach astro-physics…but to teach about providence. Yet we wouldn’t be motivated to even clarify this if our systematic theology (again…exegetically derived) did not claim something about the nature of God which we are responsible to uphold. All that to say, any Christian approach to exegesis and biblical theology (even your own) is guided by systematic theology to the extent that one feels the need to even explain inter-textual tensions in a way that is consistent with the nature of our speaking God. The real debate (of late) ought not to be over whether this process necessarily occurs, but whether or not the answers given by any side allow the direction of influence among the theological disciplines to move appropriately in both directions. (BT ST)

  16. Joseph Minich said,

    November 14, 2008 at 11:52 am

    Sorry…I meant to have an “arrow” between the parenthetical BT and ST (above) indicating their mutual influence. Alas…my poor computer skills.

  17. November 14, 2008 at 12:11 pm


    Thanks for your reply. You have cleared some things up for me. Ultimately we will disagree somewhat because, well, I am right and you are wrong : ). More seriously, I do think ST should somehow influence biblical studies for the church. I am not sure at what level and how. I know you think biblical studies should influence ST and you strive to exemplify this in John Murray and Gaffin-esque ways.

    My trouble is that in the Reformed world I have yet to find a good example of this type of interaction…at least consistently. This is certainly true for me as well. In my current historical academic work, for example, Reformed ST plays no role at all. When I do work more explicitly and immediately for the church, I certainly think all areas should be in conversation and mutually influencing each other. Yet again, however, I am not sure how to describe what that will look like. Also, when the chips are down, you and I will differ in what this should look like. On just the theological level you and I already disagree on certain things. Hopefully some fruitful dialogue can happen though.

    I certainly agree with seeking ST categories that are more biblical and less speculative. Though, again, I think such categories need to differ depending upon varying contexts and I suspect seeking “biblical” categories to be more complicated than we think.

    I will ponder some of your other points and get back to you later. All of you, thanks for your interaction. I will try to ponder the questions others of you raised, including your points Joseph.

    For now I want to go on a walk with my wife and then get back to work…

    I know we can all get a bit heated around here at times. I appreciate the reminders some of you voice every now and then that we are all trying to serve together as brothers. I am sure we can all agree that these discussions would be much better done sitting around the bar together…perhaps drinking one of my favorite beers: Arrogant Bastard! If any of you are going to ETS or SBL next week let me know…

  18. Reed Here said,

    November 14, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Now that’s a beer I’d like to at least sip ;-)

  19. November 14, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    And now, walking…

  20. tim prussic said,

    November 14, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Pr. Lane, would you give some examples of thinkers that have put it all together. Also, maybe some specific works where your ideal of generalism is at at least approached. Maybe someone like Lewis or Chesterton would be helpful. Both of those men seem to have a great breadth of knowledge and had a decidedly Christian view of the world through which to organize that knowledge. Of course, neither of those chaps were Reformed… that’s problematic.

  21. greenbaggins said,

    November 14, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Tim, I would say the following are excellent examples of generalist theologians: Calvin, Owen, Turretin, Witsius, a’Brakel, Bavinck, Hodge, Warfield, Vos, Gaffin, Palmer Robertson. This is not exhaustive, but I think they were/are extremely proficient in all areas of theology. I think two works where this ideal is most approached in terms of actual writings are Calvin’s Institutes and a’Brakel’s A Christian’s Reasonable Service. Of the men listed, most were also knowledgable about many other areas as well.

  22. E.C. Hock said,

    November 14, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    If I am not mistaken, the beer mentioned above with all its healing properties to body and soul is not just a beer….mercy! It is part of the family of ales! But then let’s not get side-tracked into that tempting field.

    I always thought that the fragmentation of theological knowledge that the Enlightenment exploited was already afoot within the Reformation, with its Swiss, German and French counterparts splintering off and leading the way of diversity, step by step. There are vital redeeming facets to this shift, but also some unintended consequences.

  23. Ben said,

    November 14, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    In placing ST at the top, would you then say that PT & AP take ST, and in this sense are outside of the pyramid, as it were? That’s what I got from Van Til’s Intro to ST.

    Why isn’t Goodwin in your list of generalists?

  24. greenbaggins said,

    November 14, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    E.C., are you sure that it was a “splitting,” and not just the Reformation taking root in many different soils. You seem to be assuming that there was one grand Reformed branch that *then* split, as opposed to cross-fertilizing going on because people would study under Calvin and then take the Reformation back to their own country. This certainly happened with Knox and the Dutch Reformed.

  25. greenbaggins said,

    November 14, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Ben, welcome to my blog. What’s your last name, by the way?

    I don’t argue for a pyramid, but rather that theology is all one. The problem with a pyramid understanding is that one discipline becomes foundational for another, and the other cannot ever influence the one in return. I prefer a spiral.

    Goodwin is also excellent. I dare say he was also fairly well-balanced in terms of the various areas of expertise. However, I have not read a huge amount of Goodwin (I find him the very hardest Puritan to understand). As I said, the list is not exhaustive, either. I did forget Voetius, who absolutely must be included.

  26. tim prussic said,

    November 14, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    The men mentioned seem to me to be highly specialized in one discipline, theology. They were all certainly great generalists in that discipline, but it seems to betray a fragmenting of knowledge that your whole list ONLY includes big-named Reformed theologians. These brilliant men certainly had varying degrees of knowledge in other disciplines, but would someone not as heavily entrenched / deeply interested in Christian theology as you consider your list a list of generalists or one a list of specialists in one discipline?

    I’m certainly with you in thinking that the Bible trumps all other sources of authority. The Christian worldview is the truest view of men and things, thus theology is Queen. The Queen, however, is not the only science.

  27. Vern Crisler said,

    November 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    So-called “biblical theology” tends to be pretentious. Its advocates look down their noses at systematic theology. It also tends to be gnostic: one cannot really know the Bible unless one is initiated into the secret knowledge and labyrinthine symbolism of “biblical theology.” In addition, “biblical theology” has to be corrected by systematic theology in the long run, so in the nature of the case, it’s a dependent variable.


  28. E.C. Hock said,

    November 14, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Lane, I wrote, “…the fragmentation of theological knowledge that the Enlightenment exploited was already afoot within the Reformation, with its Swiss, German and French counterparts splintering off and leading the way of diversity, step by step. ”

    What you say is also true. There was a taking root in different soils on basic points. There was cross-fertalizing of scholarship and much common ground established with the “solas” for instance. But the explosive context was potent for many reasons. There was an intellectual freedom implied as new ideas were allowed to be aired. Bloody Reformational wars ensued, and not just between Protestants and Catholics. There was a subtle splintering put into motion that widened as key leaders gave way to their disciples. One ought not try to make such a time too monolithic, or just from a confessional point of view. Great energy of soul and all its diverse tendencies, for good or ill, were let loose like growing grass fires during the Reformational period, Reformed and otherwise. The Enlightenment did not just up and happen! Renaissance and Reformational juices flowed and mixed and matured to form new expressions of individuality and communal identification. Literary criticism began before the Enlightenment, a critical tool that anticipated others to come. Theology continued to be examined, shaped and bent up to the point where confessional statements generally became too hard pressed to survive and account for all the developments. Looking back, good things as well as bad came out of the Enlightenment. But as in all things, God in fact worked it for our good. Look at the explosion of great commentaries that exist as a result, even now as we wait for the latest to be delivered up. Thank you Calvin for setting the example – before the Enlightenment! So, the gross fragmentation of theology in some ways is regrettable, yet has it not its broken parts strangely afforded us opportunities to taste new and wonderful fruits within the Word?

    As a student once at TEDS, under Carl Henry and especially Joe Brown, I will say that there will always be the need and the love for a Renaissance-type generalists, especially for the church. But it takes a certain kind of man for that and a certain course of cultivation and training to reach it. God will raise them up as aids and models – like a Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Edwards, Warfield and such. But our world and its educational environments are ever changing in pace, complexity, volume and expectation of knowledge (not necessarily in depth). More realistic, is it not better to stress being squared away on the gospel and its implications, so we never lose the heart and center of it all while improving ourselves in the other?

  29. greenbaggins said,

    November 15, 2008 at 9:41 am

    Tim, I misunderstood you. I was thinking of generalist *theologians.* You are obviously thinking of generalist thinkers. It would, of course, be much more difficult to identify true Renaissance men today. In the Reformed world today, I’m not sure any would qualify with the possible exception of Sproul. Maybe Trueman also.

  30. Ben said,

    November 15, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    My last name is Dahlvang. You’ve commented on my blog a time or two.

    Thanks for putting a check on my pyramid analogy. Your point is well taken. I still want to maintain a certain primacy for ST, however, even though I realize that all the disciplines in the encyclopedia should, to some extent, influence contemporary ST formulations. There is a top even in circles you know :p It seems to me that Vos, Murray and Van Til were all in agreement here. And it seems to be that they were all correct, though they certainly haven’t said all there is to be said.

    When you’re referred to Muller’s study, are you referring to his piece in the Foundations of Interpretation? If so, what’s dated about it? Have you looked at his “debate” with Frame in WTJ? If so, what did you think of it?

  31. ReformedSinner said,

    November 15, 2008 at 10:44 pm


    B.B. Warfield’s comments also favors the pyramid view (Pete Enns does a job on this in his OTI class.) Also, Dr. Edgar has shared in his ST101 (yes, not AP101 but ST101) that Murray thinks all theology flows into ST (and PT flows out of ST), and clearly (according to Dr. Edgar) Murray thinks ST is the central core of all theological endeavors.

    Finally, I wonder if we are also influenced by our time of “political correctness” when we are trying to say the right thing that ALL parts of theology are equally important. Then again the flip side is sometimes our “situatedness” helps us develop in areas when other generations wouldn’t even dream of or care of investigate because of their “situatedness”, so even if we are influenced by political correctness that could be a good thing.

  32. Ben said,

    November 16, 2008 at 12:53 pm


    Just curious, where does Warfield say that, if you know? I got this impression from Murray as well. Van Til seemed to think the same thing about PT & AP flowing out of ST, in that they took the latter in different but related directions.

    I hear the two sides of the coin that you raise. With respect to the “flip side,” I think of 100+ years of pastoral practice and reflection that helped the Reformed to parse out the relationship between saving faith and assurance.

  33. ReformedSinner said,

    November 16, 2008 at 6:14 pm


    Let me dig into my old OTI notes, but I’m pretty sure that’s what was presented in the class: Warfield has a “pyramid” view of interrelationships of theologies.

  34. ReformedSinner said,

    November 16, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    #32 Ben,

    Warfield wrote an article in 1896: “The Idea of Systematic Theology” and later 1910 article: “The Task and Method of Systematic Theology.” Warfield suggested the task of biblical theology is to coordinate the scattered results of exegesis into a concatenated whole, whether with reference to a single book or a body of related works, or the whole of Scripture. ST then is to concerned with setting forth systematically what is known concerning to God. In short, biblical theology provides the soil that systematic theology grows. Exegesis is the grandparent of systematic theology rather than parent, which biblical theology is the proper parent. The data for systematic theology is not individual texts or individual results of exegesis of individual texts but rather the completed conception of revealed truth offered by biblical theology.

    Page 66-67 of his “Idea of Systematic Theology”

    “Biblical Theology is not, then, a rival of Systematics; it is not even a parallel product of the same body of facts provided by exegesis; it is the basis and souce of Systematics. Systematic Theology is not a concatenation of the scattered theological data furnished by the exegetic process; it is the combination of the already concatenated data given to it by Biblical Theology.”

    Hence the pyramid:

    Bottom is exegesis; then Biblical Theology organizes them; then Systematics grows out of Biblical Theology

  35. E.C. Hock said,

    November 17, 2008 at 12:46 am

    So, according to post #34, who depends upon whom in the interaction that is our theological enterpise within the community of faith? All three interact and influence each other. As we gain new data and resources for, or about the text, by which to interpret and translate the language, and work the process of exegesis, the more our BT accurately informs, confirms or revises the integrated concepts of ST. It is ideally a check and balance system as more light (under providence) breaks forth from the word of God. Systematic theology, in turn, provides a working framework for continuing, yet guarding, the ways of sound as well as investigative exegesis. But it does so without arbitrarily smothering new initiatives that arise in a tested process to a new concensus.

  36. greenbaggins said,

    November 17, 2008 at 6:58 am

    Ben, thanks for the comment. Muller’s book (yes, the one in FCI) is starting to show its age in that there are several analyses that I think are a bit off (though the majority of the book is still outstanding), as well as simply needing a newer treatment (his book was written 17 years ago). Muller also does not deal as extensively with Farley as I would have liked, even though he offers a careful review of the book.

  37. Ben said,

    November 18, 2008 at 12:25 am

    RE: 34
    I’ll have to read that piece by Warfield over Christmas break. Thanks for the reference. Does he bring HT into that scheme? Seems necessary, indeed vital if we are to do ST in the Church for the Church. I was very satisfied with Murray’s treatment in vol 4 of his CW (pg. 1-21). It doesn’t really sound like he was saying anything substantially different from Warfield, provided the latter gives a significant place to HT.

  38. Ben said,

    November 18, 2008 at 12:37 am

    RE: 36

    Thanks for the answer about Muller. I didn’t even know who Farley was, so I didn’t realize more could be said.

    My feelings wouldn’t be hurt if you chose not to comment on Frame:)

    You could maybe answer another question, however. How is this discussion significantly different than prolegomena? I know prolegomena takes account of the foundations, and encyclopedia takes account of how those foundations are to be used, but isn’t the latter just a subset of the former? That’s kind of the impression I got from Bavinck’s vol. 1, as well as Vanhoozer (DoD) and Horton (C&E), though the encyclopedic discussions were rather scant (maybe implicit?) in the latter two. Seems like Bavinck did address this, if I remember right (?). At any rate, encyclopedia and prolegomena are mixed up in my head. Maybe you could help me out?

  39. ReformedSinner said,

    November 18, 2008 at 9:24 am

    My only interest to Warfield and Murray (and in a way Vos) is that they talk as if BT is around forever. But in reality BT is a recent phenomenon and can be argued that BT is a reaction against the German liberal theologians. For example if the “soil” metaphor of Warfield needs to hold, then this “soil which is that of BT” that provided for the growth of ST must be there at the beginning, and which begs the question, where?

    Now, to be clear I am not arguing against the validity of BT, I think it’s very needed and necessary. However, how would you answer the charge that BT is something new, we are doing something different that the church, for over 1800 years, doesn’t seem to be doing.

    Do we argue that BT has always been implicitly done by church theologians in the past (that’s Gaffin’s argument), but only now been made explicit? So the soil (BT) for the growth of ST has always been there, but was incorporated into exegetical methods in the past, and only now has BT been made explicit as a separate (but closely connected) discipline?

  40. Todd said,

    November 18, 2008 at 9:55 am

    # 39

    I think Gaffin was correct, since the oldest surviving sermon, from the second century, Melito’s “Peri Pascha,” has BT written all over it. Sermon found here:



  41. E.C. Hock said,

    November 18, 2008 at 9:57 am

    I think Gaffin is right. BT has been implicitly a part of any theological construction, even from the earliest days. How could it not be a part of
    it? For instance, anyone who has done historical research on the concept of the covenant in the early church must note the work of Irenaeus. He describes the covenants with Adam, Noah, Moses and Christ as ‘the four principle covenants given to the human race’; he anticipates later covenant theology by employing the covenant theme prior to Abraham and Moses. In short, in broadening the concept, covenant already used as a means to organize redemptive history. More or less, you find the same kind of BT activity in Clement of Alexandria and Origin. This is at the end of the 2nd century. This is why Gaffin ( are right in noting the early origins of BT.

  42. E.C. Hock said,

    November 18, 2008 at 10:14 am

    I further add to the above – #41- that this early church work in proto-BT forms the seedbed and basis for the later development of “covenant” in its fuller presence in Calvin’s Institutes and H. Bullinger. No wonder, they themselves were practicing a form of BT. They mined the scholars of the early church as well as of Scripture, using an acceptable method of literary criticism. It is this antecedent work that promotes the more systematic forms of covenant theology in men like William Ames, our own WCF and the Dutch.

    Thus, in this example on the concept of covenant, it is taken as a biblical concept, and developed into a biblical theology of sorts befopre it becomes a core concept in confessional theology. BT then is “the soil” from which grows the trunk, branch and fruit of ST. It is the hidden work, assumed and applied, behind what makes the later confessions so durable and sound.

  43. Reed Here said,

    November 18, 2008 at 10:32 am


    My persuasion has been what Evan expresses: a BT that is proto/implicit in the theological process prior to the formal development of BT in the late 1800’s. Note as well, that the first development of BT was in the liberal-higher criticism environment with those very German theologians. The later reaction development by Vos, was a corrective to the perversion, not a reformed version of the perversion.

  44. Ben said,

    November 18, 2008 at 11:49 am

    Reed & Evan,

    Agreed. We ought not think that BT is purely a post-Enlightenment development. It was there in seed form throughout CH. But at the same time, lets not miss what Reformedsinner is saying, or I think he’s saying (#39). Justification by faith was in seed form throughout CH, as Oden and others have shown recently. But lets not minimize what happened at the Reformation. In the same way, BT was in seed form, but we shouldn’t minimize the RH school and the advances they have made. Not that these advances are as huge as what happened at the Reformation. But I think you see what I’m saying. We need to account for real historical development in the Church’s understanding of the once-for-all revelation. We all know that the Reformed are accused of living in the past. Perhaps one way to dispel that silly charge is to give just a bit more attention to post-1646 doctrinal developments. I think BT is one of those developments, though certainly not epochical and it certainly was in seedform form even pre-WS. So Vos was huge. But not that huge. The Church was already moving in that direction. In fact, it’s funny the clarity didn’t come sooner considering the whole Cocceius vs. Voetius thing. Such is providence. At any rate, I think this points up one of the reasons why we need to account for a place for HT within the encyclopedia.

  45. Reed Here said,

    November 18, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    No opinion on RF’s take. But to the rest, complete agreement.

  46. E.C. Hock said,

    November 18, 2008 at 1:10 pm


    I did not respond thinking the Reformation was being minimized, but rather that BT was being minimized as a factor helping to bring about, and leading up to, the Reformation. Too often, and it is unfortunates, zealous ST advocates make BT/RH looked stunted by its presumed lack of historical interest and precedent, when really the very historical research we are implying reveals a different picture – in this case in the flow of CH.

    The Reformation was, in short, a “back to the Bible movement,” which is what BT is really all about, and had been as the “progress of dogma” developed, though less so in the Middle Ages. In that spirit, Vos implements the same dimension later in giving his own corrective and enriched understanding of redemptive history. He is in good company as (envisioned) a “cloud of witnesses” in CH cheer him on! Reed is right in that Vos is really drawing upon and drawing out an ancient and expected practice in the church, developed incrementally in the Reformation and Renaissance, but perverted by unchecked human liberties in the rationalism of Enlightenment. Reformed Theology today continues to be a “back to the Bible” movement, building upon durable confessions, but also being refreshed and humbled by new insights from BT that help us understand what we believe. Looking over the past centuries or generations, we can all the more appreciate and promote this relationship.

  47. ReformedSinner said,

    November 18, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Well, like I said (or implicitly said) earlier I agree with Gaffin, but not much has been done in this area (at least any type of major publications, save a few articles here and there.)

    Today I think there’s still a critical eye towards RH/BT because of a lack of scholarly work to promote this, maybe Gaffin or a few others can have the time to write a book on it.

    Warfield/Murray/Vos wrote them as a matter of fact, but obviously many in the Reformed world do not believe it to be a matter of fact, so work needs to be done.

  48. greenbaggins said,

    November 18, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Ben, I would put prolegomena more in the area of laying the foundations for theology to happen at all, whereas encyclopedia looks at all of theology, not just the foundation, and sees how they all relate together. So, actually, prolegomena is part of what encyclopedia looks at (though not part of encyclopedia proper), as opposed to encyclopedia being part of prolegomena.

  49. November 18, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Carl Trueman has a lecture on RTS iTunes called “Sacra Doctrina” in which he argues this point. He cites Derek Thomas as an example of an “unfragmented theologian”.

    Perhaps the whole idea of seminary training has increased this; if men were trained by pastors this might not be the case? However, even in my own denominations theological college – where men are trained by full time pastors – I am not sure we have escaped this type of thing either so there is probably no easy solution.

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