Basic Elements for Theological Method
All Christians should know what they believe, and why they believe it. For this reason, it is important for all Christians to give some thought to how they form their understanding of Bible doctrine. This brief article summarizes some useful guidelines for developing a theological method informed by Scripture.
Theological Method. Throughout church history, theologians concerned with Paul’s command to teach sound doctrine have sought to understand the best way to do this. This enterprise is often referred to as “theological method.” Theological method seeks to explain the patterns and priorities that best serve as a reliable guide to speaking truthfully of God’s nature and His work in creation. Although Bible-believing theologians throughout the years have suggested a variety of different approaches, there is a discernible pattern of agreement regarding the best practice for doing theology. This pattern can be seen within the umbrella of the five basic elements explained below.
Identification of a Governing Source. A systematic theology informed by Scripture will engage the biblical disciplines of exegesis, biblical theology, historical theology, and practical theology. Although each of these disciplines contributes to the understanding of the other, it is the exegesis of Scripture which exerts the governing role in the process of forming final theological conclusions.
Recognition of Presuppositions. The existence and attributes of God, the distinction between the Creator and His creation, the image of God in humanity, and the adequacy of human language are significant pre-commitments which guide the student of theology.
Confirmation through Consistency. Because God is perfect, without error, and without contradiction, He is without contradiction in all He is, and does, and says. Therefore, God’s people will strive to represent God and His Word through theology in terms which are internally consistent and thoroughly unified.
Authentication by source citation. The practice of “proof-texting,” once held in the highest esteem by the church, has, on account of abuse, fallen into disrepute. Yet the responsible use of proof-texts is ultimately necessary to display the biblical rationale for theological conclusions. Furthermore, proof-texts provide transparency, ensure accountability, and invite scrutiny. In so doing, proof-texts ensure that theology remains in the possession of the church as a whole rather than church officials or academic professionals.
Relation to the Audience. Doing theology is the act of communicating what is true regarding God and His word. Consequently, disregard for the listener’s capacity to understand the message impedes the goal of theology. Although God’s truth is unchanging and universal, efforts to convey God’s truth clearly will take into account the language and culture of the listener to ensure that all that God has proclaimed to be true in His word is clearly understood by the listener.
Every believer is a theologian, because every believer thinks and speaks about God. Careful attention to the authority of Scripture and our own presuppositions prepares us to think about God in terms that are consistent. Similarly, taking the time to cite Scriptural evidence and to understand other people empowers every believer to speak about God with transparency, authenticity, and clarity.
This article is from the "Truth from the Agora" section of the Exposition, VBTS's monthly e-bulletin authored by President Daniel Davey. Click HERE to sign-up to receive the Exposition each month.