Friday, August 03, 2007

Reflections on Introduction to Systematics I

Continuing to hold a mirror to the modules of Year 1, Semester 2 at HTC, we arrive at Introduction to Systematic Theology, taught by Dr Rob Shillaker. Rob is from Porthcawl, Wales, so this places him top of the Where-I-Come-From score card for HTC lecturers. The module itself is scored over two essays. This year we were troubled with Image of God theories and whether Assurance is essential to Christian Faith. Whilst struggling with this, we also struggled with the main course text: A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith by Reymond. Being troubled and struggling can be good things! Again, the essay experience was excellent - spending time getting to grips with the theology. First, Imago Dei:

  • The striking thing about Imago Dei theologies is that they can become huge edifices built on a very small foundation. Many theologies begin with the Genesis 1 statements, but quickly launch into pretty uncritical linkages with 'image' statements in the New Testament, mainly in Pauline writings. A thorough biblical theological approach which recognises the gulf in salvation-historical terms between these two sources, let alone linguistic and cultural distances, is a rare thing, it seems to me.
  • The Structural Paradigm for interpreting the Imago Dei (seeing the image as an analogy of God's being) is everywhere: the Fathers, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, to different degrees and varying formulations. However, this paradigm owes just as much to Platonistic paradigms as it does to any biblical structuring. The Functional Paradigm sees the image as the mediation of power or rule by man in the world, as it is delegated by God. Dominion is the function and the physical body (peripheral in the Structural Paradigm) becomes central. Ancient Near East parallels play a much bigger part in deriving theologies from the Genesis 1 data.
  • How about this for a fascinating quote from Hendrikus Berkhof: 'By studying how systematic theologies have poured meaning into Genesis 1:26 one could write a piece of Europe's cultural history'
  • So, after the exercise, my conclusions were: 'Structural Imago Dei theologies, including the classical Reformed position, are built on serious methodological flaws. The synthesis of prevailing philosophies with the biblical data in order to make headway has continued.'..Ouch! In the functional paradigm, man is created not in the image, but as the image (a position consistent with the Hebrew in Genesis 1).
My favourite text in preparing the essay was JR Middleton's The Liberating Image. An excellent book published by Brazos. Middleton holds to a Functional Paradigm, but admits its major shortcoming (when compared to the Structural Paradigm) is that often scholars have not elucidated the theological or (especially) the ethical implications. This task has, however, been taken on by some Reformed theologians, especially those who, like Middleton, hold Kuyperian views. Middleton himself presents an 'ethical analysis of the positive characterisation of God's rule' and identifies the need for systematic theologians and biblical scholars to engage in an 'extended conversation' on the meaning of the functional paradigm.

Reflections on the Assurance essay will come in the next post, along with some other reflections on the module in general.