I am a big fan of systematic theology. God’s story of redemption is epic in its sweep and fitting His words and works into that epic is both intellectually satisfying as well as pertinent to how we live. Proper theology casts a long shadow in our lives, especially as we understand all that came to us through Christ in the new covenant. But I am not a fan of theological systems.
Our work, as theologians, is to prayerfully investigate the mysteries of God and explain such in an accessible format to our readers. Accessible does not mean diminishing the grandeur. It is more like being a bridge. Just as many pastors are a bridge on Sunday morning taking the Word of God, recorded primarily in Greek, and making it accessible to an English-speaking audience while preserving its original meaning, intent, and nuance.
My concern is that in our zeal for understanding and accessibility, it is easy to cross the line and remove the mystery altogether. At the risk of alienating half the audience, take the biblical concepts of election, grace, depravity, and atonement, for example. These concepts are clearly contained in Scripture and referred to and explained in many passages. But is it possible that the adjectives we add to these terms are not contained in Scripture but only exist to help us fit it all into a neat system that we can get our human minds around? This isn’t an answer, just a question.
I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer summed up the mystery well in this advent reading. “No priest, no theologian stood at the manger of Bethlehem. And yet all Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of wonders: that God became human. Holy theology arises from knees bent before the mystery of the divine child in the stable.”
“Without the holy night, there is no theology. ‘God is revealed in flesh,’ the God-human Jesus Christ – that is the holy mystery that theology came into being to protect and preserve. How we fail to understand when we think that the task of theology is to solve the mystery of God, to drag it down to the flat, ordinary wisdom of human experience and reason! Its sole office is to preserve the miracle as miracle, to comprehend, defend, and glorify God’s mystery precisely as mystery.”
Celebrate the mystery!