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A letter from a reader of this blog:

I suppose my first question has to do with systematic theology.  Until
recently, I would consider myself broadly reformed.  At the moment, I
just don’t know.  Recently I’ve grown so tired of trying to figure
things out.  It seems that I fall off the horse either one way or
another.  Whichever book I’ve read last seems to be the major influence
in my life.  It seems that everyone has a good argument from the text
of Scripture, e.g. Calvinists, Arminians, Baptist, Paedobaptist, etc. 
I suppose my question would be this: is a systematic theology
possible?  Why didn’t God give us a systematic manual?  Why did his
revelation come in the form of narrative, poetry, epistle, apocalypse,
etc?

I want to use this letter as a springboard for a new, brief series on how Christians read and apply the Bible. I base this series on my book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible
.


In Blue Parakeet I point to a problem in Bible reading I call “puzzling.” The basic idea is this: some people read the Bible with the belief that (1) behind the Bible and (2) in God’s real mind there is (3) a complete system of thought, The System, that (4) if we work hard enough at we can find and then (5) we have solved the Bible. Puzzling then is a criticism of a kind of systematic theology, not all systematic theology and certainly not a criticism of theologizing how the Bible presents its ideas.

Now some thoughts:

1. Inherent to this form of puzzling is the unity of Scripture, which I believe in. There’s a problem here: for some the “unity” is equated with their “System.” This is dangerous for it tends to grant infallible authority to The System.

2. The earliest Christians, read Irenaeus, did not write The System but instead found the unity of the Bible in the basic Plot — Adam to Abraham to Moses to David to the Prophets to Jesus to Paul etc..

3. The rabbis did not write — never really have that I know of — systematic theologies.

4. God did not give us The System but gave us The Books and calls us to read the Books and to do what most of us today call “biblical theology.”

5. No System puts it all together and I’m not convinced that many puzzlers recognize the profound incompletion of The Systems that are used. So many texts are wrenched from their contexts, so many texts are simply left out … I could go on … The System demolishes the narrative plot, The Story, of the Bible and replaces The Story with a human system.

6. The tendency — not always — of puzzlers is to think they’ve solved the Bible and all its problems and to miss the mystery and the wonder and the delight of The Story. Along with this comes a belief in The System that seems to displace belief in the God of the Scripture and They Story of that Scripture.

I could go on … perhaps we can have a discussion about this today.

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