Systematic theology can be defined as “any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 21.) While some say that his definition is over-simplistic, it helps us to differentiate between systematic approaches to theology and others. Because the “whole bible” already exists, we can systematically approach a subject like Sin, Salvation, or God’s Kingdom, and break them off into study-able little chunks from which to make conclusions or propositions.
There has been much kick-back against Systematic Theologies and it’s claimed that these systems reduce God to mere knowledge, limit the possibilities of a “God Hermeneutic” (A vast array of possible interpretations), and arrogantly fill in blanks which God has left empty. (Deuteronomy 29:29) Further, it’s suggested that when humans attempt to systematize, categorize, and make easily reference-able theological doctrines, they try to do so with that which defies and even denies its systemization.
The solution, or so thought, is “Biblical Theology.” Biblical theology is the study of the doctrines of the Bible, arranged according to their chronology and historical background. It is said, that Biblical theology doesn’t assume the whole Bible exists and seeks to develop a doctrine according to its chronological advancement. In other words, we can take a doctrine like sin and make conclusions “along the way” as the narrative of God’s work in the world with humanity unfolds.
It can be a little tricky, and there is overlap between the two approaches. Even chronological narratives make propositions. Is there a middle of the road approach? I think there is. Is there a 3rd way? Possibly. With the popularity of terms like “Organic Church,” it begs the question as to whether or not there can be an “Organic Theology.” If we mean by “organic,” that doctrines can grow and mature, or evolve over time then we get dangerously close to existentialism and relativism. Yes, “the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective] (Hebrews 4:12, AMP), but that doesn’t mean that it violates its own DNA along the way.
According to Neil Cole, the DNA of Christ is – Divine Truth, Nurturing Relationships, and Apostolic Mission. The first, according to Neil;
“Divine Truth, is that Truth which comes from God. It is the revelation of God to humankind. This comes from the Son, the Spirit, and the Scriptures. The Son (Jesus) is both God and human and came to reveal to us in his person what God is like and what God requires. The Scriptures were authored by God and reveal God’s unfolding plan for humanity. The Spirit of God is also Divine Truth, since he brings revelation and direction to believers.”[*]
There are several things in Neil’s quote that speaks to the subject at hand, but when he says that “The Scriptures were authored by God and reveal God’s unfolding plan for humanity,” I believe he begins to capture the 3rd possible way of doing theology. If The Scriptures/The Bible, reveal God’s “unfolding” plan for humanity, then we can say that a theology, as long as it is based in the already established truth and does not seek to subvert that truth according to whim or personal sensibility, is “Organic.” Saying “The Bible is just a book,” is like saying that “Jesus is just another god among gods.” Sayings like these are often attempts to form permissible theologies that allow for whatever behavior the one saying it deems appropriate.
Again, here’s where it can get a bit tricky. The Spirit is also divine truth, but in this author’s opinion, the Spirit will never contradict His already God-Breathed Word. And yes, I am calling the Scriptures/Bible “The Word of God.” Jesus said as much in Luke 8:11, “The seed is the logos.” Seeds grow according to their DNA. Thistle seeds do not yield figs. If your theology is growing something opposed to Christ’s DNA, then it’s likely not theology at all.
If “Organic Theology,” can mean something else, then what?