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Need

As the discussion in this meta answer reveals, defining theology (especially systematic theology) is challenging, and it varies by theologians. Consider this quote from Rolland McCune's Systematic Theology Volume 1, pages 3-4 (these are Christian, Protestant, mainly Reformed influenced theologians mentioned; obviously definitions could vary more with other traditions' influences; he does give footnote references for his sources):

Etymologically, theology comes from the Greek words theos (God) and logos (word), which suggest the “word concerning God” or “the study of God.” Systematic or Christian Theology then, in the widest sense, is simply doctrine—the doctrine(s) of the Bible set forth according to plan or order. Theology Proper is the subset of systematic theology that discusses the person and work of God.

Here a listing of other theologians’ definitions is helpful in giving a general sense of the scope of this discipline and a means of comparison and contrast with the definition given above.

  • A. H. Strong: “Theology is the science of God and of the relations between God and the universe.”
  • Charles Hodge: “Theology, therefore, is the exhibition of the facts of Scripture in their proper order and relation, with the principles or general truths involved in the facts themselves, and which pervade and harmonize the whole.”
  • William G. T. Shedd: “Theology is a science that is concerned with both the infinite and the finite, with both God and the Universe. The material, therefore, which it includes is vaster than that of any other science. It is also the most necessary of all the sciences.”
  • Lewis S. Chafer: “Systematic Theology may be defined as the collecting, scientifically arranging, comparing, exhibiting and defending of all facts from any and every source concerning God and His works.”
  • James L. Garrett: “The ordered exposition of Christian doctrines.”
  • Millard Erickson: “That discipline which strives to give a coherent statement of the doctrines of the Christian faith, based primarily upon the Scriptures, and related to issues of life.”
  • Wayne Grudem: “[Theology is] any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic.”
  • Robert L. Reymond: “[Systematic Theology] in its broad sense speaks of intellectual or rational discourse about God or things divine.”
  • Stanley Grenz: “[Theology] is the believing community’s intellectual reflection on faith.”

Notice how they vary.

  • Some refer more simply to doctrines (teachings) of the Bible systematized and ordered around topics
  • Some mention general truths, the universe, or knowledge from other sources (I find this interesting, since even in doing exegesis, one is drawing on knowledge from "reality" or "experience" itself, so really any communication, including theological, is drawing from other sources)
  • Some mention the generic term "Christian," though one can bet that their use is less "generic" than it needs to be for this site (and indeed cannot be used because of the inclusiveness of this site)
  • Some mention the cultural relevancy or community influence for today (which gets into practical, application aspects, which this site also avoids)

It is no wonder this site has had various discussions, power struggles, communication breakdowns, etc., when even a number of men who generally have a similar "theological" view vary so much in their own definitions.

Goal

There was a previous meta post regarding defining terminology that offered a good path to take. There it suggested doing a term at a time. Here the attempt is to group a number of terms together for definition, so that all the types of "theology" we might want to mention are defined in one place.

The ultimate goal is to have a single community wiki type answer that has been discussed, edited, and refined for what we as a community mean by different terms when we mention various "theologies" in our posts and comments.

Of course, as the other post noted (#4), I do believe any question or answer can locally define how they are using a term. This listing here is for those that do not wish to constantly define, but stick to a community consensus, and also provide a link source for educating others about the site and its terminology.

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Defining Theologies

This is initially based off a number of theologies, Christian (Protestant), that will not be listed as the wording is not from any particular one. Ultimately, through editing, will be our own. It also clarifies which theologies are not on topic.

  • Theology Proper: Study of God (for Trinitarian Christians, the Person of God the Father). This theology is on topic assuming it is related to a text.
  • Exegetical Theology: Study of the text at a grammatical level to find the meaning (the teaching, the doctrine, from that text), synonymous with hermeneutics. This is the core of the site, and so is on topic.
  • Biblical Theology: Study of the text within the context of a single book, or a single human author, or with respect to a chronological sequence of time (i.e. progressive revelation, the fact that the Bible came in stages through history). This is on topic assuming it is related to a text.
  • OT Theology (a.k.a. Old Testament Theology, or Tanak Theology [not sure what Jewish term is here]?): Study of the text within the context of only the Hebrew scriptures. This is on topic assuming it is related to a text.
  • NT Theology (a.k.a. New Testament Theology): Study of the text within the context of what revelation the NT adds to the OT/Hebrew Scriptures. This is on topic assuming it is related to a text.
  • Systematic Theology: Study of the text as a whole (canonical) regarding a particular topic, usually drawing upon other sources of information more heavily (philosophy, physical science, etc.), and often to present in a culturally/community relevant way to guide personal application. For some, it would be equivalent to Hebrew Theology as only the those scriptures are considered canon, for Christians, it will include the New testament as well, and possible other books disputed by other Christian sects. This area is only on topic as it relates to organizing and topical discussion arising from the Biblical text itself, and may become off topic when it tries to make relevance to any particular group other than the BH.SE community and its goals (even answers here on BH.SE try to make things relevant to this community), and is fully off topic when discussing what should or ought to be done (prescription, rather than description).
  • Practical Theology: Study of applying the doctrine of the text to one's life and/or ministry. Fully off topic.
  • Historical Theology: Study of how others in the past formulated any of the various theologies noted above. This could be on topic or off topic, largely depending on the context of the question/answer, but generally discussions of systematic theology regarding relevance or application aspects, and practical theology, even if historical, are more likely to be off topic. Obviously, the practice of Israel in the Tanak, and Christians as given in the New Testament would be on topic.
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    I do applaud your effort but I'm conflicted about your chances of getting any two people to agree to use your definitions - many of which are are understood differently depending on the framework you start from. My preference (I think) would be to mostly stick to terms that are broadly agreed (like 'idea' rather than 'doctrine'). Oct 17 '14 at 15:02
  • @JackDouglas: Well, I'm hoping it is not just "getting" people to use my definitions, but rather to use mine as a starting point to reshape this answer (add types, rephrase definition, etc.) to make it usable within the context of this site, not necessarily any particular tradition. Again, people can always opt to local scope a particular definition, but the point is in the interest of communication, having a common terminology to discuss by (so that what is "systematic theology" to me and to another is at least the same with respect to this site, whatever definition it ends up with).
    – ScottS
    Oct 17 '14 at 15:29
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    Sorry, I phrased that comment rather badly - I meant getting any two people to use any definition. Even the word 'theology' is going to mean something quite different to someone like Dan (who is Eastern Orthodox) than it does to a protestant. I think that it's impossible to agree on a list of definitions of theologically loaded words without effectively freezing out some viewpoints to some degree. Oct 17 '14 at 15:33
  • @JackDouglas: I'm hoping discussion can lead to a consensus (concessions) for the sake of communication. It may mean creating new terms to distinguish subtle variations of understanding between groups, or clarify definitions. I'm hoping those from other traditions do give input on how they see things. I know I'm willing to flex from the initial given here. Perhaps "systematic theology" with its possible ideas of canonical breadth, cultural relevance, and prescription should be split and termed "Canonical theology," "Cultural theology," and "Prescriptive theology" to distinguish.
    – ScottS
    Oct 17 '14 at 15:49
  • @ScottS I appreciate your valiant attempt at making all of us more 'comfortable' with the word "Theology"; however, I believe as a site we've matured enough to a point of "is this about the text or not?" Different theologies are presented in the answers posted-this is a given. I can tell if one is Covenant, Dispensational, Post-Modern by reviewing their answer, and comparing it to the gridwork of their conclusions-they don't even have to say 'theology'. If it is about the text, or the 'hermeneutics' used to understand the text-then it is on-topic.
    – Tau
    Oct 27 '14 at 2:06
  • @ScottS However, if the attention focusses on the gridwork, rather than the text itself; than greater minds than mine have deemed it "off-topic". For example: I have publicly stated that I believe that 'post-modern/critical' interpretation is suitable for wrapping fish in. In the discussion of a particular text I may discuss how a particular hermeneutic supports a correct interpretation and post-modern doesn't. That would be 'on-topic'. But if I were to post a question "Why Does Post-Modern Interpretations Suck?" I would be closed as being 'off-topic'.
    – Tau
    Oct 27 '14 at 2:19

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