FOCUS: preliminary orientation, motivational/contextual/ visionary remarks, resources and references, especially free Bible study and research software
--> An outline programme framework (the AACCS)
Systematic Theology: what, why, how . . .
Why should we use the Nicene creed?
Online Free Bibles and reference library resources
The NET Bible (and other versions)
"Systematic Theology 101" resources
Some classics of Systematic Theology
Encyclopedic references on theology and related issues
Key Web Sites and Links
INTRODUCTION: Across the 2oth Century, it was gradually realised that one secret to the success of an army in the field is that it needed a high proportion and adequate numbers (reckoning with casualty rates . . . ) of seasoned, well trained, skilled, brave and able non-commissioned officers [NCO's -- corporals, sergeants, and Warrant Officers etc] of good character; who could work with, supervise and train ordinary soldiers and help season young officers, as well as practically solve the myriad un-anticipated challenges of combat in the trenches.
This is not really a new insight: the Roman Centurion was more or less a super-NCO, typically a long-service soldier from the ranks picked for his skill, example and character-- one reason why Centurions in the New Testament are so uniformly men of good report -- and made into a sort of warrant officer. (There was a class barrier to merit-based promotion above that level, which probably contributed to Rome's eventual decline.)
In the 21st Century, the church in the Caribbean needs a solid core of spiritual NCO's and Centurions, to face the challenges we must address on the ground in the region, and as we mobilise to take up our strategic role in the church's global mission.
For instance, we are now in the age of Google, YouTube, blogs and other freely accessible web soap-box and forum technologies, Dan Brown and his The Da Vinci Code, the vituperative New Atheists, Radical IslamISTS, and many others.
As a result, we now face a flood of superficially persuasive and atmosphere-poisoning materials that target God, the Scriptures, Jesus, the Christian Faith and Christians today (including personal hate and slander sites) and much more. This backs up an unprecedented and rising tidal wave of direct and undermining attacks against the Christian faith in the Caribbean and elsewhere that we can find on our streets, on our verandahs, on our TV's and computers, in our schools and offices, and even in our churches.
A flood of attacks that finds us too often in a sad spiritual condition, and by and large utterly unprepared to soundly answer on the reason for the hope that we have:
|The two tidal wave threats to the Christian faith in the Caribbean|
But, there is another side to the story: our largely unrecognised and untapped potential for the work of the Great Commission across the world in our day.
For, if we were to make a "back to Jerusalem" vision calculation, we have the potential to field something like 8,000 missionaries -- that's about the scope of a Roman army Legion, or a modern "light" Division -- across especially the 10/40 window (cf here also) from West Africa to India, China and Indonesia, from which so many of our ancestors came. In saying that, we should reckon that Paul's history-transforming C1 missionary company, in aggregate, probably was less than 80 - 120 or so, roughly the scale of the "Century" commanded by a Centurion. (And yes, for convenience, I am taking in the size of the older Maniple, 120.]
It is worth laying out a typical current large scale military organisation (NB: to be viewed in its wider context), an early C21 infantry brigade combat team [roughly equivalent to 1/3 of a Division], as a model for thinking about organising our own efforts, noting how diverse complex units are integrated to form a functional whole. Do forgive compression, you can expand by clicking on the image and using various view or save facilities of your browser:
A more traditional ~15,000 man division structure as used in the Second World War (US 85th Division, US Army) is:
(NB: Such models show us how proved globe spanning organisations that require diverse highly technical units and staff backed up by significant logistical "tails" have been organised and have operated over the past century. Salvation Army notwithstanding, the Christian church is not a military organisation!)
That is, on the above considerations, we can credibly deploy and support 80 or so Pauline company-scale "units," where each such can target a region or a large country. That compares favourably with the scope of the 10/40 window.
Where also -- especially if this is focused on education, training, the arts, multimedia and artistic crafts, enterprise formation and business incubation -- such a deployment could potentially have a dramatically transformative, positive impact on these nations, across all dimensions of their societies and economies (and not just the narrowly "spiritual"):
Similarly, significant numbers will also be needed to help address the challenges in the North, as Western Civilisation continues to disintegrate through the impact of its de-christianising, radically secularist, hyper-skeptical and/or neo-pagan apostasy.
Putting these together, we can see the "three triangles" regional and global missions strategy emerge, as:
i: Christians from the region's
(2) Afro-Caribbean and. . . triangles
ii: mobilise and equip themselves for
iii: the ongoing mission of the church through the gospel and the Spirit in the region, and
iv: from the region, in
(3) the global triangle pivoting on the three vertices,
(a) the 10/40 window
(c) North America:
This is a vast undertaking.
So, while the traditional campus based seminary remains important, it is patent that such a massive work simply cannot be effectively tackled solely through the traditional campus based seminary that aims to produce full time church workers, primarily pastors.
At the same time, we need people equipped, trained and seasoned to handle the De-christianising and Islamisation spiritual tidal wave challenges and surges that are now upon us, from the North and the East as well as to respond to the longstanding regional spiritual challenges. Plainly, we need a corps of paraprofessional church workers, equipped to Associate Degree level and able to handle street level challenges.
Such seasoned, practical leaders, however, will also need to be "tent-makers" (cf also here and here), men and women who have their own professional career, which can support them at home or abroad as they fulfill their calling of service and good works under God.
And, yes, every child of God is called to -- and should be properly equipped for and supported in -- effective Christian service:
Eph 2:8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them . . . .
There is no way that such leaders in the reasonably required numbers can be trained through conventional, campus-based theological programmes.Eph 4:10 He, the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things. 11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. 14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love. [NET]
However, the Internet and wider digital media revolution offers the opportunity to create online and digital multimedia training resources, that can be integrated with churches, theological schools and other ministries across the region to form a regional training network.
Also, such "distance mode" education and training can fit in with other studies, work, family, church and community responsibilities. This course is therefore intended to serve as a part of that network, with a particular focus on biblically- based theological grounding in the face of the sort of challenges and issues that we will increasingly encounter on the street in our region or across the world.
Here is a model for an Associate Degree programme in Arts with a Concentration in Caribbean Christian Service and a tent-making productive skills component for a digital age, in which the initial exploratory rough draft course explored in this blog as a "show and tell" demonstration would be (in developed form) a key component of pillar no 2 of five:
Such would be backed up by a process of life integration and mentoring, such as:
It would also need "backative" through the intellectual muscle and education leadership capability of a core of people going through a course of study such as this outline M.Ed:
Where, this could illustrate a possible cost effective delivery platform for use by students studying in the community and in community-based micro-campus centres (e.g. based in churches), a two-in-one modern 10+" tablet-cum-notebook PC:
Before going on to the main substance of this course, it now seems helpful to first pause and look at some further matters introductory, motivational and resource-ful.
Where, we are counselled by Our Lord, and by the prophets and the apostles:
The Psalmist, Psalm 1:1 How blessed is the one who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand in the pathway with sinners, or sit in the assembly of scoffers!
2 Instead he finds pleasure in obeying the Lord’s commands;
he meditates on his commands day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted by flowing streams; it yields its fruit at the proper time,
and its leaves never fall off. He succeeds in everything he attempts.
4 Not so with the wicked!
Instead they are like wind-driven chaff.
5 For this reason the wicked cannot withstand judgment, nor can sinners join the assembly of the godly. 6 Certainly the Lord guards the way of the godly,
but the way of the wicked ends in destruction. [NET]
The Psalmist, Psalm 119:9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you . . . .
97 Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the aged,[h]
for I keep your precepts.
101 I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
102 I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path. [ESV]
Solomon, Prov. 3: 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7 Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
8 It will be healing to your flesh[b]
and refreshment[c] to your bones.Isaiah, Is. 8:16 Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching[f] among my disciples.17 I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. 18 Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. 19 And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?20 To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.Jesus, Matt 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”4 But he answered, “It is written,“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”Jesus, Jn 10: 35b . . . and Scripture cannot be broken . . .Paul, Rom 10:6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?[c] And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Paul, 2 Tim 2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God[b] not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,[c] a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene . . . .
2 Tim 3:10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.
12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom[a] you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Peter, 2 Pet 1:15 Moreover, I will diligently endeavor [to see to it] that [even] after my departure (decease) you may be able at all times to call these things to mind.16 For we were not following cleverly devised stories when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah), but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty (grandeur, authority of sovereign power). 17 For when He was invested with honor and glory from God the Father and a voice was borne to Him by the [splendid] Majestic Glory [in the bright cloud that overshadowed Him, saying], This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased and delight, 18 We [actually] heard this voice borne out of heaven, for we were together with Him on the holy mountain.19 And we have the prophetic word [made] firmer still. You will do well to pay close attention to it as to a lamp shining in a dismal (squalid and dark) place, until the day breaks through [the gloom] and the Morning Star rises ([j]comes into being) in your hearts.20 [Yet] first [you must] understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is [a matter] of any personal or private or special interpretation (loosening, solving).
21 For no prophecy ever originated because some man willed it [to do so—it never came by human impulse], but men spoke from God who were borne along (moved and impelled) by the Holy Spirit. [AMP]
Where, again, we must underscore:
the authentic scriptures of the Old and New Testament, which prepare us for, present and call us to discipleship under the gospel, are the foundation of sound Christian theology and so also they are the foundation of sound discipleship and of faithful, truly effective and lastingly fruitful service.
Also, as Wayne Grudem notes and warns:
"[i]n systematic theology, summaries of biblical teachings must be worded precisely to guard against misunderstandings and to exclude false teachings." [Systematic Theology, Zondervan (1994), p. 24.]
Charles Hodge, in the opening chapters of Volume I of his justly famed classic from the 1870's, the three-volume, Reformed tradition Systematic Theology, expands this (in part reflecting the dominance of scientific approaches in the modern mind). He does so in a way that is well worth clipping and reflecting on:
CH 1: In every science there are two factors: facts and ideas; or, facts and the mind. Science is more than knowledge. Knowledge is the persuasion of what is true on adequate evidence. But the facts of astronomy, chemistry, or history do not constitute the science of those departments of knowledge. Nor does the mere orderly arrangement of facts amount to science . . . . The Bible is no more a system of theology, than nature is a system of chemistry or of mechanics. We find in nature the facts which the chemist or the mechanical philosopher has to examine, and from them to ascertain the laws by which they are determined. So the Bible contains the truths which the theologian has to collect, authenticate, arrange, and exhibit in their internal relation to each other. This constitutes the difference between biblical and systematic theology. The office of the former is to ascertain and state 2the facts of Scripture. The office of the latter is to take those facts, determine their relation to each other and to other cognate truths, as well as to vindicate them and show their harmony and consistency. This is not an easy task, or one of slight importance . . . .
CH 2: Every science has its own method, determined by its peculiar nature. This is a matter of so much importance that it has been erected into a distinct department. Modern literature abounds in works on Methodology, i.e., on the science of method. They are designed to determine the principles which should control scientific investigations. If a man adopts a false method, he is like one who takes a wrong road which will never lead him to his destination. The two great comprehensive methods are the à priori and the à posteriori. The one argues from cause to effect, the other from effect to cause . . . Every one knows how much it cost to establish the method of induction on a firm basis, and to secure a general recognition of its authority. According to this method, we begin with collecting well-established facts, and from them infer the general laws which determine their occurrence . . . .
CH 5: . . . The man of science comes to the study of nature with certain assumptions. (1.) He assumes the trustworthiness of his sense perceptions. Unless he can rely upon the well-authenticated testimony of his senses, he is deprived of all means of prosecuting his investigations. The facts of nature reveal themselves to our faculties of sense, and can be known in no other way. (2.) He must also assume the trustworthiness of his mental operations. He must take for granted that he can perceive, compare, combine, remember, and infer; and that he can safely rely upon these mental faculties in their legitimate exercise. (3.) He must also rely on the certainty of those truths which are not learned from experience, but which are given in the constitution of our nature. That every effect must have a cause; that the same cause under like circumstances, will produce like effects; that a cause is not a mere uniform antecedent, but that which contains within itself the reason why the effect occurs.
Second, The student of nature having this ground on which to stand, and these tools wherewith to work, proceeds to perceive, gather, and combine his facts. These he does not pretend to manufacture, nor presume to modify. He must take them as they are. He is only careful to be sure that they are real, and that he has them all, or, at least all that are necessary to justify any inference which he may draw from them, or any theory which he may build upon them.10Third, From facts thus ascertained and classified, he deduces the laws by which they are determined . . . .The Bible is to the theologian what nature is to the man of science. It is his store-house of facts; and his method of ascertaining what the Bible teaches, is the same as that which the natural philosopher adopts to ascertain what nature teaches. In the first place, he comes to his task with all the assumptions above mentioned. He must assume the validity of those laws of belief which God has impressed upon our nature. In these laws are included some which have no direct application to the natural sciences. Such, for example, as the essential distinction between right and wrong; that nothing contrary to virtue can be enjoined by God; that it cannot be right to do evil that good may come; that sin deserves punishment, and other similar first truths, which God has implanted in the constitution of all moral beings, and which no objective revelation can possibly contradict. These first principles, however, are not to be arbitrarily assumed. No man has a right to lay down his own opinions, however firmly held, and call them “first truths of reason,” and make them the source or test of Christian doctrines. Nothing can rightfully be included under the category of first truths, or laws of belief, which cannot stand the tests of universality and necessity, to which many add self-evidence. 11But self-evidence is included in universality and necessity, in so far, that nothing which is not self-evident can be universally believed, and what is self-evident forces itself on the mind of every intelligent creature . . . .In the second place, the duty of the Christian theologian is to ascertain, collect, and combine all the facts which God has revealed concerning himself and our relation to Him. These facts are all in the Bible . . . It may be admitted that the truths which the theologian has to reduce to a science, or, to speak more humbly, which he has to arrange and harmonize, are revealed partly in the external works of God, partly in the constitution of our nature, and partly in the religious experience of believers; yet lest we should err in our inferences from the works of God, we have a clearer revelation of all that nature reveals, in his word; and lest we should misinterpret our own consciousness and the laws of our nature, everything that can be legitimately learned from that source will be found recognized and authenticated in the Scriptures; and lest we should attribute to the teaching of the Spirit the operations of our own natural affections, we find in the Bible the norm and standard of all genuine religious experience. The Scriptures teach not only the truth, but what are the effects of the truth on the heart and conscience, when applied with saving power by the Holy Ghost . . . .[I]n theology as in natural science, principles are derived from facts, and not impressed upon them. The properties of matter, the laws of motion, of magnetism, of light. etc., are not framed by the mind. They are not laws of thought. They are deductions from facts . . . It is no less unscientific for the theologian to assume a theory as to the nature of virtue, of sin, of liberty, of moral obligation, and then explain the facts of Scripture in accordance with his theories. His only proper course is to derive his theory of virtue, of sin, of liberty, of obligation, from the facts of the Bible. He should remember that his business is not to set forth his system of truth (that is of no account), but to ascertain and exhibit what is God’s system, which is a matter of the greatest moment. If he cannot believe what the facts of the Bible assume to be true, let him say so. Let the sacred writers have their doctrine, while he has his own.
Hodge's advocacy of an 'inductive' method in theology is said to embody all the wrong things. He is accused of being a 'foundationalist', 'positivistic', 'empiricist' and 'individualistic'. These traits are said to reveal him as expressing the mentality of the Enlightenment, 'the assumption of modernity', in his pursuit of objectivity, a mentality perhaps fostered by the influence upon him of one of the most notable figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, Thomas Reid, and perhaps by the dreaded 'Reformed Scholasticism'. By implication, in our postmodern era Hodge's theological method is to be avoided like the plague. Another nail in the coffin of Princeton theology . . . .
No doubt it is tautologically true that Hodge was a child of his time, and no doubt he could have benefited from the philosophy of science of children of later times, which claims that scientific theories are falsifiable hypotheses, not inductive generalizations from the data. No doubt Hodge's account of scientific procedure is naively Baconian. No doubt he would have learned things about the philosophy of science from Karl Popper, or N. R. Hanson, or Imre Lakatos, or even (heaven forbid!) from Thomas Kuhn. But this is not, I think, the main point. The main point of Hodge's inductivism is to endorse a method which gives Scripture theological priority, allowing it to address us rather we addressing it. Any method which ensured this would be equally valid . . . .
Summarizing, two things. The first is to underline the point that in setting out his views Hodge is prescribing a set of ideals, not describing what actually goes on. And it is obvious, in reading his words, dated in certain respects as they must be, that his overriding concern is to preserve and protect the a posteriori character of theology in its relation to Scripture, by being resolutely a posteriori in his construction of Christian doctrine or principle or theory. This is the point of the stress on induction.
On balance, the substance of the scriptures as authenticated by the Christ event in the context of fulfilled prophecy -- cf. Unit 1 here on -- make it plain that God has chosen to set truth in the context of the facts of a credible historical timeline that shows God's power through prophetic interventions of the announced word and their fulfillment.
This anchors faith to facts that must be assessed in historical, contextual, grammatical and even social and cultural settings. So, a generally inductive approach is required. At the same time, systematic logically shaped organisation is an imperative, if we are to have a coherent rather than a confused overall understanding.
This gives us goals, principles and a valid role for systematic theology, and indeed for various traditions and schools of thought.
Thus, too, we see four main characteristics of good -- sound -- systematic theology:
1: A focus on the gospel, in the context of its warrant as God's good news that saves us if we properly respond -- through penitent trust in God based on his Word and character -- to his grace in Christ.
2: Rootedness in the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures that accurately and authentically transmit and apply that good news to us.
3: Coherent, logical, intelligible organisation so that
4: we may be exact, accurate, economical and understandable (perhaps, after some diligent effort to follow what is being said).
1--> Jesus of Nazareth -- The Only Begotten (Unique) Son of God -- fulfilling the Old Testament [OT] prophecies about God's Anointed One [i.e. the Messiah (Hebrew) or Christ (Greek)], came to us in love; as Prophet, Priest, Lamb, and King.
2 --> Fulfilling the OT Scriptures, he died for our sins, was buried, and rose again as Lord and triumphant Saviour.
3 --> He commissioned the church to bear witness of this good news [= gospel] to the world and to call the peoples of all nations to:
- repentance [= metanoia, i.e. God-given penitent transformation of heart and mind (cf. Isa 55:1 - 13)],
- forgiveness of sins,
- trust in God based on his Word [i.e. faith (cf. Rom 4:4 - 5 & Heb 11:1 & 6)],
- promised covenantal blessings from God,
- life-transforming discipleship and
- loving, fruitful service.
4 --> This, until he comes again as Lord and Judge to complete history and break the power of evil forever.
The approach in this course will thus be at root --
(a) historical -- cf. Wiki and this summary of principles from Greenleaf's Testimony of the Evangelists: "in the mouth of two or three witnesses . . . " -- as well as
(b) logical, -- cf. Wiki's useful summary (also, Catholic Enc, here) and IEP on fallacies -- in light of the importance of developing and holding to a coherent, well-warranted, carefully correlated, organised and useful worldview-level framework for our thought and life in light of first principles of right reason
(c) biblical (cf. also here), using the principles summarised in a nutshell in this one-page handout: Live by and Teach The Word of God.. . . as we seek to better understand the gospel.
Then, we will seek to arrange the findings from that study in a clear and consistent pattern that will provide a sound framework for commitment, life and service.
It will therefore first and foremost, highlight the core gospel in the 55 AD testimony recorded in 1 Cor 15:1 - 11 (and traceable to the apostles in Jerusalem, c. 35 - 38 AD).
This earlier council is quite important. For, it is in that council that in response to issues and concerns, the apostles and eyewitnesses to Jesus' death, burial and resurrection had clarified the nature of the gospel. to do that, they made it plain that what was required for Jews and Gentiles alike to become Christian disciples and be saved was penitent faith in God through Jesus the crucified and risen Lord. (NB: Cf. Ac 15:7 - 9.)
Q: But, why the long gap?
A: The period from 64 - 325 AD was the era of waves of persecutions that started when the Emperor Nero found it convenient to blame Christians for a major fire in Rome, and also of the gradual but unstoppable growth of the church in the face of the rise of heresies such as Gnosticism and (later) Arianism. [It is sad that as the empire became partly Christianised, forming Christendom, debates over theology took on a divisive, oppressive political overtone: "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal . . ." Again, the apostle is plain: "we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God . . . by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God." (2 Cor 4:2.)]
So, for instance, we have to recognise that from the 320's - 380's, the Imperial family and court were often implicated in supporting one side or the other of theological disputes, based on personal convictions and their sense of what the Empire needed to enhance its stability.
For example, it seems Constantine I -- who exiled then recalled Arius after the first version of the creed was issued in 325 -- was baptised on his deathbed by an Arian Bishop. In 336, Arius, aged about 80 (having been recalled from exile and restored to apparent Imperial favour), died in a context of a sudden and massive GI tract disturbance right after dining at the Imperial table in Constantinople, that led some to infer divine judgement, and others, poison; no, he was not sentenced as a heretic and executed after the Nicene Council. If he was indeed poisoned in 336, a decade after the Council, it may have been by someone with access to the kitchens; it is unlikely that the Emperor would have secretly ordered his death, given the personal sympathies that seem to have been revealed on his deathbed by the circumstances of his baptism. (Arius was exiled, then recalled -- it seems, within a few months -- when the balance of views and factions shifted. From some reports, it had been made a capital offence to possess his writings; one presumes, while he was temporarily in exile.)
Then, after Constantine passed away, Constantine II was apparently an Arian, Julian the Apostate tried to revive paganism, and Theodosius I then closed off a half century of disputes by calling the council that extended the Nicene Creed in 381 and -- most regrettably -- used state power against dissidents.
Across this time, disputants on one side or the other could find themselves exiled, as both Arius and Athanasius were, at one time or another, indeed Athanasius seems to have suffered five exiles amounting to seventeen years in about forty years as Bishop of Alexandria; at the hands of four Emperors. (It is noteworthy, that the orthodox view of the Nicene Creed was at one time so out of general favour in the East, that Athanasius, its champion, became part of a byword: Athanasius contra mundum -- Athanasius against the world. His case prevailed by its inherent force on the theological merits, not because it was the reigning popular orthodoxy.)
Thus, the context in which the Nicene Creed was developed was not at all ideal, to say the least. We wish that a more enlightened view of theological disputes could have been had, but we must also reckon with the historical stage of development of political thought c 300 AD. And, we must face history as we have it, not as we wish it were; in an era where the ideas and practice of democratic self-government of a free people, were well over a thousand years in the future.
But -- taking due and sobering note of the errors and wrongs of the era (and the wider problem of the sins of Christendom across the ages that will be addressed in due course in more details in Unit 9 below) -- in fact, the Nicene Creed is demonstrably objectively rooted in the First Century testimony and faith of the apostles, and in the New Testament, which is equally authentic.
Historically, it has thus been a key consensus point for the three main streams of the Christian faith: Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox.
So, it gives us a reasonable start-point framework for studying understanding the historic consensus view on the core principles and tenets of the Christian Faith.
In the classic English rendering of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, 1662, it reads:
- I believe in one God the Father Almighty,
- Maker of heaven and earth,
- And of all things visible and invisible:
- And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
- Begotten of his Father before all worlds,
- God of God, Light of Light,
- Very God of very God,
- Begotten, not made,
- Being of one substance with the Father,
- By whom all things were made;
- Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven,
- And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
- And was made man,
- And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
- He suffered and was buried,
- And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,
- And ascended into heaven,
- And sitteth on the right hand of the Father.
- And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead:
- Whose kingdom shall have no end.
- And I believe in the Holy Ghost,
- The Lord and giver of life,
- Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,
- Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified,
- Who spake by the Prophets.
- And I believe one Catholick and Apostolick Church.
- I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
- And I look for the Resurrection of the dead,
- And the life of the world to come.
Accordingly, this course will begin from the gospel and its historic warrant, then address worldview level issues, to clear the underbrush. Then, God, Man, Jesus, The Gospel and its application, the Spirit, discipleship and reformation, the Church and its challenges, and the culmination of all things will be the backbone of the course.
Listing the units that follow this preliminary unit:
- UNIT 1: Biblical Foundations of and core warrant for "the Faith once for all delivered to the saints"
- UNIT 2: The Gospel on Mars Hill: foundations for a Christian worldview, and for culture- transforming service
- UNIT 3: Our Anchorage in God
- UNIT 4: Man, sin, culture, chaos; need for redemption, reformation and restoration
- UNIT 5: The Restorer -- Christ: promised, prophesied and fulfilled
- UNIT 6: The Gospel
- UNIT 7: Gospel and Spirit
- UNIT 8: Gospel, culture, church and community
- UNIT 9: The sins of Christendom
- UNIT 10: True Discipleship
- UNIT 11: The culmination of all things
- UNIT 12: For such a time as this
The Word: Costas Stergiou has created a powerful and flexible Bible Library package, which sets the standard that will have to be matched. A particularly attractive feature is that the base package is "ready to go" with a useful cluster of initial resources and a simple link from the Help menu to get more.
e-Sword: Rick Meyers started the ball rolling in this field, and with version 9 has moved away from dependence on Microsoft Access Database. There are probably more resources available, and there are several user-generated tools for creating resources. The interface is distinctly less flexible. However one specific advantage is that this package will work with books in the standardised Parsons Technology STEP Library format.
KJV, with Strong's Numbers
ESV (a revision to the RSV) translation
American Standard Version
Good News Bible
Interlinear Greek New Testament
Bruce Terry: Students' Guide to NT Textual Variants ( The Word)
Apostolic Bible Project Gk-English interlinear Septuagint (LXX) + NT (eS, TW)
(NB: Intro. to ABP here, alternative Greek pronunciation seminar here)
(Also, note for the next level: Interlinear Scripture Analyzer [NB: separate software. Caution: 1 English for 1 Greek/ Hebrew word is not always valid. Use the Concordant View feature and its search tool. NB: Heb words are re-ordered L --> R to conform to English (but letters in words still read R --> L). ISA is a useful start for learning to sound out letters and words, then to read and understand Greek and Hebrew. Possible online beginner's courses: Greek, (online Gk 101 lessons [cf. 10-session video course, and another one), Hebrew (online Heb 101).])
Hebrew Old Testament + Strong's Numbers
WLC: Westminster-Leningrad Hebrew Codex
Brenton's English translation of LXX
LXX with Strong's Numbers and the RMAC grammar codes (eS)
This video helps us see how to read Biblical Hebrew [the more unfamiliar language], with vowel points:
ORIGINAL LANGUAGE DICTIONARIES:
Strong's Greek and Hebrew Dictionary (or Michelson update)
Thayer's Greek Lexicon (Caution: Unitarian)
Liddell, Scott, Jones Lexicon of classical Greek
Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew Lexicon
GENERAL BIBLE DICTIONARIES:
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE, 1915 edn.)
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Smith's Bible Dictionary
Fausset Bible Dictionary
King James Dictionary
Webster's 1828 English Dictionary (a fairly useful Bible dictionary!)
COMMENTARIES & REFERENCE NOTES:
Mathew Henry Commentary (full version)
Adam Clarke Commentary
Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary
Thompson Chain Reference Notes
Torrey, Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
Vincent's Word Studies
BOOKS & REFERENCES:
Torrey et al, The Fundamentals
Torrey, What the Bible Teaches (eS )
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews
Manners and Customs of Bible Lands (e-Snips: eS, TW)
Edersheim's Life and times of Jesus the Messiah
Smith Bible Atlas (eSword)
Rand-MacNally Bible Atlas (The Word Graphics Package)
Bible Timelines (eSword)
Charting the End times, La Haye (The Word)
Ante-Nicene Church Fathers
Schaff's History of the Christian Church
Schaff's Creeds of Christendom (eS)
Hodge's Systematic Theology, 3 vols.
CIA World Factbook (eSword Graphics package)
The NET Bible, without its 60,000 translator notes is available for both the above packages (eS, TW) on a free for download basis, but you may also download a stand-alone HTML version here, which has the full set of notes. (Wikipedia has some helpful remarks here, and a somewhat critical review that gives some context is here.)
[NB, 1: As with older versions, no single modern English translation is wholly satisfactory (though many are sound, God-honoured and useful), so it is recommended that the reader makes use of original language tools and checks renderings in versions with different translation philosophies. So, we may note:
a: The NET, Good News, ESV and ASV (American Standard Version, 1901) are a good cross-section of modern translations that are freely available in eS and TW; the latter two being more closely word- for- word literal, and the former pair being more or less based on dynamic/ functional thought- for- thought equivalents. (Current debates on how much "gender-inclusive language" is textually warranted aptly illustrate the issue. This debate is especially relevant to the question of the recent TNIV independent revision to the NIV. [NB: The "original" NIV will remain available as a modern classic translation.])
b: Of course, the NIV (I recommend the "classic" 1978 or 1984 edns.) is only legally accessible as a paid-for module, or can be accessed through sites like Bible Gateway. (If you go there, I am fond of the NASB -- a revision of the ASV -- and the Amplified Bible too. Please, avoid bootleg pirated modules.)
c: For classic English translations the King James Version (in the common, 1769 revision or the original 1611 rendering) and the Geneva Bible are a good point of departure; also, the Geneva Bible notes are a useful commentary for understanding Reformation era Calvinist theological thought.
d: The KJV is especially useful as classical Bible Study tools are keyed off it and -- just as important -- off the associated Strong's numbering system for underlying Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic/Chaldee words.
e: Those dealing with Catholic issues may wish to use the Douai-Rheims and make reference to Jerome's even more classic Vulgate (Latin).
f: In addition to eS and TW, Bible Gateway, Biblos.com, Blue Letter Bible, Biola U's The Unbound Bible, Studylight.org, Crosswalk.com [more devotional/discipleship oriented and thematic] and Crosswalk's Bible Study Tools are very useful online sources that allow access to electronic versions of translations that would otherwise require something like US$20 each; but kindly respect copyright limitations on citation.
g: The NET Bible online has similar but more basic Bible Study tools. So does the ESV Study Bible Online site, which allows you to register and personalise your registered version with notes, bookmarks etc.
h: Such sites may also provide access to major contemporary study resources that complement, supplement and bring up to date the classical materials available through eS and TW.
i: Students may find it useful to get an electronic book copy of the NIV Study Bible also [~ US$ 20], with its cluster of reference resources.
j: The NIV Study Bible, the Life Application Bible, the classic Thompson's Chain Reference Bible, and the classic Schofield Reference Bible are all very useful, well-respected paper version Study Bibles for serious Bible students.
k: The New Bible Dictionary is hard to beat as a one-volume Bible Dictionary with evangelical views.]
The Apostles' Creed and its elaboration in the Nicene creed are useful short summaries of the core Christian message and the Athanasian creed deals with the technical level issues that arose as onward debates arose in the context of the Nicene creed's dominance.
(Schaff's The Creeds of Christendom [4 vols] is a useful first point of contact for reference or for research-level study. [Links to CCEL pages here. Also available in eS (but not yet TW).] It is surprisingly readable.)
At a far simpler level, in the Caribbean IFES student movement in the 1980's, it was found necessary to re-emphasise an interdenominational, Bible-based evangelical confession of faith and to lay out principles of Bible study, in significant part, in response to challenges from sectarian groups. (NB: Here is a suggested framework of principles for working together as Christians in and from the Caribbean, in congregations and in missions-minded ministry teams or networks.)
The Grace Institute has a useful online survey course (complete with audio files of lectures) here. and presented by Ken Carson, being also generously licensed for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License.
The introductory session for the course, on where systematic theology fits into the facets of theology, is especially useful. For just one example, let us note how that lecture breaks down of the major topics in systematic theology, briefly defining some major terms we are likely to meet when we look at reference resources -- and let us add convenient links to Carson's PDF lecture notes:
- Theology Proper – The study of the character of [the triune] God.
- Bibliology – The study of the Bible.
- Christology – The study of Christ.
- Pneumatology – The study of the Holy Spirit.
- Soteriology – The study of salvation.
- Anthropology – The study of the nature of humanity.
- Angelology – The study of angels. [NB: Link goes to Herrick at Bible.org.]
- Ecclesiology – The study of the church.
- Eschatology – The study of the end times.
The above are useful at a "101" introductory level, the general target level for this course.
Sometimes, though, we will need to call up heavy artillery support.
When that happens, it is wise to first turn to classic works of Systematic Theology for use as points of reference. This is especially so since over the past 200 or so years -- and painful though it is to have to put it so bluntly -- there has been a great apostasy in theology. For instance, it is not that uncommon to meet top flight professional theologians who are what used to be called "skeptics," or even full-bore agnostics or atheists. (Cf. Eta Linneman's remarks in the just linked, as a theologian who used to be like that.) So, classic materials from before that apostasy took an increasingly big bite out of professional theology over the past 100 - 150 years will be especially valuable for Bible-believing students.
The following will therefore be helpful beginning-points for "heavy artillery" research:
It is useful to classify these based on major movements of the church across time, and to also note the list of such works by movements at Theology Gateway:
Classic Catholic: Aquinas' Summa Theologica (though incomplete due to the death of the Angelic Doctor) is a classic, massive reference. (CCEL PDF, 4,630 pp. 17.66 MB) Origin's De Principiis would be its remote (and in some ways imperfect) ancestor. At less remove (but not a structured systematisation), so is Augustine's magnum opus, City of God. His Enchiridion -- Handbook of Faith, Hope and Love, c. 420, is a short, simple systematic survey written for an inquirer.
Roman Catholic: Post-Trent Catholicism is still the numerically dominant single Christian Denomination. The online Catholic Encyclopedia articles on the History of Dogmatic Theology and on Dogmatic Theology are well worth reading. Hunter's Outlines of Dogmatic Theology is in three volumes: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3. (The Baltimore Catechism No. 4, here, is also useful. Former Anglican, John Henry Cardinal Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine is a significant contribution, though structured as an historical survey rather than an explicit systematic theology. The Kelley Library Guide to theology resources will be very helpful for contemporary Catholic theology (and a significant number of protestant resources also).
[NB, 2: Protestant theology draws on the same deep roots in the NT, the wider Bible and patristic thought, but holds that across time various traditions and teachings began to obscure or even undercut core gospel truth. Accordingly, the key Protestant and Evangelical heart-cry is to go back to the roots and correct the problems that have arisen, restoring the core New Testament faith. (Cf. this pivotal incident in the history of Israel.)]
Orthodox/Catholic: John of Damascus, in his De Fide Orthodoxa, bridges the Eastern, Orthodox and Western, Roman ways of thinking on systematic theology. It is also noteworthy that this work was written under the shadow of Islam, by a man who came from a Syrian, Christian Arab family and who served as a chief administrator to the Muslim caliph of Damascus (in the days when the bulk of the population under Islamic rule in the Middle East was still Christian).
Lutheran: Johann Wilhelm Baier's Compendium of Positive Theology (D Cox: eS, TW) is a classic early Lutheran summary. Compare Luther's Large Catechism. (Gutenberg page, various formats accessible in the download tab.) Philipp Melancthon's Loci Communes [starting with the 1521 edition (in Latin)] is the first distinctively protestant work of theology, and addresses many systematic themes. Also, cf. the 1530 Confession of Augsburg and Melancthon's Apology of the Augsburg Confession. Voight's Biblical Dogmatics is a 1917 short, relatively simple survey.
Anglican: Darwell Stone, Outlines of Christian Dogma.
Foundational Calvinist: Calvin's Institutes (PDF here) are a must-read, to understand the theological force that shaped so much of Europe's modern history. Calvin (even after all the controversies and concerns that can be raised) must be given his due. He was both a noted exegete -- his work decisively shaped the technical theological science of drawing out from the Scriptures in their original language, their meaning and application -- and a pivotal systematiser of Christian thought. (Arminius' works and the Remonstrances to the Synod of Dort written by his followers shortly after his death should be read as giving a foundational view of the other main protestant perspective that emerged.)
Reformed: Hodge's Systematic Theology (3 vols. plus index vol.), accessible through CCEL here with onward links for Vols. I, II and III is a classic in the Calvinist tradition, distilled through centuries of onward thought. (This is also available for eSWORD, through the eSWORD users group. Gutenberg has the volumes: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3.) This is a widely recognised summation of the line of Reformed thought that stemmed from Calvin, Knox and many others, which is still often used in Seminaries at least as a reference resource. (Oosterzee's The Theology of the New Testament, from the same general time, gives an early example of the contrasting Biblical Theology. Cf remarks here on one way to distinguish biblical, systematic, dogmatic and historical theology. What we may describe as "thematic theology,"" the "theology of X" where X = ethics, politics, culture, work, recreation, etc., is also significant.)
[NB, 3: Barth's Church Dogmatics -- a magnum opus developed from his course notes -- is a rather different culmination of Reformed thought, in light of the impact of the Modernist movement and the rise of Neo-Orthodoxy in Europe.]
[NB, 4: Grudem's Systematic Theology -- one would have to purchase separately or access through a library -- is a current major evangelical work, by a Pentecostal-rooted theologian (who is Calvinist).]
Baptist/Dispensationalist: Two classics: (1) Gill's Complete Body of Practical and Doctrinal Divinity, and (2) Augustus Strong's Systematic Theology. Two current possibilities (HT: Dr Dave Thomason) are: (a) Stanley Derickson -
Mr. D’s Notes On Theology( eS, TW) and (b) William Evans - Great Doctrines of The Bible (eS, TW)
Methodist/Arminian: Adam Clarke's Christian Theology is one of the first major Methodist Systematic Theology works; compiled from his writings, after his death. Project Gutenberg has a free 1835 text online here with several formats available for download. Also see Miley's Systematic theology in two vols: Volume 1, Volume 2 , and Terry's Biblical Dogmatics. (Methodism and the derivative holiness movement provide the theological and historical roots for Pentecostalism, and much of the Charismatic movement.)
Finney: Finney's Systematic Theology (PDF, eS, TW) is often insightful, but is widely viewed as marred by some somewhat unorthodox [cf. CCEL Note] peculiarities in Finney's thought and teaching. Finney's ministry and its legacy have shaped much of the revivalist stream of evangelical Christianity, in North America and globally.
Charismatic/ Pentecostal: John Williams has written Renewal Theology (1996), accessible online through Google Books, here. This is a work by a Presbyterian Charsmatic, comparable to Grudem's work. Kevin J. Conner's, 'The Foundations of Christian Doctrine' (Amazon, here) has been recommended to me as "[an] easy to read, wonderfully outlined and laid out, atlas size book . . . a very good basic work."
What is novel that is helpful is a certain broadening of perspectives, and a willingness to hear fresh insights from other sources.
The Theology Gateway is an excellent individual effort by Boyan Mack Michaylov of Bulgaria.
Bible Research is another similarly useful individual effort, focused on scripture and canon issues; by Michael Marlowe of Ohio USA. His reference page on the canon , this summary page on the canon, and his online edition of Frederick G Kenyon's The Story of the Bible, with a supplementary chapter by F F Bruce are particularly noteworthy.
REMARKS: These resources will be the assumed background for the work in the units to follow, so it will be helpful to go through the resources. After that download at least one of the two free e-Bible packages, and a good collection of reference materials to go with it. The Word will be the easier of the two to download resources for, and is the more flexible. Also, book-mark the online references in your browser, as these will be very handy links.