Theology is the study of God. By definition, we expand it to a package of beliefs.
This means you can get your package of beliefs from different places. Studying the stars, looking at how people act with each other, the metal rock that fell out of the sky, or the situation you’re.
Sort of like the Biblical authors but much different.
They each have a package of beliefs, a theology, because of what God did in their own situation. Thing is, they didn’t know what God was doing. We as readers can look at what they believed and see differences: this is called Biblical theology.
Biblical Theology isn’t getting your theology from the Bible. It’s when we study the authors in the Bible and see the differences (or the progress) of their beliefs. For example: Moses’ understanding of God (unapproachable light) versus John’s (the light became flesh).
If we believe that (1) God can communicate, (2) that he has done so through other people and their situations in (3) the Bible, then we can employ Systematic Theology.
Systematic Theology is where we draw a package of beliefs and teachings from the Bible.
If you want to know what God says about sin, you collect every verse about sin to draw a systematic understanding of the topic. After collecting them, you see how they work together. Afterwards, show how it makes sense with other Christian beliefs. Then, you show how others understood it in the history of the Church. Finally, you show why we should believe it and how we should act in light of the belief.
It sounds similar to this other thing called Dogmatic Theology. Dogmatic Theology begins with what the Church should (must?) believe. The conclusion has already been historically established (for example the Trinity) but then it’s supported from the text, theological developments, and reason.
With Dogmatic Theology, you are really drawing the circle of what constitutes Christianity. So whereas Systematic Theology would go into ethics or this or that view of the millennium, Dogmatic Theology wouldn’t—or shouldn’t anyway—do that.
This is why we have other categories like Moral Theology. Moral Theology focuses on Christian ethics—what is the right thing to do and why. This category doesn’t only look back to history but it draws heavily from reason and from what is happening right now to be relevant.
In other words, Moral Theology is often grounded in this or that occurring situation, but unlike Biblical Theology, it isn’t part of the redemptive storyline: it’s based on what’s happening now.
People today never talk about the ethical concerns that come with exposing infants to the elements as a form of family planning because society doesn’t do that anymore—Christian ethics have impacted it to the point that that is no longer a practice of concern. Instead, we are in a different situation where ethics are applied to abortion.
Enter Situational Theology. This really isn’t something you’re going to find in a bookstore. It’s a theological understanding that is derived primarily from a person’s present situation. It might try to seek justification in Biblical Theology (Job was in such and such situation and learned this or that; therefore I can be in this situation and learn this or that) but in the end it is really perspectival. That’s just a big way of saying “based on your own point of view”.
This colors everything.
Here’s an example that I don’t agree with. I’m a designer by trade and that means that sometimes I might find myself working on advertising a product that I don’t support. But since God has given me this gift to use (based on 1 Cor. 7) and I have used it to design things for churches, then I am free to use it to design anything. I’m actually doing God’s work. My situation has dictated what I believe instead of my beliefs dictating what my situation should be.
Another variation of Situational Theology is Reactionary Theology. It’s when a person was in this or that situation (say Fundamentalism) and then forms a new theology primarily based on reaction to the previous situation. It’s still a Situational Theology but it is in response: the New Situation is the Right Place to Be.
I see both of these all the time and they’ve been gaining more prominence as our society gets increasingly pluralistic.
People today increasingly focus on information versus knowledge (why know when you can Google it?); on what we “know” (while simultaneously ignoring the limitations of our knowledge) versus what actually is; on the primacy (and papacy) of personal positions against the importance of established principles; on compartmentalization instead of cross content integration; pluralism versus tolerance; being liked equals being right; “real life” over against revelation.
I’m not sure how to fix this but we can do some practical things. We should read others in the best possible light (so we comment on what others say, not what we want them to say). We should allow interaction with our beliefs by those we disagree with (and not suppressing disagreement by claiming a right to any opinion, no matter how wrongly formed). We should acknowledge that things should be better.
My mind is fuzzy right now so forgive strange leaps of thinking.
One reply on “When Our Situations Trump God”
Thanks for this. I was hoping you would following our short chat session.
Yeah, Rey; I’m almost two months late to the party, but appreciate the topic.
I am a PB in New England looking for PB blogs and I stumbled onto this.
I had difficulty attempting to determine what was the seed thought of your blog and where had you hoped it would go?
When I started this I had two goals: to store my notes and to think about stuff through the Bible. The fact that I’m a Plymouth Brethren was only to stand out from the other folk who were talking in the internet when I started this in 2002.
So the point here is for me to wrestle with ideas. Work them out. Think through them with the Bible. Save them to think about later. And to share with anyone who wants to see and think through things too.
I sometimes preach this stuff. Other times it’s the backbone under my teaching. Ultimately it’s me working and you folk reading over my shoulders if you want to.
Originally I had hoped to be a repository of other people’s notes. Other people’s articles. That stopped being my focus because it was a full time job.