Colin Gunton provides some provocative thought on a ‘definition’ of systematic theology; he does so as he comments on the ‘thought-frame’ of the Patristic Irenaeus:

. . . It is here that we are well advised to take the more modest example of Irenaeus. According to Brunner’s magnificent characterisation of Irenaeus, to be a systematic theologian is ‘to perceive connections between truths, and to know which belongs to which’. On this account, then, systematic theology is any activity in which an attempt is made to articulate the Christian gospel or aspects of it with due respect to such dimensions as its coherence, universality and truth. ‘No other thinker was able to weld ideas together which others allowed to slip as he was able to do . . . ‘ That is the point. While not wishing to say everything every time, systematic theologians will have in mind the implications of what they are saying on one occasion for what they may want to say on others. Irenaeus’ theological unity was, we might say, a free and open unity; ‘he did not take any trouble to articulate into a theological system the sets of ideas which were connected in their own groups; this cannot have been in the least accidental’. . . . (Colin E. Gunton, “Theology Through The Theologians,” 8 )

Apparently to force ideas, theological or otherwise, into a ‘totalizing system’ is not a fruitful endeavor; instead we should allow things to stay in tension, at points. Do you agree?

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