Sarah Coakley defines Systematic Theology

One of the persistently high-performing posts here at DET is my rather hastily thrown together post, now over 5 years old (!), delineating several types of theology. “Systematic theology” is one of the “types” that I define there. Well, I’ve been reading through Sarah Coakley’s new book - God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’, which is to be the first volume of a more complete systematics – and she offers what I find to be a compelling definition (or, perhaps better, description) of systematic theology. I thought that I would share it. As usual, bold is mine and italics are original.

Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Cambridge, 2013), 41:
Systematics, in other words, does not convey the hubristic idea of a totalizing discourse that excludes debate, opposition, or riposte; but on the other hand, it does not falter at the necessary challenge of presenting the gospel afresh in all its ramifications – systematically unfolding the connections of the parts of the vision that is set before us.

In short, it is an integrated presentation of Christian truth, however perceived, that ‘system’ connotates here: wherever one choses to start has implications for the whole, and the parts must fit together. However briefly, or lengthily, it is explicated (and sometimes . . . the shorter versions have been at least as elegant, effective, and enduring as the longer ones), ‘systematic theology’ must attempt to provide a coherent, and alluring, vision of the Christian faith.



Anonymous said…
Can Christian theologians who are by self-definition and always dramatized action sinners, say anything really meaningful about God. Meaningful in the sense that ones carefully crafted sense of self is completely undone. Vanished!

"God" is an object in a universal language game. To pursue religious truth by the effort to create a whole theology is really to pursue or construct a circle of immunity about and around oneself.
For the "I" is the "God" of language. I create the universe of thought, and thus God is never more that one of many things within it.
By contrast God as Reality is the integrity of all things, even myself, prior to the thinking or theological mind.

The problem of true knowledge and Spiritual Truth is not theological or intellectual, linguistic or cultural. It is the problem of the Spirit, of the feeling-heart. There is nothing to be believed and no dogma to be attained or defended.

The task before us is not the ever more perfect rendering and invesitgation of ancient texts and matters of presumed report. This is a temptation based on the need for the illusion of certainty.

The pursuit of the literate answer, the always tentative mental solutions of our philosophy and theology, is uniquely responsible for the confusion and smallness, the self-involoved and anxious energy of Western life and religion. It is also why nothing ever really changes.

By contrast we must become open to what is available at the center of life and Consciousness, prior to the thinking mind. We must be liberated from our bondage to externals, of which the past is one very seductive and binding form.
Ah, the internet - where anyone can run off on a tangent and produce sweeping manifestos all under the cover of anonymity!

In any case, perhaps you should give the whole intellectual angle a try sometime since, after all, human beings are - among other things - thinking beings. Coakley is very good at bringing together logos and pneuma in a way that aims at the promotion of human flourishing in the love of God and in a way that destabilizes any claims to an "exact" or "perfect" theological articulation.

In any case, if the goal is to "become open to what is available at the center of life and Consciousness," it seems to me only sensible that we would consult past spiritual masters about their own process by the "investigation of ancient texts."
Leoncefalo said…
There is 'something' at least,to be
said of Anonymous' note concerning
making 'G-d' one more of our topics of conversation -through any medium.
Although Anonymous mentions the 'feeling-heart' of which G-d is truly
the very center,he/she does not even mention the language of the heart,which is first, the action of love,followed close behind by the word.If the language of the heart is love itself, there is a
clear action and word that defines it.Jesus clarifies these 'actions and words' in the New Testament better than any 'ancient texts' or writer since and,as for as any Christian can ever know, there is NO illusion about the certainty of these teachings.

I think our eloquent anonymous commenter is more word than action -a veritable pot and black kettle in the very same sentence.

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