THE TRUE METHOD IN THEOLOGICAL SCIENCE.
Thkee are a few topics that require to bo discussed preparatory to the investigation of the several divisions in theological science. Some writers bring them under the head of Prolegomena, and others under the general title of Introduction.
The principal of these introductory topics are: 1. The true method in theological science. 2. The plan, divisions, and subdivisions. 3. The nature and definition of theological science.
1. The true method of investigation in any science is natural. It coincides with the structure of the object. The method in anatomy is a good example. It follows the veins, if veins are the subject-matter; the muscles, if muscles are; the nerves, if nerves are. It does not cross and recross, but pursues a straight-onward course. The natural method, consequently, is marked by ease and freedom. There is no effort to force a way through. "He winds into his subject like a serpent," said Goldsmith of Burke's oratorical method.
The natural method necessitates a thorough knowledge of the nature and structure of the object. It is therefore generally the result of much study, and perhaps of many attempts. The first investigator is not so likely to strike upon the intrinsic constitution of a thing as the last one, because he has not the light of previous inquiries. Methods of investigation are continually undergoing correction and modification, and are thus brought closer to the organization of the object. Sometimes scientific genius hits by intuition immediately upon the method of nature. But such genius is rare. Ordinary talent must make many trials, and correct many errors of predecessors. The botanical method of Linnaeus, excellent as it is, has been modified by Le Jussieu and De Candolle. Goethe adopted the theory that all the parts of a plant are varieties of the leaf —a theory that had been suggested by Linnaeus himself, but rejected by that great naturalist. Oken, in physiology, advanced the view that all the parts of the skeleton are varieties of the vertebra. It is evident that the correctness of the methods of these investigators depends upon whether the view taken of the intrinsic nature and constitution of the plant or the skeleton is a correct one.
2. The true method of investigation is logical. Nature is always logical, because in nature one thing follows another according to a preconceived idea, and an established law. The inquirer, therefore, who perceives the natural structure and organization of an object will exhibit it in a logical order. Everything in the analysis will be sequacious, and the whole will be a true evolution.
Theological science, like others, presents some variety in its methods of investigation, though less than most sciences. In the Ancient, Mediaeval, and Reformation periods the method commonly adopted was the theological. The Trinity was the basis. Beginning with the divine existence and trinal nature, the investigator then discussed the acts and works of God in creation, providence, and redemption. This is the method of John of Damascus, the Greek theologian of the seventh century, in his "-E/eSco-i? Hitrrem; that of Lombard, Aquinas, and Bellarmin, in their elaborate systerns; that of Melauchthon, Calvin, and Tnrrettin, and of Lutheran and Calvinistic divines generally. The system sometimes followed the order of an accepted creed; that of Calvin, the Apostles' Creed; that of Ursinus, the Heidelberg Catechism. Calvin's Institutes are a fine example of the theological method. JNo system exceeds it in comprehensiveness, precision, lucidity, and literary elegance. For an analysis of it, see the general syllabus in the Presbyterian Board's edition, pp. 41-44.
During the present century another method has been adopted by some theologians, namely, the christological. God incarnate is made the basis of theological science, and the work of redemption controls the investigation. This is virtually Schleiermacher's method. He derives the material of theological science from the Christian consciousness; and this is shaped by the feeling of dependence: (a) as related to God generally; (J) as related to the fact of sin; (c) as related to grace and redemption. Under the last two heads, most of Schleiermacher's system is to be found. Rothe's method is essentially christological. Those of Hase and Thomasius are formally s0. Among English writers Chalmers employs the christological method. The American theologian, H. B. Smith, adopts it. Edwards's History of Redemption may be regarded as a system of theology of this class. See the preface to it by his son.
While this method is interesting because it makes sin and salvation the principal theme and brings Christ the Redeemer into the foreground, yet it is neither a natural nor a logical method. God incarnate is only a single person of the Godhead; redemption is only one of the works of God; and sin is an anomaly in the universe, not an original and necessary fact. The christological method, therefore, is fractional. It does not cover the whole ground. It is preferable to construct theological science upon the Trinity; to begin with the trinal nature and existence of the Godhead, and then come down to his . acts in incarnation and redemption. It is not logical or natural to build a science upon one of its divisions. Christology is a division in theology.
The true method of investigation in theological science being structural, the divisions in it will be suggested by the principal objects themselves. In theology the investigator has to do with God, Man, and the God-man. These are the beings who are concerned, and to whom the various topics refer. Theological themes relate sometimes to the divine being, sometimes to the human being, and sometimes to the divine-human. They bring to view sometimes the works and ways of the creator, sometimes the works and ways of the creature, and sometimes the works and ways of the redeemer.
In this threefold series man stands for the creature generally, including angels and the material world. Man is the head of the material creation, and a representative of the world of finite spirits. Angels and the material universe are neither God nor the God-man, and belong under the category of the finite and created, which man may veiy well stand for.
Besides the divisions and subdivisions which spring out of God, man, and the God-man, there are some that relate to the Scriptures, and come under the general head of Bibliology. Whether these should be discussed in connection with dogmatic theology is somewhat disputed. The Bible, as the source of man's knowledge of God, man, and the God-man, does not, strictly speaking, constitute one of the objects of theological investigation, and some, consequently, would separate bibliology entirely from theology. Since bibliology is concerned with demonstrating that the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures are the inspired word of God, leaving their contents to be explained by exegetical and dogmatic theology, it is contended that it should not constitute a division in theological science.
While there is some truth in this, it must be remembered that it is impossible to demonstrate the inspiration of the Bible, without proving that its teachings are in harmony with the true idea of God, and present rational and credible views of his works and ways. Bibliology, consequently, cannot be wholly severed from theology and investigated separately and in isolation from it, like mathematics or physics. It is organically connected with the several divisions of theological science, and in some of its parts, certainly, is best discussed in connection with them.1
We shall, therefore, regard Bibliology as an introductory division in a complete theological system. At the same time it is obvious that as such an introductory division, the topics belonging to it cannot be discussed in much detail. The examination of the several books of the Old and New Testaments, for example, for the purpose of demonstrating their canonicity or their authenticity, can be made only in the briefest manner. The bibliological topics that require most discussion by the dogmatic theologian are Revelation and Inspiration.
'Systems of theology since the Reformation generally include it. It is found in those of Calvin, Turrettin, De Moor-Marck, Gerhard, Chemnitz, Quenstedt, Hutter, Hollaz, Buddeus, Dttderlein, Baier, Bretschneider, Knapp, Ebrard, Schleiermacher, Twcsten, Watscn, Hill, Hodge, at alia.