The Bible, of course, is not a systematic presentation of theological data. Rather, it is the record of God’s redemptive revelation. Or, to put it in another way, it is a record of redemptive history. It is the historical record of what God has done–his redemptive acts, and also of what he has said. In other words, we find in the Bible not only the mighty acts of God, but also his own interpretation of those acts. There is much emphasis today on the idea that revelation is event or act, and that propositions are not revelational. A study of the Bible itself reveals a combination of both.

Morton Smith, Systematic Theology: Volume 1 (Greenville, SC: Greenville Seminary Press, 1994), 39.

The Scriptures are not laid down in a systematical form, though some of Paul’s epistles come near to it. Such a form would neither comport with the majesty of God their author, nor with the weak capacities of some men.—It would not shut up men to a diligent comparison of Scripture texts. It would not admit of such delightfully diversified connections of divine truths, nor represent them so suitably to the diversified conditions of men; nor could they be so usefully illustrated with a variety of historical facts.

The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2002), p 58. Originally published as A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion.

It is encouraging to see in this older author, this Scottish divine of the 18th century, that he was untroubled by the fact that the Bible was not written as a doctrinal handbook. What is more striking is how he was spurred on by it. If I could take one thing from this quote it’s how John Brown felt compelled to search the Scriptures by the fact that it is a collection of different writings, by different authors, in different genres. In fact, he found the diverse form of Scripture an encouragement to the enterprise of systematic theology.

Note also the spirit different from what one sometimes finds today. Too often I have heard the diversity of Scriptural writings put forward as an excuse for claiming contradiction and clouded obscurity for the Biblical message. Never mind that often proponents of Biblical obscurity (as opposed to perspicuity) need some confusion to cover for their unsound doctrines. No facile justifications for sloppy doctrinal formulations here!

John Brown, in contrast to modern evasions, strikes a balance. He points to the near systematical form of some of Paul’s letters. Doubtless Romans comes to mind as it has impressed Bible students through the centuries with it’s sustained thinking through glorious and awe-inspiring themes. May this meditation on the diversity of Scripture lead you to treasure the Bible more and more.

By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of SalvationBy Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation by Richard B. Gaffin Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gaffin has produced a fine study of Paul’s thought, showing how the tensions between the already/the not-yet and this-age/the-age-to-come are integral to Paul’s teaching on salvation. By unpacking texts such as II Corinthians 4:16 and Colossians 3:1-4, Gaffin explains how sanctification and justification come into their full Biblical light when seen in what Christ has done and what He will do for us, even until He comes again. Basically, Gaffin brings out the significance of Christ’s resurrection for justification and sanctification, brilliantly holding historia salutis and ordo salutis together. The integration of systematic theology and biblical studies set out in By Faith, Not by Sight is not only impressive in itself. It is a model for how to benefit from two disciplines in concert that are often pitted against each other. Probably no part of the book better illustrates this than the forth chapter, in which Gaffin makes a stunning proposal regarding the difficult issue of the relation of justification by faith and the judgement according to works at the Last Day. Gaffin guides the reader through the shoals with wisdom, boldly taking on the matter of a future aspect of justification without foundering on a legalistic recasting of individual justification. Excellent!

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