Chapter A19, “Theology and System”
In this chapter Pieper asks whether theology is a “system.” This is a curious question since the discipline known to Pieper as “dogmatics” is more recently termed “systematics.” What is meant by “system”? If it is “an integrated, organized whole” it is a system. Biblical doctrine is a whole, both in source (called “formal principle”) and its implications or priorities (called “material principle”). Christian doctrine holds together as a whole, centered around justification by grace through faith in Christ. Denial of any part erodes the whole.
Pieper observes that the “modern” theologians use the term “system” to refer to a theology built on non-biblical speculation. This runs counter to traditional theology which draws doctrine from interpretation of particular Bible passages recognized as the “sedes doctrinae.” He reminds the reader that only the Bible is the source of doctrine, counter to modern theology which may be built on the conscience or experience. In this respect, modern theology attempts to pursue the discipline in the way an experimental scientist would, rather than someone in the related fields of history and literature. The very theologians who make claims for empirical studies reject the Scriptures, which serve as the source data for theology. Pieper points out that this same discussion happened at the time of Luther, who insisted on the Scripture as the source for all theology.
Finally, what of those who try to harmonize all the areas of biblical tension? They ultimately deny biblical doctrine as they must reject, for instance, the concept of the trinity or the unity of God. Pieper gives several examples of the implications of over-systematizing.