May 10, 2011
I’m currently reading two rather different systematic theologies: Douglas Kelly’s Systematic Theology, vol. 1, and Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith. Both men are well-respected theologians in the American evangelical-Reformed community. Kelly teaches at RTS in Charlotte and Horton at WSC.
I was already familiar with Horton and knew what to expect from his ST. If you’ve read his brilliant Covenant theology series, you know where Horton is coming from. Like Kevin Vanhoozer, Horton has read widely in the post-existentialist 20th century philosophy of narrative, community, and linguistic studies. Thus, references to Derrida, Ricoeur, Gadamer, and Lindbeck abound in his Covenant volumes. This scholarly interaction is still present in The Christian Faith though with less detail and less obtuse reflection, since it is intended for a larger audience. The critical appropriation of narrative remains. Yet, per his covenant theology, Horton critiques such narrative approaches as failing to preserve the Creator-creature distinction, particularly an interventionist model of divine agency. The category of covenant (and “redemptive history”) provides the drama and human participation, which Horton appreciates in postmodern thinking, without sacrificing God’s initiative/sovereignty in creation and salvation.
With Kelly, we are in a whole other world, but a world which I appreciate even more. There’s no narrative theology here. No Ricoeur or Lindbeck. I don’t know what Kelly thinks about post-structuralism or critical theory. Instead, he is basically picking-up where Barth and Torrance left off. There are several large quotations from Thomas Torrance in Kelly’s ST, as buttresses for his revelation-centered prolegomena. The first chapter is called, “God Reveals Himself,” and the proofs for the existence of God are relegated to an appendix at the end of the chapter. Kelly treats the arguments of Anselm, Scotus, and Aquinas with great appreciation — especially Aquinas — yet he believes (rightly) that such demonstrations are not necessary for the task of theology. I was pleasantly surprised with Kelly’s treatment of prolegomena (chapter 1) and epistemology (chapter 2). As a conservative and confessional Reformed theologian, I wasn’t expecting such a positive and well-balance appropriation of Barth and Torrance. Though, this shouldn’t be too surprising since he got his doctorate at Edinburgh, and I believe he even studied under Torrance.
Moreover, I greatly appreciate Kelly’s catholic sensibilities. He begins the book with some reflections on the catholic nature of the Reformed movement, as an extension and part of the larger catholic church. He quotes from The Manual of Church Doctrine according to the Church of Scotland where the ordination and baptism of the church of Rome is affirmed as valid (e.g., “the Reformed presbyter emerged from the Roman priesthood”). The catholic creeds are likewise affirmed. Kelly subtitled his systematic theology, “Grounded in Holy Scripture and understood in the light of the Church.” As such, Kelly liberally quotes early church fathers, and his treatment of the Trinity (most of the rest of the book) is especially strong.