This summer, one of the things I’m reading is a baptist systematic theology by James McClendon, published in three volumes. What’s so interesting about this systematic is that it beings with a treatment of ethics. Most systematics begin either with a discussion of the task of theology, or with theology proper (the doctrine of God), or with a discussion of epistemology (how we can know anything about God). In fact, the systematics that I’ve surveyed (Grudem, Horton, Erickson, Calvin, Berkhof, and Frame, just now) don’t even include a section on ethics, though that is not to say they don’t treat it at all, just that they’ve not devoted a section to it as a sphere of systematic theology.
Realizing this reminded me of a debate we had in one of my doctrine classes last year. We were discussing which is better, to treat systematics in ontologically (beginning with who God is, and then how he reveals himself, and so on) or to treat it epistemologically (beginning with the doctrine of Scripture and natural revelation and moving on from there). McClendon, of course, opted for door number three in this debate, but this got me to thinking- are there more ways to approach systematics? What would be the benefit of these other approaches?
This may be boring to you, and I myself am not convinced of its importance, but I’d like to poll the four people who read my blog to find out what you think. So which is it? I’ve given four options, but feel free to write your own answer in. When we think about theology, where should we start? What’s home base? Doctrine of God, Doctrine of Scripture, Ethics, Doctrine of the Church, or something else?