Systematic Theology - Volume I
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§ 3. The Speculative Method.

Speculation assumes, in an à priori manner, certain principles, and from them undertakes to determine what is and what must be. It decides on all truth, or determines on what is true from the laws of the mind, or from axioms involved in the constitution of the thinking principle within us. To this head must be referred all those systems which are founded on any à priori philosophical assumptions. There are three general forms in which this speculative method has been applied to theology.

Deistic and Rationalistic Form.

1. The first is that which rejects any other source of knowledge of divine things than what is found in nature and the constitution of the human mind. It assumes certain metaphysical and moral axioms, and from them evolves all the truths which it is willing to admit. To this class belong the Deistical and strictly Rationalistical writers of the past and present generations.

Dogmatic Form.

2. The second is the method adopted by those who admit a a supernatural divine revelation, and concede that such a revelation is contained in the Christian Scriptures, but who reduce all the doctrines thus revealed to the forms of some philosophical system. This was done by many of the fathers who endeavored to exalt πίστις into γνῶσις i.e., the faith of the common people into philosophy for the learned. This was also to a greater or less degree the method of the schoolmen, and finds an illustration even in the “Cur Deus Homo” of Anselm, the father of scholastic theology. In later times Wolf applied the philosophy of Leibnitz to the explanation and demonstration of the doctrines of revelation. He says, “Scripture serves as an aid to natural theology. It furnishes natural theology with propositions which ought to be demonstrated; consequently the philosopher is bound not to invent but to demonstrate.”11Theol. Nat. Prolegg. § 22; Frankf. and Leipz. 1736, vol. i. p. 22. This method is still in vogue. Men lay down certain principles, called axioms, or first truths of reason, and from them deduce the doctrines of religion by a course of argument as rigid and remorseless as that of Euclid. This is sometimes done to the entire overthrow of the doctrines of the Bible, and of the most intimate moral convictions not only of Christians but of the mass of mankind. Conscience is not allowed to mutter in the presence of the lordly understanding. It is in the spirit of the same method that the old scholastic doctrine of realism is made the basis of the Scriptural doctrines of original sin and redemption. To this method the somewhat ambiguous term Dogmatism has been applied, because it attempts to reconcile the doctrines of Scripture with reason, and to rest their authority on rational evidence. The result of this method has always been to transmute, as far as it succeeded, faith into knowledge, and to attain this end the teachings of the Bible have been indefinitely modified. Men are expected to believe, not on the authority of God, but on that of reason.


3. Thirdly, and preéminently, the modern Transcendentalists are addicted to the speculative method. In the wide sense of the word they are Rationalists, as they admit of no higher source of truth other Reason. But as they make reason to be something very different from what it is regarded as being by ordinary Rationalists, the two classes are practically very far apart. The Transcendentalists also differ essentially from the Dogmatists. The latter admit an external, supernatural, and authoritative revelation. They acknowledge that truths not discoverable by human reason are thereby made known. But they maintain that those doctrines when known may be shown to be true on the principles of reason. They undertake to give a demonstration independent of Scripture of the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, Redemption, as well as of the immortality of the soul and a future state of retribution. Transcendentalists admit of no authoritative revelation other than that which is found in man and in the historical development of the race. All truth is to be discovered and established by a process of thought. If it be conceded that the Bible contains truth, it is only so far as it coincides with the teachings of philosophy. The same concession is freely made concerning the writings of the heathen sages. The theology of Daub, for example, is nothing more than the philosophy of Schelling. That is, it teaches just what that philosophy teaches concerning God, man, sin, redemption, and the future state. Marheinecke and Strauss find Hegelianism in the Bible, and they therefore admit that so far the Bible teaches truth. Rosenkranz, a philosopher of the same school, says Christianity is the absolute religion, because its fundamental principle, namely, the oneness of God and man, is the fundamental principle of his philosophy. In his “Encyklopädie” (p. 3) he says: “The only religion which conforms to reason is Christianity, because it regards man as the form in which God has revealed himself. Its theology is therefore anthropology, and its anthropology is theology. The idea of (Gottmenschheit) the godhead of man, is the key of Christianity, in which as Lessing says, lies its rationality.”

These are the principal forms of the speculative method in its application to theology. These topics will present themselves for fuller consideration in a subsequent chapter.

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