Systematic Theology 1 - 77 Theological Terms

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a posteriori An assertion that is dependent on experience (revised)
a priori An assertion that is independent of experience  
Alexandrian school A Christian center of scholarship located in Alexandria (Egypt). This school understood the task of biblical interpretation as seeking out its literal, moral, and allegorical senses. Alexandrian theologians taught that, although the Bible was literally true, its correct interpretation lay in the moral or allegorical senses more than in the literal sense.  
Alexandrian school (people) Clement of Alexandria, Origen  
analogy of being (analogia entis) There is sufficient similarity between God and his creation (expecially humans) so that observation of the creation will yield a limited understanding of God's nature.  
annihilationism Belief that all the wicked will be judged by God and thrown into the lake of fire (Hell), where they will not suffer eternally a conscious existence but will cease to exist.  
anthropomorphism A figure of speech in which human physical characteristics are attributed to God for the sake of illustrating an important point. eg. God's face or arm  
antinomy The bringing together of two principles, statements or laws that, even though appearing to be contradictory to or in tension with one another, are both believed to be true. eg. absolute sovereignty of God and human free will  
Antiochene school This school practiced an approach to scriptural interpretation that emphasized the literal meaning of the text. Arose in Antioch in the 3rd to 5th centuries A.D.  
Antiochene school (people) Chrysostom, Theodor, Theodoret, Theophilus  
augustinianism Asserts that God predestines those who are enabled to repent and believe.  
augustinianism (people) Augustine  
baptismal regeneration The belief that water baptism effects the saving work of the Holy Spirit in washing away original sin.  
chalcedonian formula Formula confesses "one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only begotten, made know in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the difference of the natures being by no means removed because of the union." Ecumenical Council held in Chalcedon (A.D. 451) on the relationship between Christ's humanity and deity.  
circumincession The theological concept, also referred to as perichoresis, affirming that the divine essence is shared by each of the three persons of the Trinity in a manner that aviods blurring the distinctions among them. Circumincession also affirms that the actions of one of the persons of the Trinity is also fully the actions of the other two persons.  
consubstantiation Most closely associated with the Lutheran tradition. Martin Luther taught that the body and blood of the Lord is present “in, with and under” the actual bread and wine. This was in contrast to the Roman Catholic teaching of transubstantiation, which taught that the bread and wine were transformed into the real body and blood of Jesus upon their consecration by the presiding priest.  
coredemptrix In contemporary R.C. theology, the idea that Mary the mother of Jesus uniquely participated in the provision of redemption because she obediently became the mother of Christ in his incarnation and co-suffered in his passion by co-offering Christ to the Father as a redemptive sacrifice. Though they do not offer a status to Mary equal to Christ, yet they do suggest that redemption was accomplished by Christ with the free participation of Mary.  
creatio ex nihilo A Latin phrase literally meaning “creation out of nothing.” Augustine developed the argument that God created the world without any pre-existing materials. In contrast, most Greek philosophers understood the creative act as God’s ordering of eternally existing materials into the present world or universe. The value of this doctrine is that it maintains a clear distinction between God and the created order and also maintains that God alone has eternal status.  
demythologizing Coined by Rudolph Bultmann, it describes his approach to interpreting the Scriptures. He believed that the modern mind cannot accept the ancient world view of the Bible, which included belief in demons, heaven, hell, and miracles. Therefore, the task of interpretation is to identify the ancient “myths” (symbols) found in the text and replace them with modern equivalents.  
demythologizing (people) Rudolph Bultmann  
efficacious A term that describes the ability of something to fulfill the purpose for which it is made or given. In relation to God, we talk of God’s grace. It is efficacious as it is able to bring about the salvation in those to whom it is directed.  
empiricism A philosophical theory that assumes that all knowledge is gained through either internal experience (thoughts, emotions, etc.) or external experience (sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste). Empiricism was taken to its extreme by David Hume who stated that a person cannot really know if external things (objects) exist because all one can know for certain is one’s own experience of those things.  
empiricism (people) David Hume  
epistemology Philosophical inquiry into the nature, sources, limits, and methods of gaining knowledge. In Western philosophy, epistemology has generally followed two main alternatives: rationalism (knowledge is gained through the mind’s use of reason and logic) and empiricism (knowledge is gained through the gathering of information through the use of the inner and external sense).  
equivocal In semantics, the term is used to identify words that have more than one possible meaning. In contrast, a univocal word has only one possible meaning. In theology a term is said to be equivocal if it means something quite different when used of God than when referring to humans or something else in creation.  
analogy of faith (analogia fidei) A principle of interpretation that suggests that clearer passages of Scripture should be used to interpret more obscure or difficult passages.  
eucharist From Greek word eucharisto (I give thanks) (or Mass), a synonym for Lord’s Supper.  
evidentialism Attempts to give as much “evidence” as possible, drawn from history and experience, to substantiate facts of the Christian faith and to demonstrate its reasonableness in order to prepare a person for faith in Christ by removing obstacles to belief.  
Exegesis Literally “drawing meaning out of” a text.  
Eisegesis Literally “reading meaning into” a text.  
existentialism Any philosophical system that attempts to define what it means to be human in terms of “existence” (how does a human life?) rather than in terms of “essence” (What is a human?) Existentialists generally agree that there is no essence common to humankind but that persons are all uniquely defined by their free decisions and acts. Existentialists tend to elevate personal freedom and emphasize the need to “make” life meaningful rather than seeking to “find” the meaning of life.  
fiducia Literally, “trust.” In Latin fiducia refers to the nature of faith; that is, to exercise faith is to engage in trust or commitment.  
filioque A Latin term literally meaning “and the Son.” The Western (Latin) churches included this term to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (A.D. 381) in the 6th century. Originally the Creed stated that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, but the addition of filioque suggested that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father “and the Son.”  
The Five Ways The five rational arguments of Thomas Aquinas for the existence of God. (1)the argument from motion-God is the Unmoved Mover); (2)the cosmological arguments-God is the Uncaused Cause; (3)the argument from contingency-God is independent;(4)the argument from perfection-God is the perfect being); and (5)the teleological argument-God is the intelligent designer.  
The Five Ways (people) Thomas Aquinas  
foundationalism A term referring to any theory of knowledge that looks for a starting point or “foundation” on which to build knowledge. This foundation may take the form of an indisputable proposition(s) on which knowledge can be constructed through the use of logical reasoning from the first propositions.  
foundationalism (people) Historically, Rene Descartes, a foundationalist philosopher, began his whole system of knowledge based on his famous dictum cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). Schleiermacher sought to construct knowledge on the basis of some universal human experience.  
fundamentalism An early twentieth century reaction to liberal or modernist forms of Christianity who tended to reject the supernatural elements found in the Bible. Fundamentalists emphasized the historicity of the miraculous events recorded in Scripture, including the virgin birth, resurrection, and the second coming of Christ.  
glossolalia A compound Greek word meaning “to speak in tongues.”  
Heilsgeschichte (salvation history) A German term meaning “history of salvation.” Coined by Johann Bengal (1687-1752) the term was used to describe the nature of the Bible as an account of God’s working out salvation in human history. Proponents of this approach rejected the idea that the Bible is a collection of divine “proof texts” for constructing doctrine in favor of seeing it as the history of God’s redemptive plan.  
Heilsgeschichte (people) Coined by Johann Bengal, Notable recent proponents are Gerhard Von Rad, Oscar Cullman.  
homoiousios Greek terms used in the debate about the relationship of the Son to the Father. Homoousios literally means “of the same substance.” Athanasius, et al, argued that the Father and the Son are of one and the same substance/essence. Homoousios became the orthodox teaching.  
homoousios Greek terms used in the debate about the relationship of the Son to the Father. Homoiousios literally means “of similar substance,” Arians argued that the Son was only of similar substance but not identical to the Father.  
homoiousios (people) Athanasius (followers are Athanasians)  
homoousios (people) Arius (followers are Arians)  
iconoclasm Literally “destruction of images.” This controversy began in A.D. 725, when Emperor Leo III destroyed images (icons) of Jesus Christ, which was found in the worship places of some churches. He thought that such images were idolatrous and a hindrance to the conversion of the Jews and Muslims. This was one of the reasons that led to the schism between the Western (Roman Catholic) Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, who even today venerate icons of Christ and saints.  
impeccability A characteristic of God that He is unable to sin or being completely free from sin. Although this is true of the Trinity, it is often mentioned in relation to the earthly life of Christ. Although He was human, He was impeccable either because of His divine nature or because He resisted temptation.  
inclusivism Inclusivism suggests that God saves people only on the merits of Christ, though not all who are saved have consciously known of Jesus or heard the Gospel but are those who respond to the best of their knowledge to the revelation of God available to them.  
exclusivism Exclusivism holds that God saves only those who consciously respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  
pluralism Pluralism sees saving value in non-Christian religions.  
kenosis Taken from the Greek term in Phil. 2:7-11 “he emptied himself,” Kenosis refers to the self-emptying of Christ in which he chose to “lay aside” or not to exercise the prerogatives and powers that were His by virtue of His divine nature.  
Kerygma Literally “proclamation.” It refers to the proclamation and/or the basic content of the preached word, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ—His person and work as preached by the early church.  
locus classicus (Latin “classical passage”) A particular text, usually in Scripture, that is considered a primary place from which a doctrine or a biblical concept is derived.  
Magisterial Reformation A name given to the Lutheran, Zwinglian and Calvinist wings of the Protestant reformation. They were convinced that political power ought to be employed to advance the cause of ecclesiastical reform. In contrast, Radical Reformation was a term used for the Anabaptists, who acted apart from the support of political rulers.  
Marcionism A second century movement, led by Marcion, which rejected the OT and parts of the NT because of the belief that the God of the OT was incompatible with the loving God of the NT revealed through Jesus. He denied miracles and hence excluded portions of the NT where miracles are mentioned and created a bible of his own. Used today of people who pick and choose what they want to believe from the Bible. (revised)
Marcionism (people) Marcion  
Mariology Dogmatic affirmations of the Roman Catholic Church which include Mary’s immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, sinlessness, plenitude of grace, and bodily assumption into heaven.  
memorialism A view of the Lord’s supper associated with the teachings of H. Zwingli (1484-1531), which holds that the Supper is commemorative of Jesus Christ and that there is no “real presence” of Christ in any other than a symbolic sense.  
memorialism (people) Zwingli  
minjung theology (Korean, “people’s theology”) A theology developed by Korean Protestant theologians in which “minjung” is understood politically. Biblical, church history, and theological resources are interpreted from the perspective of the “people.” It relates the gospel to Asian struggles for liberation.  
Narrative Theology Using the concept of story and the human person as the story-teller to provide the central motif for theological reflection. These theologians claim that we construct our personal identity as our individual stories are joined with the transcendent story of the religious community and ultimately with the overarching narrative of salvation history. Proponents are Hans Frei, Gabriel Fackre, Stanley Hauerwas, et al.  
Narrative Theology (people) Proponents are Hans Frei, Gabriel Fackre, Stanley Hauerwas  
notitia Comes for the word noetic, meaning, relating to, based on, or having to do with the intellect or the process of knowing. In salvation, notitia is Latin for knowledge of, or acquaintance with, someone or something. Saving faith involves notitia or acquaintance with the gospel message, assensus or intellectual assent, and fiducia or faith/commitment.  
numinous Taken form the Latin word numen, German theologian Rudolph Otto first used it to describe the core of religious experience as an encounter with the presence of “the holy.” The numinous includes reason and morality and is “felt” and can be described but not strictly defined.  
numinous (people) Rudolph Otto  
oikonomia Greek for “economy” or “administration” (dispensation, KJV). In theology the term has become synonymous with the main events in God’s plan of salvation or providential plan and care (administration) of creation.  
ordo salutis Latin meaning “order of salvation.” Both Catholics and Reformed traditions believe that salvation comes only through Christ but they differ dramatically in the ordo salutis. In the Roman Catholic Church, grace is dispensed through the seven sacraments. In the Reformed tradition, the ordo salutis includes, effectual calling, regeneration, faith, justification, sanctification, and glorification.  
Paradigm shift A paradigm is a conscious or unconscious structure of thought, belief or action. A paradigm shift is a change within this structure that results in the ability to perceive and consider things differently and thus to respond in a radically new or different manner.  
paraenesis (Greek “moral instruction,” “exhortation”) Term describing biblical passages where ethical prescriptions about Christian life and behavior are given. eg. Rom. 12, 1 Pet. 2:1ff.  
Presuppositionalism It asserts that any system of beliefs is built on certain foundational presuppositions (unprovable assertions that must be believed to make experience meaningful). Therefore, presuppositionalists explore the foundational presuppositions of competing belief systems with the goal of showing that human experience makes (or has meaning) most clearly when viewed in the light of the foundational teachings of the Christian faith.  
Presuppositionalism (people) Cornelius Van Til  
prolepsis An eschatological outlook that treats a future act or development as presently existing or already accomplished. Example, Jesus resurrection is a prolepsis of the general resurrection that marks the end of the present age.  
relativism The theory that denies that humans can possess any objective, universally meaningful knowledge, or that there are any ultimate, unchanging metaphysical realities (God, persons, space, time, natural laws), or that there are any moral absolutes. Hence meaning and truth are relative to each culture and historical period or to each person, situation, relationship and outcome.  
sacerdotalism In the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic church emphasized on the powers of the earthly priests as essential mediators between God and man. Thus Sacerdotalism teaches that by virtue of ordination, priests have the gifting of the Spirit whereby they are able to transform mundane physical elements (water, bread and wine) into means of grace.  
The Seven Sacraments The sacraments recognized in the Roman Catholic tradition and in Eastern Orthodoxy: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, reconciliation (penance), anointing of the sick (extreme unction), marriage (matrimony), and holy orders (ordination).  
scholasticism (From Latin “place of learning”). The system and method of learning for philosophy and theology during the medieval period as developed in European university contexts. It relied on philosophical methods and the use of reason to make clear divisions and distinctions within a body of knowledge.  
Seelenabgrund (German “the ground of the soul”). In mystical theology, the concept of an innate spark of the divine within each individual. It is a point of contact for union with God.  
Semi-Pelagianism Assumes a middle ground between Pelagius and Augustine’s view. Semi–Pelagians hold that humans have been injured by sin, is spiritually sick and needs rescuing but retains some measure of freedom to turn to God (through works) apart from the prior work of the Holy Spirit.  
Senses of Scripture The various ways in which Scripture passages and verses may be understood. Traditionally these have been the literal or plain, allegorical or typological, tropological or moral, and anagogical or eschatological. The literal or plain sense has been recognized as primary.  
shibboleth (Heb. “a stream”). A code word used as a test by Jephthah to distinguish Gileadites from Ephraimites, who were unable to pronounce it correctly (Judg. 12:4ff.). Used to indicate a practice or custom distinctive to a certain religious faction. Also, any password.  
venial sin In Roman Catholic theology, a slight sin in the sense of being sin that does not rupture one’s relationship with God. It is in contrast to “mortal sin”. Venial sin is evil and inclines one away from God but is less severe in its effects than a mortal sin would be.  
sitz im Leben (German “setting in life”). A term used in biblical interpretation that seeks to ascertain the particular context or circumstances in which a certain passage originated.  
sublapsarianism Lapsarianism is a Calvinistic view of predestination that refers to the logical order of diving decrees. When the decree to elect is placed after creation and the Fall, it is considered sub- or infralapsarianism.  
supralapsarianism Lapsarianism is a Calvinistic view of predestination that refers to the logical order of diving decrees. When God decrees the election of some and the reprobation or damnation of some before creation and the fall, it is called supralapsarianism.  
Summa Theologica Latin for a “summary of theology.” Refers to the Systematic Theology of Thomas Aquinas.  
Summa Theologica (people) Thomas Aquinas  
syllogism (Greek syllogismos, “a reckoning together”). A form used in logical discourse by which if the first two of a set of three propositions are true, then logically, so is the third. The conclusion is drawn from the major and minor premises. It has been used in theological reasoning as well.  
syncretism The attempt to assimilate differing or opposite doctrines and practices, especially between philosophical and religious systems, resulting in a new system altogether in which the fundamental structure and tenets of each have been changed.  
theodicy A response to the problem of evil in the world that attempts logically, relevantly and consistently to defend God as simultaneously omnipotent, all-loving and just despite the reality of evil.  
traducianism Arising from the patristic era, and strong in Lutheran circles, this view is that the human soul is transmitted from parents to the child, rather than being created specifically for each human body by God ex nihilo. Roman Catholics and Reformed circles prefer creationism.  
trichotomism An understanding of human nature as divided into three parts: body, soul and spirit. They hold that the spirit, that part of the human being that is capable of knowing God, is to be differentiated from the soul, which is the seat of personality. Earliest proponent: Irenaeus.  
trichotomism (people) Irenaeus  
TULIP An acronym and memory tool for the traditional five points of Calvinism that emerged from the Synod of Dort (1618-19). The theological points are: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints.  
universalism Universalists affirm universal salvation and deny eternal punishment. Modern universalists reject the deity of Christ, believe that somehow all humans will be restored to God, and explore the “universal” bases of all religions.  
urgeschichte (German "prehistory"). A term from dialectical theology describing historical events that have a significance beyond themselves in that they are used as a means of God's self-revelation (e.g., the resurrection of Jesus Christ).  
Vatican I Papal infallibility dogmatized at this Roman Catholic council. (1869-70)  
Vatican II Roman Catholic council that dethroned the traditional Thomistic perspective in theology, casting the doctrines of revelation, Scripture, salvation, and the church in new frameworks, as well as enacting far-reaching reforms. (1962-65)  
votive (Lat. votum, "vow"). Originally referring to a private vow to honor God. In the Roman Catholic tradition it denotes doing something to honor God, a saint, or an aspect of the faith such as lighting votive candles, attending a votive Mass, or making a votive offering.  
waterbuffalo theology Term used by Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama (b. 1929) to indicate that the Christian faith must be conveyed in terms that are understandable in local cultures. The image of the waterbuffalo is significant for working persons in Asian cultures.  
waterbuffalo theology (people) Kosuke Koyama  
Wesleyan quadrilateral The four sources on which Wesleyan theology is often constructed and defended: Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience.  
Diet of Worms Meeting of the German Diet in the city of Worms (1521), in which Martin Luther (1483-1546) was confronted with his writings and ordered to denounce them. He responded: "Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me." Luther was declared an outlaw and hid for ten months in Wartburg castle.  
Diet of Worms (people) Martin Luther  

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