Over the Christmas break I read this excellent article about the busting of categories on the web. The author makes the observation that some web searches (e.g., yahoo) retain the librarian’s mentality that every item has a “place” where it “belongs.” Other searches (e.g., google) have busted the categories wide open, allowing the user to determine the parameters of her search. In other words, information on the web has no “place” and thus categories are free form.
If categorical thinking is busted wide open on the web, what might be the implications for theology (at least when it is practiced on-line)?
One of the essentials of systematic theology as traditionally practiced is the loci-format. Loci are the topics or domains of Christian doctrine that one works through systematically. Courses in systematic theology are usually structured around these loci, as are the outline of theological texts.
But a perennial problem for this loci method is the placement of certain topics. I will give one significant example: where does the doctrine of predestination belong? Does it come at the beginning in the doctrine of God (where it has a tendency to control everything that follows)? Does it come with the doctrine of sin (where it becomes an explanation of a problem)? Does it belong somewhere in the doctrine of salvation (where it functions in a highly individualistic way)? Does it go at the end of the doctrine of salvation as an aspect of assurance (where Calvin puts it)? Does it go with ecclesiology (where it evades the difficult questions)? Wherever you put it, the doctrine of predestination will perform differently within your theology.
The googlization of categories leads me to ask: what if this doctrine does not have a “place” where it “belongs” at all? What if predestination is just a biblical theme that we talk about again and again in connection with all sorts of other doctrines? What if this is true for all the loci of theology – that they do not belong anywhere, but can be treated freely when needed? What would it mean to be “systematic” under these open conditions? Could one systematically integrate theological topics by means of hyperlink rather than an outline?
What are the dangers of this approach to categorization?
What are the benefits?
Any other implications to add?