I just took a qualifying exam in systematic theology yesterday. You can click here to read the whole thing posted at The Writing of John Drury. In my first essay, I try to show why structure matters in theology by drawing on the work of Schleiermacher and Barth. I've been thinking about some objections one my raise to caring about structure. I hear these sorts of objections regularly. I thought it would be worth replying to a few of them here at drulogion, since I often bring up issues concerning the order of presentation in theology.
One could argue that consideration of structure is merely aesthetic. Now there is nothing wrong with aesthetics, but if structure is merely aesthetic then it would not matter materially. This sort of criticism could be especially leveled against Schleiermacher, for he makes explicit reference to aesthetic concerns in his Letters to Dr. Lucke on the Glaubenslehre. However, the impression that any ordering would result in the same material exposition is a false one. As we have seen in the case of Schleiermacher, the differences in the doctrine of God between Part I and Part II indicate that structure has material consequences. Since structural decisions set certain limits on what can and cannot be said, then such conditions are more than merely aesthetic; they are materially significant.
One could also argue that structural decisions are ultimately arbitrary. What really matters is one's material exposition of doctrine, and not how such expositions are organized. If organization still manages to condition the material, perhaps structure could be viewed as pernicious and systematic presentations of doctrine should be abandoned. Barth raised this very issue with reference to the motto methodus est arbitraria. What he means by this statement is not that one is free to organize one's thoughts according one's fancy, but rather that material doctrinal decisions are ultimately more important than the formal shape of dogmatics. This qualification, however, does not undermine the claim that structure matters. Rather, the primacy of one's material commitments should guide one's formal structure so that other material commitments are made possible by it rather than obstructed or obscured.
Finally, one could argue that a focus on structure ignores context. All this talk of systematic structure betrays an "ivory tower" approach to theology that is detached from the ecclesial and sociopolitical realities of one's time and place. Now it is certainly true that a sole consideration of structure might lead one to ignore context. However, such a disconnect between context and structural concerns is not necessary. First of all, one could attend to contextual factors without incorporating them structurally. This may be particularly advisable if one's work is spread over many years in which context inevitably changes. Secondly, one could find structural ways of incorporating context. Tillich's method of correlation would be one obvious instance of such an incorporation. Finally, there may in fact be contextual factors that give rise to structural decisions. Schleiermacher's architectonic draws heavily on his understanding of religious experience under the conditions of modernity. So, the theological significance of context does not undermine the fact that structure matters.
Does structure matter?
Are these adequate replies to the objections raised?
What other objections could be raised against the concern for structure?