Systematic Theology grounded in Holy Scripture and understood in the light of the Church

Douglas F. Kelly is an American theologian. He was brought up in the Presbyterian Church in the United States (the old Southern Presbyterian Church. When the Presbyterian Church in America in 1975 was formed, he joined this denomination. The invading of liberalism in the Southern Presby-terian Church, of which the acceptation of women in office was one the symptoms, was the reason of the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America. Concerned about the denominational semina-ries already in 1966 conservatives in the Southern Presbyterian Church had founded Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. During the years Reformed Theological Seminary opened campuses in several locations in the United States.

Kelly has served as a professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, first from 1981 at the Jackson campus, and since 1994 at the campus in Charlotte. He is professor emeritus now. He worked with David F. Wright at the University of Edinburgh as editor-in-chief of a new English translation Calvin’s Old Testament commentary. At this University he earned his Ph.D. degree.

Mentor, an imprint of Christian Focus Publications in Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland, is publishing a systematic theology written by Kelly. Until now two volumes of the three that are planned, have seen the light. Kelly gave his systematic theology the title Systematic Theology. Grounded in Holy Scripture and understood in the light of the Church. In the first volume the doctrine of God and especially of the Trinity is treated and in the second volume the doctrine of Christ. Having read this two volumes I eagerly await the third one on the Holy Spirit.

Kelly wants to be both a reformed and a catholic scholar believing with Warfield that in reformed theology the content of the Bible and the manifestation of Christianity finds its deepest expression. In the introduction of the first volume of his Systematic Theology Kelly explicitly quotes the saintly nineteenth century Scottish scholar John Duncan: ‘I am first a Christian, next a Catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a Paedobaptist, and fifth a Presbyterian and I cannot reverse this order.’

The procedure which Kelly follows in his Systematic Theology is entirely sound. The Scripture is his basis and final authority. But just as was the case with the Reformers sola scriptura does not mean for him nuda scriptura  as it did for the anabaptist radicals. The Reformers accepting the Scripture as the primary and final standard wanted to read the Scripture with the church of all ages and this is the approach of Kelly. Kelly delves through a treasure trove of Patristics, Scholastics, Reformers, Puritans, and Moderns to recover an Augustinian reverence for the glory of the triune God and the beauty of Christ.

Reading the two published volumes of his Systematic Theology you will sends and feel that they are the fruit of decades of research, thought and teaching. Especially the second volume I was struck by the depth of exegetical insight. We see here that systematic theology is done based on careful exegesis and the Systematic Theology of Kelly has a strong what we now use to call in the theology as a discipline a biblical theological character, In volume one I mention the appendix on the traditional Christian interpretation of the Old Testament theophanies as pre-incarnate appearances of Christ. In volume 2 I found the appendix and the genealogies of Christ very useful. In chapter 10 of volume we find an extensive treatment of the seven sayings of the Savior on the cross to get insight in what happened there.

I admire the catholic breadth and reformed depth of the Systematic Theology of Kelly. I have one critical remark. I cannot understand why he gave so many long supportive quotations of T.F. Torrance. For Torrance has another view on Scripture and its authority than Kelly. Torrance as an admirer and follower of Barth understands the atonement, and then not only in its extent, differently than Kelly. The supportive quotations can confuse readers or lead them to a wrong spiritual guide.

Kelly has an ease style. His desire is that we will be lead to the humble singing of Horatius Bonar’s hymn: ‘I came to Jesus, as I was, weary and sick and sad; I found in him a resting place, and he has made me glad.’

Douglas F. Kelly, Systematic Theology. Volume 1: Grounded in Holy Scripture and understood in the light of the Church. The God Who is: The Holy Trinity (Fearn: Mentor, 2008), hardcover 680 pp. ₤14,99 (ISBN 978-1845503864) and Systematic Theology. Volume 2. Grounded in Holy Scripture and understood in the light of the Church. The Beauty of Christ: A Trinitarian Vision (Fearn: Mentor, 2014), hardcover 586 pp. ₤14,99 (ISBN 9781781912935)

 

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