Sunday, July 18, 2010

Waffle House Systems

My friend and advisor is know for describing what some systematic theologians do with a Waffle House analogy. If you have ever been to a Waffle House restaurant and have ever observed the waffle making process, you might have noticed that while the waffle is cooking some dough tends to spill out and down the sides of the waffle iron. This renegade dough cooks just like the rest and I am sure that it is as tasty as the rest, but just before the waffle is removed from the iron the expert waffle maker takes a knife and cuts this unsightly waffle dough so as to produce a perfectly round waffle. Often, theologians, as they try to produce a perfect system, also take their knife and cut the renegade information that does not quite fit their system. This information is ignored, downplayed, or re-interpreted.

I am currently pursuing a Ph. D. in Systematic Theology at SWBTS (with a minor Baptist and Free church studies). Because of how the program is set up at SWBTS, last year I took reading seminars in systematic theology. During my readings I was often frustrated by how philosophical based and not Scriptural based systematic theology can be (I guess that I am a Biblical theologian at heart, not a systematic theologian). But, what frustrated me the most is that, for some people, their system became more important than Scripture itself. To be fair, when one puts anything in any kind of a system, there are bound to be some pieces that do not fit perfectly, but this is a flaw of the system, not of the raw information.

So here is my challenge: let us commit to not allow systems to define our theology. Let us commit to only allow Scripture to define our theology. Let us not pull out our theological knife and trim what does not fit. Let us make sure that we do not ignore, downplay, or re-interpret anything that does not fit our theology. Instead let us be challenged by what does not fit. Will you join me? Be forewarned, it's harder than you think ...


Wes Widner said...

I like your system, I think I'll subscribe to it ;-)

On a serious note. I don't think anyone would object to this sentiment. In fact most systems I've encountered would claim to be "Scripture driven".

So the real question is; How do we know when we've gone off the reservation and have allowed our theological systems to define our theology as opposed to the text? What are some objective warning signs we can all (irrespective of theological preference) use?

Aussie John said...


Perfect analogy! One of the main reasons I resigned from the last church in which we ministered. I had been troubled by these matters for a few years, and had come to realize the impossibility of leaving those edges on without tipping the ship over.

Maël said...

Good question, Wes. I'm not sure. I guess that finding ourselves dismissing some passages, because they do not support our system, would be the first warning sign. Scripture often seems to present us with a balance that we need to maintain between two seemingly opposing concepts (i.e. free will / predestination, just to mention a famous one ... but there are many others). Do we embrace those tensions, or do we work hard to dismiss them? That would be another warning sign. What are your thoughts?

Aussie John: sorry to hear that.

Wes Widner said...

I agree that glossing over and summarialy dismissing or diminishing a passage simply because it stands at odds with our preferred theological system is a clear and early warning sign that we are allowing our system to drive our theology rather than SCripture.

However I still think a system serves a purpose for helping us to connect what we've learned in a coherent and cohesive manner so that we don't end up inadvertently contradicting ourselves later and so that we can have a stable platform on which to build further.

Now the key question in my mind is how to further tell whether we have structural rot in our platform...

John S Wilson III said...

excellent advice!

Maël said...


I agree that a system can serve a purpose. I remember how much I appreciated my first systematic theology class: it helped me take all the pieces of the puzzle and put them together. But, as we both agree, there can be too much of a good thing.

I'm not sure I have answers ... my intent at this point is just to raise a warning flag.


Thanks ... now we all need to apply it to our lives: that is the challenge!

Alan Knox said...

Yeah, but if we scrape off the edges then our system will look like other Christian systems. Then, how will we be able to tell one another apart? How will we know who to fellowship with?

(By the way, the Alps are extraordinary from the air... and Ethiopians eat spaghetti for breakfast... with a fork.)


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