I have observed that there are a couple of different possible approaches to building one’s theology. One approach is often taken by those who likely have the gift of teaching, those who love to really dig deep into the bible and study as much as they can about God. The bible is taken more as a text book, and is analyzed down to an atomic level. From there a belief structure is pieced together in a very logical way. The elements are woven together in a very precise manner, the way computer program or legal argument might be written. It is very technical and detail oriented; everything must be exactly determined and precisely placed in the framework. In the end, out of the laboratory, is created a systematic theology. Since it was created in the sterile environment of the lab, it must be (more or less) perfect. There remains then only to take the world around us, and fit it onto this systematic theology.
It is my experience that this is the approach of reformed theology (a.k.a. Calvinism). It is also my experience that this approach leads to some bizarre results (in my opinion at least). One of the problems I have with this is that it places belief, knowledge and understanding in a primary position. I don’t think the bible was meant to be taken in that way, so precisely (analyzing each word). Because the bible isn’t a precise text book, there are things which seem to be at odds and conflicting at times. Seeking a rigid structure causes one to have to elevate certain concepts and scriptures to being absolute, and then bend the others to fit them, again leading to some bizarre results. Some times this causes odd alternate explanations for that which could be explained more simply, with no different practical results. Which leads me to my last point: little of it seems to have practical value. After listening to a reformed teacher preach, I might respond with, “That’s very interesting, but what difference does it make?” Does it change how I live? Do I need to do something differently?