12 Maxims of Symphonic Theology

poythressChapter 7 of this book lists “Twelve Maxims of Symphonic Theology” (pp. 69–91):

Vern Sheridan Poythress. Symphonic Theology: The Validity of Multiple Perspectives in Theology Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987.

  1. Language is not transparent to the world.
  2. No term in the Bible is equal to a technical term of systematic theology.
  3. Technical terms in systematic theology can almost always be defined in more than one way. Every technical term is selective in the features it includes.
  4. Boundaries are fuzzy.
  5. No category or system of categories gives us ultimate reality.
  6. Different human writers of the Bible bring differing perspectives to bear on a given doctrine or event.
  7. The differences between biblical writings by different human authors are also divine differences.
  8. Any motif of the Bible can be used as the single organizing motif.
  9. We use different motifs not to relativize truth but to gain truth.
  10. We see what our tools enable us to see.
  11. Error is parasitic on the truth.
  12. In theological debates, we should preempt the other person’s strong points.


  1. Kris Lyle says

    It’s cool to me how several of these points are reflected in Cognitive Linguistics, which realizes (contra Aristotelian thinking) that categories, do in fact, represent fuzzy demarcations rather clear cut, crystal differences—sometimes manifesting in what Cognitive linguists call ‘family resemblances’ (e.g. I say “couch” and I guarantee you that you and I are thinking about two pretty similar objects, and not a “futon” or “fainting couch”, though these two be cousins to the more prototypical “couch”).

    This is obviously a truth which exists in many domains besides linguistics, so it’s always neat to see such truths appear in other realms of study.

    By the way, I especially appreciate #9. So often we sell ourselves short on understanding God because we try to tame the Spirit or catch the Wind and only wear one pair of glasses or explore only one hillside.

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