In our increasingly polarized society, finding common ground can feel a bit overwhelming. Think about it: whether in politics, culture, or theology, the tendency is to hold tightly to one-sided views, very often dismissing opposing perspectives without a second thought. This environment breeds deep distrust and makes meaningful dialogue difficult, if not impossible. In walks dialectical theology.

What is Dialectical Theology?

Here’s an easy way to look at it: think of dialectical theology as a structured dialogue. Just as in any meaningful conversation, dialectical theology involves presenting various viewpoints, discussing their strengths and weaknesses, and striving for a deeper understanding. This method fosters a respectful and comprehensive examination of theological positions, allowing for an open and honest dialogue between differing viewpoints.

The term itself is rooted in the Greek word “dialegomai,” meaning “to converse” or “to engage in discussion.” Both “dialogue” and “dialectic” come from this root, emphasizing the importance of conversation and debate in discovering truth.

Addressing Concerns: Is This Just the Hegelian Dialectic?

Some may (understandably) worry that dialectical theology sounds too much like the Hegelian dialectic, which suggests that truth itself is dynamic and evolves through a process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. For those unfamiliar, the Hegelian dialectic, developed by the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, involves an initial idea (thesis), a conflicting idea (antithesis), and a resolution that reconciles the two (synthesis). This process implies that truth is not static but continually evolving.

This can be concerning because it seems to imply that theological truths change with culture. However, dialectical theology as we practice it in theology is not about changing or relativizing God’s timeless truth. Instead, it’s about recognizing the complexity of theological issues and the value of engaging with diverse perspectives to deepen our understanding.
Our approach to dialectical theology is grounded in the belief that God’s truth remains constant and unchanging. What varies is our human understanding and interpretation of that truth.

By examining different theological positions, acknowledging their strengths and weaknesses, and engaging in respectful dialogue, we aim to refine and enrich our comprehension of divine truths. This method encourages humility and openness, recognizing that while our understanding may grow and evolve and admitting we could be wrong (the reformation principle of semper reformada), the foundational truths of our faith remain steadfast.

Dialectical Theology in Church History

Dialectical reasoning has deep roots in church history. The great Augustine, for instance, engaged in extensive dialogues with various viewpoints. He was continually refining his theological insights. He even wrote about his recantations, having a dialectic between what he used to believe, but no longer does.

Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica” is prime example of dialectical theology that I have always appreciated. In it he systematically presented objections to his own positions before providing counterarguments. He did this all throughout one of the most extensive theological treatise ever produced. This method helped to clarify and strengthen theological understanding.

Contemporary Use by Evangelicals

Today, many evangelicals use dialectical theology to engage in meaningful theological discussions. In fact, one might say that modern evangelicalism (properly defined) lives or dies by its commitment to such an approach. This approach is employed by theologians and educators to disarm polarized debates and foster a more nuanced understanding of faith that steers clear of its more rigid predecessor, fundamentalism, but avoids the relitivizing pitfalls of its successors in progressive theology and liberalism. By presenting multiple perspectives, it creates an environment where believers can thoughtfully consider and respect differing viewpoints.

The Need for Dialectical Theology Today

The necessity of dialectical theology cannot be overstated. In a postmodern society where trust is beyond scarce and polarization is utterly rampant, presenting theology in a dialectical way helps to disarm a suspicious culture and build trust. In the area of theology, we do not automatically have an audience. As a matter fact, it’s quite the opposite. People simply don’t trust us. They pat us on the head and say “I’m glad you have your answers, but don’t act like you have the answers.”

This method encourages humility and openness, recognizing that no single perspective has a monopoly on truth. It’s not just a response to cultural trends but a fundamental way of learning that promotes unity and understanding within the church.

Dialectical theology does not present itself as a perfect, neatly wrapped package of answers. Instead, it acknowledges that while God’s truth is immutable and timeless, our understanding of it can and should evolve. This principle aligns with the Reformation’s Semper Reformanda—“always reforming.” The reformers held tightly to the idea that the church and its theology are continually being reformed and must continue to reform.

This approach recognizes our human frailty and brokenness in our quest to understand our God. While He is a mystery beyond full comprehension—ineffable—our theology, too, is in some sense ineffable. This means it always has room to grow closer to the truth of God. We can become more accurate in our understanding today than we were yesterday, but we will never achieve perfect knowledge, even in eternity. This ongoing process of refining our theological understanding is a humble acknowledgment of our limitations and a continual striving to align more closely with God’s revealed truth.

A Unified Yet Diverse Faith

Throughout its history, Christianity has been remarkably unified on core doctrines. It really has. However, on many issues, God, in His sovereignty, has allowed for a range of interpretations. Recognizing the legitimacy of different theological positions helps us to hold onto these issues more loosely and engage with others without dismissing their views as ignorant or heretical. Every position has its strengths and weaknesses, and engaging with them dialectically honors both God and the intellect He gave us.


Whether you’re Calvinist or Arminian, pre-millennial or post-millennial, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant, everyone has their reasons for believing what they do. and they are not bad reasons. At least they’re not completely unreasonable reasons. It is crucial to understand the arguments on all sides, not because we are trying to say that everyone is right, but because we are all striving for a more accurate understanding of truth. Engaging with different perspectives through dialectical theology helps us to better defend our positions and fosters unity within the church where it is needed.

Dialectical theology is essential not only for promoting unity but also for discerning necessary divisions. By learning from and engaging with diverse theological viewpoints, we can sustain the unity of the church when it is appropriate and create divisions when they are necessary in a way that honors God. This approach encourages humility, meekness, openness, and a deeper commitment to understanding and living out our faith. Embracing dialectical theology is hard. It sometimes hurts to study the good arguments of another position. Its easier to engage with strawmen (bad representation that are easy to knock down). This means committing to a respectful and comprehensive exploration of theological issues, ultimately leading us closer to the truth and strengthening our faith community and loving God more with our mind and will.

“Through Theology in a Year” Dialectically

As an aside, we are currently going through all of theology in one year using a dialectical method on Theology Unplugged. We have just started and are only on session 23, so it’s a perfect time to join in. You can find us by searching for “Theology Unplugged” on your favorite podcast platform or by visiting the “Credo House” channel on YouTube.

For the best experience and to stay updated, consider subscribing to our Patreon. Whether you choose to become a member or join for free, we would love to have you as part of our community. Click the link above to subscribe and be part of this enriching theological journey.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    9 replies to "What is Dialectical Theology and Why Should You Know About It?"

    • Ed Chapman

      This is wayyyyyy tooooooo complicated. This is what turns people off from Christianity. But philosophers will love it. Those who want their “I Love Me” walls filled with college certificates will love it. Those who love the “Dr.” before their name, with no stethoscope around their neck, will love it.

      L Ron Hubbard would love something that rhymes with Dianetics!

      About 23 years ago, a country singer wrote a song with the following in the lyrics:

      “I’m just a singer of simple songs
      I’m not a real political man
      I watch CNN
      But I’m not sure I can tell you
      The difference in Iraq and Iran
      But I know Jesus and I talk to God
      And I remember this from when I was young
      Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us
      And the greatest is love”

      Does anyone know what the acronym “KISS” means? That’s as simple as it gets. Childlike. Adults complicate things way too much.

      • C Michael Patton

        I love Alan Jackson!

      • C Michael Patton

        Hey, I write for everyone. But I do try… Wait, “I Try.” Another great Jackson song!

        • Ed Chapman

          Yes, I already know to tip my waitresses, you will be here all week! LOL.

          But I can’t get no…

          “I can’t get no satisfaction
          I can’t get no satisfaction
          ‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
          I can’t get no, I can’t get no”

          Something about moss on a rock!

      • Eric QUEK

        Ed, I appreciate your perspective and understand your call for simplicity in communicating our faith. Simplicity is valuable, especially when reaching a broad audience. However, engaging in more complex theological discussions is also ESSENTIAL. These deeper dialogues do not alienate but rather enrich our understanding and demonstrate that Christianity can engage rigorously with intellectual debates while remaining practical and relevant.

        Many people perceive Christians as relying on SIMPLISTIC faith or using God as a CRUTCH. This stereotype is harmful and does not reflect the true depth and richness of our faith. Engaging in rigorous intellectual debates can combat this stereotype by highlighting our historical and intellectual tradition. Deep thinkers like C.S. Lewis, and Francis Schaeffer have shown that faith and reason go hand in hand. Schaeffer’s “two-story house” concept emphasized the danger of relegating theology to irrelevance by separating it from other fields of knowledge. By integrating faith and reason, we demonstrate that theological truths are deeply connected to our understanding of the world.

        Engaging in intellectual debates does not mean being impractical. A robust theological understanding helps us address real-world issues such as ethics, social justice, and personal well-being. For example, the widely accepted theory of evolution in the secular world often poses challenges for Christians. Instead of avoiding this topic, we can engage with it dialectically and elenctically—dialectical theology involves structured dialogue to explore different viewpoints critically, and elenctic theology examines and refutes various perspectives to refine our understanding of truth—examining both its scientific basis and its theological implications. This approach allows us to explore how scientific discoveries can coexist with our faith, deepening our understanding of creation and humanity’s place in it.

        Respectful dialogue and unity are fostered when we engage with differing viewpoints, valuing truth and being open to learning and growing. This approach fosters mutual respect and understanding, essential for building bridges in our polarized society. The dialectical method encourages a comprehensive exploration of theological issues, promoting unity within the church.

        Francis Schaeffer’s concept of the “two-story house” illustrates the problem of dividing the physical and spiritual realms into separate, unrelated entities. This division results in theology being viewed as subjective and less important than empirical science. For example, secular society often accepts scientific advancements and theories such as evolution while relegating theological insights to personal, subjective beliefs. However, Schaeffer advocated for integrating faith and reason, showing that theological truths are deeply connected to our understanding of the world. This integration ensures that theology remains relevant and authoritative in addressing all aspects of human experience.

        Christianity is not an In-N-Out Burger, a quick, one-time experience that you grab and go. Rather, it is something to be integrated, learned, and practiced on a daily basis. This is why it is so beautiful when one sees it from this perspective. A faith that weaves into every aspect of our lives requires both simplicity and depth. It involves ongoing learning, growing, and engaging with the complexities of life and theology.

        Michael’s efforts to teach SEMINARY-LEVEL theology to laypeople akin to teaching medicine to laypeople –are essential for bridging the gap between academic theology and everyday faith. Educating laypeople in theology empowers them to engage more deeply with their faith, equipping them to navigate doubts and challenges with confidence. By demonstrating that Christians can and do engage in rigorous intellectual debates, Michael helps COMBAT the stereotype of Christians as SIMPLETONS. This approach showcases the rich intellectual tradition within Christianity. In a society characterized by distrust and skepticism, presenting theology in a dialectical and elenctic way builds trust, showing that we are open to dialogue and committed to seeking truth. Balancing simplicity with intellectual depth ensures that our faith is both relatable and robust.

        We invite you to join us on Patreon, where you can support and engage with our ongoing efforts to integrate and communicate these profound theological concepts. As a patron, you will have access to exclusive content, discussions, and resources that will help you grow in your understanding and practice of faith. Together, we can explore what Schaeffer meant by integrating the two-story house, ensuring that our faith remains deeply connected to all aspects of life.

        While your call for simplicity is important, it is crucial to recognize the value of engaging in rigorous intellectual debates. Michael’s approach to dialectical and elenctic theology is essential for fostering a deeper, more resilient faith that can engage with contemporary challenges. By balancing simplicity with depth, we can combat stereotypes, demonstrate the relevance of theology, and show that faith is both intellectually rigorous and practically relevant. This integration honors God and enriches our understanding, ensuring that theology remains a vital part of our lives. Christianity is a lifelong journey of learning and practice, a beautiful and profound integration of faith and reason that enriches our daily lives.

        • Ed Chapman


          Look, it is SIMPLE. As once was said in a movie called Fletch, it’s all ball bearings these days!

          There was a promise made to Abraham
          1. Promised Land
          2. Promised Seed

          And THAT is what everything of our faith is based on.

          And our journey is based on that promise. Sin gets in the way of that promise. But Abraham was considered righteous just by believing, therefore, sin had no bearing on him receiving the promise. There was no Law of Moses getting in the way of his righteousness.

          And we are the same as Abraham, because of Jesus. Gentiles were never under the law. Jews were.

          Romans 5:13
          13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

          Romans 4:15
          Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

          Abraham slept with his sister, and incest is a sin under the law. But God gave brother/sister a promised inbred Isaac. When did Abraham know his sin? He didn’t. See 1 John 3:4 and Romans 3:20, and Romans 7:7-9

          Now, regarding the Jews under the law:

          Deuteronomy 6:25
          And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded us.

          But to Abraham:

          Romans 4:3
          For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

          and to us, just like Abraham:

          Romans 3:21
          But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

          The law was a setup to fail, as Romans 5:20 states.

          Now, regarding the Jews vs. Gentiles:
          Deu 29:4/Romans 11:8 contrasted with Romans 15:21

          We know God is not a respector of persons, right? Then I present you with, the Apostle Paul:

          1 Timothy 1:13
          Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

          Did Paul seek out Jesus, or did Jesus seek out Paul? And is Paul any different than any other Jew?

          Romans 11:32
          For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

          Now, regarding our faith…faith in WHAT, exactly? Go back to Abraham. Promised land is HEAVEN, through the promised seed, Jesus.

          And if you believe that, you walk the talk (James 2), just like Abraham did.

          How do you interpret the promised land being heaven? Simple. Type/Shadow.

          There are way too many Expository Preachers out there that can’t see type/shadows unless it explicitely so states. But LAW (TORAH) AND THE PROPHETS are full of them.

          Let me give an example. How many times have you heard a sermon on Jonah? What’s the story? Jonah was a bad man because he didn’t want to go to Nineveh! Moral of the story? Be obedient!

          That’s not the purpose of Jonah in the Bible of THE PROPHETS at all. Prophesy about Jesus is the SOLE PURPOSE, even when there isn’t a “THUS SAITH THE LORD” involved. Jonah chapter 2 is all about Jesus, in his death, and resurrection. It’s all about Jesus.

          However, the Jews WIN in the end. It was God that blinded them from the git go in Deu 29:4. And since it is NOT THEIR FAULT, they get MERCY, hence Romans 9-11. They are USED by God…and so was the Pharaoh, as a prop, to tell a BIGGER story about Satan and God. The Pharaoh was used for destruction in THIS LIFE, but gets mercy in the end, due to being used.

          The Jews, likewise, get mercy in the end. The story of Joseph and his brothers should tell you that. Type/Shadow. Jesus is played by Joseph, and the Jews are played by Joseph’s brothers. What they meant for evil, God meant for good, to save many.

          I think that leaning on people like CS Lewis is, in and of itself, a crutch. I remember Jesus asking someone “What do YOU think?” Some would probably go to Nicodemus to ask him what he thought. But Jesus put Nicodemus in his place.

          Do you really trust the CHURCH FATHERS? If so, why are you a protestant? If you belive in “Original Sin”, why do you believe in it? Because some church father taught it? Wow, church fathers taught a lot of things that turned out to be false doctrines.

          The Bible is written in a way that is not comprehensible to philosophers.

        • Ed Chapman


          An addendum to my last:

          Romans 13:
          8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

          9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

          10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

          NOTE: The words in verse 9, “AND IF THERE BE ANY OTHER COMMANDMENT”

          Jesus dwindled the 613 commandments down to ONE. Loving your neighbor as yourself is PROOF that you love God, according to John’s epistles, hence the TWO commandments.

        • Ed Chapman


          You had said:
          “Francis Schaeffer’s concept of the “two-story house” illustrates the problem of dividing the physical and spiritual realms into separate, unrelated entities.”

          I would indeed say to keep earthly things earthly, and spiritual things spiritual in matters of philosophy.

          2 Corinthians 4:18
          While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

          If the secular side wants to think that their ancestors are monkeys, let them think that. But my Bible states that we are CREATED in the image of God. I’ve known Christians, and I do think Jimmy Carter was one of those who have no problem MIXING evolution with creation. I think that is STUPID to even consider the idea.

          So some Christians believe in Global Warming…or is it climate change? They keep moving the goal post, so I don’t know what they are calling it anymore.

          Genesis 8:22
          While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

          So the question is, is the earth still remaining TO THIS DAY?

          And ain’t it all gonna burn in the end anyway? Something about FERVENT HEAT? Or is that just all imaginary allegorical fairy tales?

          Social justice, huh? What “injustices” are you seeing that our COURT SYSTEM can’t handle? Do you know what I’m seeing these days in church’s? I’m seeing RAINBOW PRIDE FLAGS in front of church’s. I drove by a LUTHERAN church that had this just yesterday. What are we doing allowing that? Signs that read, “LOVE IS LOVE”, and you want social justice? You want to take a knee for that? I learned what pronouns were back in the early 70’s in the 3rd Grade. But you are willing to go the mile to fight for social justice?

          1 John 2:15
          Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

          1 John 3:1
          Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.

          Just because God created EVERYONE, does that mean that everyone is a child of God?

          Matthew 6:19
          Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

          Matthew 6:20
          But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

          Romans 8:6
          For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

          1 Corinthians 2:13
          Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

          I think we can indeed keep earthly things earthly, and spiritual things spiritual, and not mix the two.

        • Ed Chapman


          Besides, we have King Solomon in Ecclesiastes tells us that this life is VANITY! If you read all of Ecclesiastes, it can all be summed up in the following:

          Life sucks, then ya die. Life is not fair, so eat, drink, and be merry! The good guys lose, and bad guys get away with evil. You spend your life building things that will be inherited by those who didn’t build them, etc., etc.

          All vanity.

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