The whole of Christian doctrine, 140 characters at a time

Form and mood

Before I went public on this idea, I had the first hundred or so tweets written in draft. I wanted to be sure I could do it before telling people I would…

I wrote the first fifty-odd draft tweets in a splurge, and then went back to them a couple of weeks later. I made minor adjustments to content, inevitably, but the thing that struck me the most was the mood of the posts. Reducing everything to one sentence had made the account of theology sound terse, austere even; there was no sense of joy or worship, which (for me) are realities that are inseparable from worthwhile theology.

Some adjustments and additions have at least lessened this problem, but it did make me think that the form I am adopting will inevitably affect the mood of the theology I propose. I don’t think this is a serious weakness: it will be true for every attempt to propose a theology, and by being very explicit about form I am at least bringing the issue to the foreground, where it has to be remembered.

How twystematics will work

Each tweet will be numbered to locate it in a broader structure. For example:

1.2 Knowledge of God inevitably leads to a transformed life. Theology may therefore be defined as the doctrine of living well before God.

The first number identifies the doctrinal locus (I’ll publish a list, but in the two examples here,  1 = ‘definition of theology’ & 2 = ‘doctrine of revelation’). Then I will give an orderly account of the doctrine in a series of numbered tweets, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, … Where a claim needs further unpacking, I will go to a third level – as in the example tweet below. At present, I do not plan to nest deeper than this.

The other structural device I intend to use is to sometimes encase an entire tweet in parentheses:

2.2.1 (Creatio ex nihilo means the causal system of creation is closed, so there can be no argument from created reality to truth about God.)

I will use this device to indicate that the tweet is a defence or explanation of the previous tweet.

My present guess is that the project will run to 500 tweets. That said, attempts to write an account of theology famously always grow and expand… I intend to tweet several times a day in the first week, just to get the thing going, and then settle down to one tweet/day. I reserve the right to change this, however.

When I have got a bunch of tweets that together form something of a unit, I will post them all in a blog post here, in the category ‘The Twystematics’. This will offer both an easy point of reference for anyone interested, and an opportunity for discussion, correction, denunciation, or other interaction.

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Why ‘twystematics’?

Why call this ‘twystematics’?

As reflected elsewhere, the form more nearly represents an older version of theological summary, which tended to be called a Summa or Institutes.

But ‘systematics’ is our modern term for the genre.

And ‘Twumma’ would have sounded really silly.

On theological styles

Having played with this idea, and begun the writing, I find myself feeling that, of all the summaries of Christian doctrine I know, I am coming closest in style to the Ramist-influenced Reformed scholastic theologies of the early seventeenth-century – perhaps particularly Ames’s Medulla. Ames (and with him Wollebius and others) adopted a terse, single sentence style, of course, and so this is probably an inevitable result of using Twitter. I also respect these theologians greatly, however.

A more discursive style – that of a Calvin or Barth – allows the use of rhetorical force, the ability to communicate mood or emotion as well as proposition. Barth and Calvin were alike masters at this, and not a little of the power of their theology comes from the rhetoric. In each case, however, there is an astonishingly clear logical presentation underlying the rhetorical appeal.

I’ve not made it a secret that I am concerned that contemporary theology is often rather too close to ‘mood music’ – conveying feeling without doing the hard logical work underneath. Adopting a form the forces me to say what I think without room for rhetorical flourish is, therefore, a discipline calculated to help me avoid (what I see to be) the most serious current pitfall in theology.


Welcome to twystematic theology, my attempt to tweet a complete compendium of Christian doctrine, 140 characters at a time.

Tweets will be copied to this site as they are posted; please feel free to comment, discuss, suggest improvements, or even offer a little encouragement from time to time.

The tabs at the top of the page will give you more information about the project, if you are interested.

Twystematics will begin on April 2, 2012.