In this series of blog articles on Systematic Theology, we are going to start with a question: Why study Systematic Theology? Another good question at the beginning is: who should be studying Systematic Theology? I hope to answer these questions and more over the next several blog articles.
First, why should someone study Systematic Theology? Someone may say, “Before you answer the why question, should you not answer the what question? What is Systematic Theology?” This too is an intriguing question. Systematic Theology is simply an organized attempt at studying the truths of Christianity (Herman Bavinck, Prolegomna, p. 25). We can go into even more detail.
The teacher of theology must open the Scriptures with the science of hermeneutics and exegete the scriptures according to certain laws of interpretation. The same teacher of theology then must see how these same passages of scripture have been understood throughout the course of Church History. This science is called Historical Theology. When the teacher of theology considers both sciences of exegesis and history and synthesizes them into a series of insights or statements and applies them to the lives of Christians and the church today, then he has properly done Systematic Theology.
This is only the beginning for Systematic Theology. It also includes answering those who have disagreed with orthodox statements. This takes us into Apologetics which, properly understood, is in this endeavor of Systematic Theology. Then, we must have these doctrines applied to our lives which would cause to consider the science of Ethics. Systematic Theology. Much like the studies of Bible and History this is a never-ending study.
But we must get back to the question of: what is the study of Systematic Theology? We could simply describe it this way. It is the study of truths Christians must believe. Therefore, we rest our study of theology squarely upon the authority of Scripture and not church tradition. We, however, do not ignore 2,000 years of theological questions. We consider them because we are not the first to have read the Bible. Instead, every generation must take a fresh look at Scripture, interpret Scripture, and thusly, find that the truths confessed by the church for thousands of years now are indeed true. We are striving to combine the divine authority of Scripture with the Church’s confessional stances over the course of debate and dialogue into one cohesive, easy to understand system of thought. Scripture must come first in this process. The church’s traditional statements must subordinate to the Scriptures. The church’s confessions must not be ignored, though they are not equal in authority to the Scripture.
We must say, secondly, Systematic Theology is needed. This answers the why question. Paul says it several ways through the Scriptures. First, Paul informs us that God is a God of order which means His is not a God of disorder (1 Corinthians 14:33-40). God has revealed to us truth in His Word. This truth was given over the course of centuries through various authors and in ancient languages. The theologians must search out these truths and teach them in an ordered, easy-to-understand way. Paul goes on to say to Pastor Timothy that the task of the minister is to rightly divide the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15). This means taking all of Scripture and portioning it out for an easy, digestible teaching. This is done in various mediums. We should find theology in preaching, teaching, Bible studies, small groups, counseling sessions, and a whole host of other places. I trust you see we are starting to answer the question of “who” should be studying Systematic Theology- ministers. However, this is not limited to ministers.
Essentially, anyone who claims the name of Christ as their Lord and therefore, as their Savior is to then study Systematic Theology at some degree or level. They may not go to seminary or study it professionally. They may not even crack open a Systematic Theology textbook, but they have their Bibles and access to their pastors. Then, they can study Systematic Theology. Listening to Sermons every Sunday gives them access to Systematic Theology. Attending Bible Studies gives them access to Systematic Theology. Going through a devotional book (depending on the material) gives them access to Systematic Theology. When the Bible is opened and the truth of Scripture is considered, one cannot help but access Systematic Theology.
Someone may stop me at this moment and say, “I do not want to read or study theology. I just want to read my Bible and leave it there.” For those who argue this way, I have one question for them. Who is Jesus? Be careful, because the moment you begin to answer that question, you are potentially giving the truth of the Bible in an order or systematic answer. In other words, we cannot help but do Systematic Theology. Some are more aware of it than others. Some want to deny it when they end up doing it, nonetheless.
All we are striving to do with Systematic Theology is to take what we see in the Scriptures and organize them in an easy system of thought. When we are going through the Scriptures finding God’s truth there, which is there even if we don’t recognize it, we are essentially thinking God’s thoughts after Him. In order to do this, one must have the gift of faith. It takes faith to study Systematic Theology.