Welcome back to the Systematic Theology series!
Now that we have considered in these articles the two disciplines of Biblical Studies and Historical Studies, we are ready to come to the subject at hand, namely Doctrinal Studies. This blog series is an introduction to theology. It is only when someone can read and interpret the Bible with the adjacent and proper understanding from History (the communion of the saints) that they are able then to properly participate in the discipline of Doctrinal Studies. This discipline takes exegetical insight as well as a knowledge of the church’s debates and doctrinal statements. This discipline is also broken down into five subjects: Prolegomena, Apologetics, the Loci, Ethics, and what we can call Public Theology.
First, Prolegomena may be a foreign term to some, but we have all considered it at some point in our lives. Prolegomena is broken down into two parts or two questions: what is theology and what is revelation? It is when answering the first question we consider such things as our understanding of knowledge, our understanding of science, studying theology as a science, and why we must use certain “theological terms.” Other areas to consider at this point would be the overall theological encyclopedia, which is why we are doing these articles, and some history of philosophy. In the second part or in answer the second question, we begin to dive into the content of theology, namely God’s Holy Word, but first we must define carefully what revelation is. Here we consider such things as natural and supernatural aspects of revelation, the distinction between general and special revelation, the various modes of revelation, and finally, the doctrine of Special Revelation.
When we consider the doctrine of Special Revelation, we take up the fact that God has given to us or spoken to us through His Word Inscripturated- the Holy Bible. This takes us through the attributes of Scripture such as Authoritative, Necessary, Clear, and True. When we consider the Attribute of the Veracity of Scripture, we are led into the discussion of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. Completing this study will help one prepare for the rest of their theological studies.
Second, Apologetics is also broken down into two aspects. First, there is the basic introduction to apologetics. Along with a historical overview of apologetics, there is the overview of epistemology, which is the study of how we know what we know. It is at this moment and reflection of certain biblical passages that the student will learn that the best method for defending the faith is not by denying God’s existence in order to prove He exists or taking the position of the atheists in order to try and convince the atheist that God exists. Instead, it is proving the impossibility of the contrary. To put it another way, the atheist exists because God does. Learning this presuppositional methodology is challenging for many studies which is why we must take time and later develop the proper application of this methodology. Second, there is application of the method which would be taught in the introductory course. It is this course of study where we find to answer the questions: How would we use this method with an Atheist, Mormon, Jehovah Witness, Buddhist, Muslim, and then how would we argue concerning the arts, certain sciences, and even diving into polemics dealing other branches of Christendom such as the Roman Church, Pentecostal Church, etc.? This application is both rewarding and fruitful. The goal is protecting the flock and there is always the hope that the Holy Spirit will open the eyes and the ears of the unbeliever to truth of Jesus Christ, the only Savior.
Third, the Loci is the term we used to describe the content of Theology. Loci could be defined simply as “location” which refers to the places in the Bible where we find certain key doctrines. Those key doctrines are six in number: Theology Proper, Biblical Anthropology, Christology, Pneumatology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology. Each subject or topic can be divided into two.
Theology Proper is the doctrine of God. Here we study His Person (name, attributes, and the doctrine of the Trinity) and His Works (Creation, Providence, Governance, and Covenants). Biblical Anthropology is the doctrine of man or humankind. This is divided into what is man and then we consider the fall of man into sin. Christology is the doctrine of Christ where we consider His Person and Works (here is where we take up the doctrine of the Atonement). Pneumatology is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit which where we take up His Person and then we consider His work in salvation which is called Soteriology. Ecclesiology is the doctrine of the church. We consider first what the church is and then we consider what the church is to do. Finally, we consider Eschatology, which is the study of the Last Things. We take up Eschatology in General and then we consider individual Eschatology. These are the major subjects of Systematic Theology, and we must consider carefully both Exegetically and Historically. We must be mindful of where the church has been, so we do not make the same mistakes of the past.
Fourth, Ethics or Christian Ethics is where we take up the matter of applying our understanding of the Scripture with the everyday life of the believer. This study can become challenging because it is basic to every worldview. Ethics has been discussed in every civilization. Therefore, we must make the distinction between Christian Ethics, which centers its perspective from the very Word of God, specifically the Ten Commandments, from the world’s ethics which simply becomes a study in behavior. Therefore, when we consider Ethics, the Christian will ask the question: what does God’s word say about this? There are some issues that the Bible does not talk about specifically, but through a proper study of Scripture, one can find proper conclusions concerning questions not directly taken up in the Bible. Some further study worth considering in applying the Christian Ethic would be taking up certain contemporary issues and the subject matter of Christian Spirituality.
Fifth, Public Theology which could be explained as theology in the public square. The topics taken up here are Christ and Culture, Worldview Studies, and one could even study Christianity and Political Science or Government. This, like Ethics, strives to apply the principles of the Bible with daily life and yet the question is slightly more narrow in focus. The overall question is how the Christian as Pilgrim should live in a pagan or fallen world.
In conclusion, the study of Theology is a lifetime endeavor. Just as reading the Bible and the Holy Spirit applying His wonderful Word to our lives never ends, so too with our study of God. May we continue to grow in a focus of our study of God.