Theology…what is it and why should you study it?
For most people when they hear the word “Theology” they can’t help but picture confusing terminology and hard to understand doctrines about God and the Bible. Truth be told, the study of theology is no small subject. Thousands of books have been written on theology and many more will be written. Theology attempts to make an understanding of the very Creator of this universe, and what He has revealed to us in His Word. It is true then, that the study of theology can be overwhelming.
True it is overwhelming, but in a very good way; perhaps in a way you may have never imagined. It is overwhelming because theology at its core is the study of God Himself. When we finite human beings attempt to study the great Creator of the universe it should make us feel overwhelmed. We should be filled with awe and wonder, joy and amazement at our great God, who although He dwells in inapproachable light, (1 Tim. 6:15-16) decided to make Himself known to us, through His Word (Psalm 19:1-14) and through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Col. 1:15).
Theology can be classified as a science, that science being the study of God. The word theology is derived from two Greek terms, theos and logos. Theos means ‘God’ and logos can mean, “word,” “discourse,” and “doctrine.” Therefore Theology itself can narrowly be defined as, “The Doctrine of God.” In the broad and more common sense today though, when Christians think of theology they think of the study of all Christian doctrines. Therefore, one could define theology in a broad sense by saying it is, “…the science of God and His relations to the universe.”1
When one takes a look at what theology is in its purest form, (that form being: the study of God), they may pose the legitimate question, ‘Why would one study theology?’ I wish to give a twofold answer to this question:
I. Why would one study theology? First, the reason we as Christians should study theology is because The Word of God Commands it. Perhaps this reason is more direct and straight to the point than most expect. Theology should not be studied merely by the scholar, it should not be studied merely by the student, nor should it be studied merely by the professor. Although each class of people I have listed do and should study theology they alone should not be its sole consumers. Theology should be studied by every Christian. Theology should be studied because God commands it. It is a simple plain truth.
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20
The command in Scripture comes straight from our Lord’s mouth. We who are saved, who have been called by God, are commanded to teach the world about Him. It is our God given commission and it is for every believer. For us to be able to teach the Word of God we must first study it, understand it, and grow in our knowledge of it. We must plumb its depths and then take what we have learned and teach it to others. If the Word of God is where God has revealed Himself (and it is) and if we are commanded to teach His Word (and we are), then the study of theology becomes a must for every Christian. Therefore: The first reason that we study theology is because we are commanded to teach theology, not only to ourselves, but also to those around us, thereby fulfilling our Lord’s command in the great commission.
II. Why would one study theology? A second reason comes to light as to why one should study theology and perhaps this reason too is often overpassed: We study theology to know God! What greater thing in the world can there be but to have a knowledge of God, the Creator Owner and Sustainer of this universe? The One who upholds the world by His every word. The Sovereign Lord over all who although He holds the stars, cares about mankind. The King of all Kings who is seated high and lofty on His throne in heaven. The all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-wise being who has a plan from eternity past through eternity present and into eternity future.
To see the glory of God displayed in His Word is a never-ending journey, a source of knowledge that will not cease. The knowledge of God is endless, and His glory matchless. But perhaps the greatest reason for the child of God to study theology is because not only is our God sovereign and high and lifted up and exalted in the heavens…He is also right here with us. He is not only our God, He is our Father, our Abba Father, and our Daddy. He has saved us, and given us life in Him! We are sons of God and therefore, we long to know our Father, we long to know Him and be known by Him. We have an intimate relationship with Him and as we begin to know more about God and His saving love for us, we marvel, we wonder, and we worship.
May God be praised for making Theology possible…for to know Him; that is all!
Henry Clarence Thiessen: Lectures in Systematic Theology. Pg. 2
How Theology (the study of God) can be possible.
“Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgements and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the LORD, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” – Romans 11:33-36
The topic of theology just like any other topic, it had to have a beginning somewhere. When we begin to take the first steps in a study as vast and as wide as Theology one must wonder where this comprehensive subject came from and how it is made available to us. Last Thursday, we saw that at its core, theology is the study of God and His relationship to our universe. We asked why one would desire to study theology, and found the answer to this question twofold: The first reason being, because God commands it, the second reason, being the desire to have a knowledge of God.
But as we took a look at those reasons and answered the “Why we would want to study theology?” another question came to mind. This question perhaps is even more foundational to the previous in regards to the nature and beginning of theology. It is as follows:
1. How can Theology even be possible? Before we travel to far down the trail of asking ourselves why we would want to study God Himself, we must put on the brakes and ask ourselves how is the study of God even possible to us finite human beings? How can we even begin to grasp even a glimpse of almighty God? How do we understand His judgements, His character, His ways, and His plans? What is there in this world that can show us the nature of its very Creator? The answer to these questions should make us stand in awe. The reason that theology is possible, the reason that we can know God is because God has chosen to make Himself known! The answer to how a knowledge of God can be possible is found in God Himself. We can study God because God has revealed himself to us. Without this revelation of God to man, there would be no way for us to truly know God.
So what do we mean when we say that God has “revealed” Himself to us? Henry Thiessen writes describing the revelation of God in this way, “Revelation is that act of God whereby He discloses Himself or communicates truth to the mind, whereby He makes manifest to His creatures that which could not be known in any other way.” 1 This revelation of God can take place in various ways and is never complete to the human mind on this earth or in eternity. Whether it is in this life or in the next, our understanding of who God is and His revelation to us will be ever growing and increasing.
It is the revelation of God to mankind that makes Theology possible. Without God making Himself known to us there would be no way to intimately know Him. As we embark on a journey to understand and know God we need to know first, how God has made Himself known to us. There are two broad categories that are used today to describe the revelation of God to mankind. God has revealed Himself to mankind through General Revelation and also through Special Revelation. Definitions to these terms are as follows:
General Revelation can be defined as, “The disclosure of God to mankind through conscience, nature, and history, through which we receive a basic understanding of God.” Special Revelation can be defined as, “God’s personal and detailed disclosure of who He is, what He is like, and how we are to respond towards Him as outlined in His Word.
It is upon these two categories that a knowledge of God exists. It is upon these two categories that Theology is possible. The great God of the universe has chosen to reveal Himself to us in a great and grand way for His glory! In the next two posts, we will unpack the details of general and special revelation and see how God has so beautifully made Himself known to us, so that we can, in an intimate and personal way; know Him! What an amazing God we serve!
Lectures in Systematic Theology; Henry Clarence Thiessen; Pg. 7
The Revelation of God – General Revelation
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, not are there words; their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” – Psalm 19:1-6
As we sought last week to answer the question: ‘How is the study of theology even possible?’ we were amazed to see that it is made possible by the object of theology Himself – God. It is God who makes theology possible because God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in many different ways. The way God reveals Himself can be placed in the two broad categories of General and Special Revelation. In His graciousness and compassion towards mankind, our great God has chosen to make Himself known. So let’s take a look at how we can know God as He reveals Himself towards mankind through General Revelation.
A Knowledge of God through General Revelation: As we begin to take a detailed and specific look at general revelation and how God reveals Himself to us we must remember the purpose of this revelation. The purpose is for God to make Himself known to mankind. As God makes Himself known in this universe we gain an understanding of his being, his character, his power, and his glory. Being the Creator of us mankind, there was no reason for God to reveal Himself to us. Yet, also being a merciful and compassionate God, He foreordained that He would make Himself known. The first way that God has made Himself known to us by General Revelation is through the creation of this world.
(I) God Revealed in Creation: Perhaps the most obvious way that God is revealed to us is through nature, or the creation that constantly surrounds us each and every day. God’s handiwork is everywhere, we are witness to it by simply opening our eyes to the world around us. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Clearly, we can gain an understanding of who God is by looking at His creation. Paul cites two ways in which we gain an understanding of God’s invisible attributes through what has been made.
Eternal Power: God’s eternal power is magnificently put on display through His creation. When one looks at the majesty of the earth and sea, sky and stars, planet earth and the billions of galaxies that surround us one sees evidence of a glorious Creator. A Creator who must have existed in eternity past and a Creator who must have supreme power. From the creation we can know with certainty that God must be a being of awesome power. Divine Nature: Not only must God be filled with power, to be the Creator of this universe, He also must have a divine nature. When we look at creation, it is evident that no mortal was its author. It was a divine, majestic being who brought the universe into being. This is therefore, what the creation speaks about God. It gives us a glimpse of who He is as eternal, powerful, and divine.
(II) God Revealed in Conscience: A second way that God has clearly made himself known is through the conscience of every single human being. Our conscience is gives us our sense of right and wrong, and guides us in every single decision that me make in our lives. We always obey our conscience, but we also can train our conscience and dull our conscience. At its heart though, the conscience is the impulse that tells us the difference between what is morally right or wrong. It is the imprint of God on mankind, His mark upon our souls. The conscience of man reflects, in an imperfect way, the character of God. It is imposed on believer and unbeliever alike. Romans 2:14-15 makes this so clear by saying, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the works of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them…”
Clearly, even those who do not know the Lord are influenced by His Law that is, as Paul says, “…written in their hearts…” Mankind does have an inherent knowledge of God. This Law that is written even on the heart of an unbeliever points to an absolute law of right and wrong in this universe. To have this knowledge of a right and a wrong means that there must be someone or something who is greater than us. Someone who wrote this Law and who holds mankind accountable to it. As we will look at next week, this being is God Himself. But for us to truly know Him, not just to know about Him, He must reveal Himself to us in a special and unique way.
The Revelation of God – Special Revelation
“So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” – 2 Peter 1:19-21
Last week we looked at two ways in which God has revealed Himself to mankind in a general way. These ways were Creation, and Conscience. Although we can gain an understanding of who God is when we look at this revelation, at the end of the day it is only general. It does not go into the specifics of who God is, what He is like, and how we are to respond towards Him. General revelation cannot save a soul from God, it only makes a person aware of God by revealing some of His attributes to them. Mankind needs far more than just a general revelation of God in order to be saved.
It is at this time that we can really answer our question, “How can the study of Theology even be possible?” Theology as we know, is the study of God, therefore the number one way that we can know more about God is when God chooses to reveal Himself to us in a personal way. A deeper, fuller, and far more complete understanding of God must come to mankind for us to truly know him. This understanding of God is what we call, “Special Revelation”.
A Knowledge of God through Special Revelation. To refresh our memory, we will state again the definition of special revelation. It is, “God’s personal and detailed disclosure of who He is, what He is like, and how we are to respond towards Him as outlined in His Word.” Now, besides just the Word of God there are, to be sure, other categories of special revelation that God has used in the past to reveal Himself such as through miracles and prophecy. But in the present day, God has chosen to reveal Himself to us solely through His Word. In this article, I wish to detail special revelation by looking at one specific way that God revealed Himself to us in the past, and also looking at how God currently chooses to reveal himself to us in the present.
(I) God Revealed in His Son: The Lord Jesus Christ. One of the greatest ways that God has revealed Himself to us is when He became a man, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. This God-man lived upon the earth for 33 years displaying the character, attributes, glory, and majesty of God in a personal way. He was “…the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” (Jn. 1:14). Christ is the revelation of God. The author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 1:1-3a,
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature…”
Jesus Christ, as the author writes, it the exact representation of God Himself, they have the same nature. He is the, “…image of the invisible God…” (Col. 1:15), God Himself in the flesh. It is through Jesus Christ, His teaching, preaching, actions, and sinless life itself that we have a grand picture of the character of God. It is through Christ that we come to know God! Christ Himself says, “…before Abraham was born, I am.” (Jn. 8:58) and also, “I and the Father are one.” (Jn. 10:30). Jesus was the great ‘I AM’, He was one with the Father. He revealed the love of God (John 3:14-16), the righteousness of God (Jn. 17:25), the word of God (Jn. 1:14; 17:14), the works of God (Jn. 5:19-21), the will of God in salvation (Matt. 4:17), and the care of God for His people (Lk. 12:30-32). Truly we have a special revelation of God in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ!
(II) God Revealed in His Word: The Holy Scriptures. We know that God has revealed Himself ever so clearly in His Son Jesus Christ. But more than showing Himself to us as a man God has chosen another way to reveal Himself. This way is; The Word of God. The Revelation of God in His Word is greater than any experience that we as mankind can have. Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:19, “So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shinning in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.”
The Word of God is a sure and solid revelation of God Himself. Peter continues by explaining that we know the Word of God’s surety because God is the agent behind the writing of His Word. He says in verses 20-21, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
The Word of God reveals God to us and explains God to us in all other forms of revelation. It shows how God is a work in His creation, in history and in our conscience. The Word of God gives accounts of God at work in special revelation through miracles performed by God in the Old Testament and Jesus Christ in the New Testament. It speaks of prophecy and shows is fulfilled hundreds of years later. It showcases the sovereign workings of God in this world down through the annals of history. Finally, the Word of God reveals to us in detail the life of Jesus Christ, God Himself in the flesh!
The Special Revelation of God through His Word is in our hands. It is here to point us to Him and give proof of who He is. It also completes the answer to the question we posed a few weeks ago, “How can the study of Theology even be possible?” The possibility of Theology comes through both the general revelation of God and the special revelation of God! God has revealed Himself to us in many ways and in His Word. The question you must ask your own heart today is, “Do I know this God?” If not, then take His Word and begin to find out who Your Creator is.
How must Theology be Studied?
“Who may ascend to the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted us his soul to falsehood and how not sworn deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” – Psalm 24:3-5
As we have begun to take a glimpse at the area of theology, what it is, and how we can grow in our understanding of it, it is vital for us to remember that we are taking the first steps down the road of knowing God more. Because we are finite human beings, we will never fully understand the depths of God (Rom. 11:33). He will always be unfathomable to us! But even though the Lord may be unfathomable to us, we have seen how He has yet made Himself known to us in many ways. Because of the, ‘Revelation of God’ to us, in both general and special ways, we can gain a greater understanding of God Himself.
To think that we can even begin to grasp the concept of who God is should blow our minds away. It should make us bow before Him in humble adoration realizing the grace He has shown us. God, as we know, did not have to make Himself known to us, yet He chose to make Himself known. That is truly a magnificent display of grace!
When we being to open the pages of Scripture, and actually begin to study theology it is vital that we study it in the right way. What do I mean by that? I mean that we must have certain attitudes and actions that are displayed in our life as we come to the Word of God. This is the very Word of God after all and it cannot be treated lightly or with irreverence as it is studied. If we look closely, the Bible itself gives us guidelines for how we should study theology:
(I) We must Study Theology with a Heart of Prayer: The first place to begin, before we even open up the pages of the Scriptures is with prayer. The psalmist writes in Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.” When we study the Word we are to be people who pray that the Lord would help us understand His Word. Studying theology is not merely an academic exercise, it is the pursuit of knowing God. The person who will not ask the Lord to help him in his understanding of the Word will not be blessed in their study of the Word.
(II) We must Study Theology with a reliance of the Holy Spirit: Closely linked with prayer is our reliance on the Holy Spirit. It is through His indwelling that we come to understand the Scriptures. Without Him dwelling within our hearts and lives there would be no way that we could understand and study theology in a correct way. Only the believer can truly grasp and understand theology because he has the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:14-16). The Spirit is the One who leads us in all truth and abides in us (Jn. 14:16-17). He will give us insight to understand and know the Word of God.
(III) We must Study Theology with an Attitude of Humility: Humility is vital for any and every student of the Word of God. 1 Peter 5:5 says, “…all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Only the humble man will be able to gain an understanding of God through the study of theology. It is all too easy, as one beings to study the Bible and gain a knowledge of God, to look at others who know less than you with contempt. How disgraceful it would be to be filled with pride as we study the Word of God, the very thing that should humble us as we realize our inadequacy to even grasp an understanding of God and His Word.
(IV.) We must Study Theology with Help from Others: A natural outflow of studying theology with an attitude of humility will be a desire to seek wisdom and help from those who have gone before us in their study of theology. God has graced many men with a wisdom to know and understand His Word, and this wisdom is readily available to the man or woman who desires to seek for it as they study the Word. Allowing those whom God has placed in our lives to teach us and train us in His Word will bless our study of theology. Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
(V.) We must Study Theology with Thankfulness and Praise: A heart of thankfulness and praise to God for allowing us to even being to know Him should always be on the forefront of our minds as we study theology. Here we sit, some 2,000 years since God revealed Himself through His Son and His Word and yet we can have His Word with us so that we can understand Him? What a gift from God! What praise must be offered to His holy name for gifting us with His holy Word and preserving it down through the ages that we might even today, come to know Him.
The child of God, as he studies the Word of God should break forth with great joy and praise as He grasps a greater understanding of who God is. We are studying the wonders of the living God when we study theology! We are growing in our love for Him! Therefore we can cry out with the psalmist in Psalm 119:111, “I have inherited Your testimonies forever, for they are the joy of my heart.” May it bring us great joy to study theology, and most of all, may it help us come to know God so that we can worship Him in a perfect and right way.
Five Areas of Theology
“In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.” – 1 Timothy 4:6
Since we started our look into theology, I have had the specific goal in mind to focus on the area of theology called, Systematic Theology. Now that we have given ourselves a brief introduction to theology in general, hopefully in the next few weeks we will be able to delve into the specific study of Systematic Theology. In this post though, I want to take some time to briefly talk about systematic theology and the other four divisions of theology that, when put together, make theology a whole.*
(I) Exegetical Theology: Perhaps the simplest form of theology is exegetical theology. Exegetical theology is merely taking the Bible verse by verse and explaining what it means. By doing this it helps people understand what the Bible is saying about a certain passage of Scripture. It simply gives the verse, and then gives its meaning. It interprets the text of the bible.
(II) Biblical Theology: The second area of Theology that is performed by the Christian is that of Biblical Theology. Biblical Theology is the study of the Biblical Text itself. It takes one section of Scripture and exhausts its resources. In his Systematic Theology, theologian John Frame describes Biblical Theology in this way, “Biblical theology expounds Scripture as a history of God’s dealings with us. It therefore focuses on Scripture as historical narrative. But if it is theology, it cannot be pure narrative. I must be application, dealing with the meaning that narrative has for its hearers and readers.”1
(III) Systematic Theology: The third area of Theology is what we will be looking at is known as systematic theology. Systematic theology, takes all the work of biblical theology and systematizes it. To systematize something simply means that you arrange it, or order it. Systematic Theology takes every single verse of the bible and orders it in doctrines. While Biblical theology may take one verse that speaks of election, and exegetes it, systematic theology takes all the verses that speak about election, arranges them, and then seeks to teach and explain the doctrine of election. A simpler way to define systematic theology is by simply saying it is the study and organization of biblical doctrine. Some categories of systematic theology would be; Christology (the doctrine of Christ), Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the Church), or Angelology (the doctrine of angels). Systematic Theology is the most comprehensive treatment of the Bible and a life spent studying it, will reward the student with a grasp on what the Lord teaches in His Word. Understanding the Word of God and how it applies to one’s life is perhaps the most important thing for the Christian. Therefore Systematic Theology is intensely practical and not confusing or abstract as it is sometimes described to be.
(IV) Historical Theology: Historical Theology is the fourth category of theology. This particular area of theology plunges into what Christianity has learned from the past 2,000 years. It goes back to the time of Christ and leads into the present day. Thiessen writes, “Historical theology…deals with the origin, development, and spread of the true religion, and also with its doctrines, organizations, and practices. It embraces biblical history, church history, history of missions, history of doctrine, and the history of creeds and confessions.”2
(IV) Practical Theology: Practical theology is the natural outflow of the four previous areas of study. It answers the question, “Now that I know all this about the Bible, Doctrines, and History, how then should I live today as a Christian?” Practical theology seeks to apply theology to life. If it were to be grouped with another area of theology it would go hand in hand with systematic theology. It is the natural answer to the question that Systematic theology raises. Systematic Theology gets an entire view of the Word of God and then asks, “So what?” Practical theology answers that question by applying the truths of systematic theology to everyday life.
- John Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 13
- Henry Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, Pg. 20
*Theology can be dividend and has ben divided by many into more or less than 5 categories. I simply chose to highlight what I believe are the 5 main headings.
Some Thoughts on Systematic Theology
“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” – 2 Peter 3:16-17
As we begin to wrap up our discussion on, “An Introduction to Theology” I want to take some time to put some of the finishing touches on our look at systematic theology. As we saw in last week’s post, Systematic Theology is the organization of all that the Bible teaches on a particular subject (such as Jesus Christ) and describing and teaching it as a doctrine. If the topic of choice was Jesus Christ then systematic theology would take all that the Bible teaches on Christ, organize it in a neat and comprehensive way, and define it as the doctrine of ‘Christology’. Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, “What does the whole Bible teach us today?” about any given topic.1 But Systematic Theology is more than just the organization of doctrines, it gives us a theology that is useful for all of life. In this post I want to show a few ways in which our study of systematic theology will benefit us in our knowledge of God and our walk with Christ. We must never come to the study of the Word of God with a purely academic attitude. Rather, through our study of theology and our understanding of the Word of God, we must grow into the image of Jesus Christ our Lord.
(I) Systematic Theology Applies to All of Life: Before we begin looking at the specifics, we must understand that systematic theology applies to all of life. Although it is not titled as ‘practical theology’, the step from the study of systematic theology to practical theology is an easy one to take. Systematic theology answers questions such as “What does the whole Bible teach about prayer?” or “What does the whole Bible teach about salvation?” or even “What does the whole Bible teach about the Lord’s return.” Upon merely reading these questions one can easily see how, after through study of the prayer, salvation, or the second coming, the application to life is almost endless. Take prayer for example. After learning what the entire Bible teaches on prayer, what should be the normal natural response for the Christian? He should immediately ask himself, “What does the Bible teach me about how I am supposed to pray to God?” In this question we see how the study of doctrine is immediately applied to the Christian life. What a beautiful way in which the saints grow into the image of Christ through their study of theology! Systematic theology therefore takes those first steps of understanding the Word, and practical theology begins to run with the Word, applying it to life. Studying systematic theology in the right way then will result in a closer, deeper, and richer walk with the Lord! What a great blessing this is!
(II) How we do Systematic Theology in everyday life: Based what we looked at above, one may realize that we actually do systematic theology every day. Think of how often you summarize the Bible when you speak to others. You may say, “The Bible teaches the trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all God.” Or you may say, “The Bible teaches that you must believe the gospel to be saved.” Or “The Bible teaches that Christ will reign upon the earth.” Each of these statements in and of themselves are ‘systematic theology’ statements because they summarize a teaching that is found throughout the whole Bible. Whether it is a pastor, parent, teacher or layman, the Christian is constantly asking and answering the question “What does the Bible teach us about today?” The child of God should live this way, constantly seeking to know what the Bible says about a given topic so they can understand Him more and also so they can apply what they learn to their lives.
Systematic Theology is practical for your life and for that reason alone, the Christian should be willing to set aside time to study theology. In next week’s post I hope to delve into several others reason for why you should study systematic theology, but for now I leave you with this: If you want to grow as a Christian, if you want to behold your God, if you want to know Him, know His Word, know His commands and honour Him with your life, then you need to study theology. Without it your faith will be a shallow faith that can easily be lead astray. Study theology and study it passionately. If for no other reason than to attempt the grasp at a knowledge of God. And may your life be changed as you do so.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Pg. 21
Why Should Systematic Theology be Studied?
To conclude our introduction to Systematic Theology I want to ask and answer one final question regarding the study of Systematic Theology. The question is simply, “Why…?” “Why should you as a Christian study Systematic Theology?” This question reflects back to our first post on Theology which sought to answer the same question. Only, in this post I hope to answer the question more fully and completely.
I hope you have seen, by this time, the intense practicality of Systematic Theology. We do understand that through our study we are obeying the commands of God and also growing in our knowledge of God. But there are several other practical reasons that we should study Systematic Theology as we will see today. I hope to share in this post the many benefits that Systematic theology has to our lives and the fact that through our study of it, we will be able to faithfully defend the faith.
(I) To teach us how to obey the Commands of God: The study of Systematic theology is a study that not only teaches us about God, and what the commands of God are, it also teaches us how to go about obeying those commands. If we want to be effective in teaching ourselves what the Scriptures actually say, we are going to need to have a good grasp on the Scriptures. We cannot spend the rest of our Christian life only studying the passages of Scripture that make us feel comfortable or at ease with God. No, systematic theology forces us to be complete and comprehensive in our study of the Word, therefore we will come to an understanding of all that God commands.
(II) To teach others what the Word of God teaches: A second compelling reason to study systematic theology is because we will at some point have the responsibility to teach others what the Word of God teaches. Whether you are a pastor teaching a congregation, a husband teaching his wife, or a mother teaching her children every single opportunity you have to teach another person is an opportunity to get it right or get it wrong. By studying the full counsel of God in systematic theology, you will be far more effective in your teaching of others. Moreover, because each of us are commanded by God to teach others, we must be diligent to know God to the best of our ability and not merely communicate the bare basics of God’s truth.
(III) To help avoid wrong assumptions about God: Closely linked with the reason above, our desire to avoid misinterpreting or twisting the Scriptures should be one the greatest reasons that we study systematic theology. Because we are faulty and sinful human beings, it is impossible for us to simply read the Bible once over and perfectly understand what it teaches about theology. The ease in which verses can be taken out of context, passages misconstrued, and ultimately false doctrine be promoted (even unwittingly) must always be on the forefront of our minds when we handle the Word of God. A study of systematic theology helps immensely in this area by digging deep into God’s Word from cover to cover. Sometimes the sheer weight of teaching that the Bible produces on a certain subject will help us overcome our sinful assumptions about God and correct our thinking of who He is.
(IV) To protect us against the introduction of false doctrine in the church: When a bank teller or cashier is being trained to handle money they are often taught by their supervisors with one type of bill; the right bill. Over and over again they study what the correct version of a $20 or $50 or $100 bill looks like. They see its intricacies, its patterns, its detail and come to memorize every line, every marking, every aspect of the bill. What could be the purpose of studying these bills so intensely? Well, when they finally enter their area of employment and handle money day in and day out, the second a counterfeit bill comes by, it is spotted in an instant. Why? Because all they know is what the true bill looks like. All they are familiar with is the correct printing, therefore anything that deviates from what is true, is easily found and proven to be false. It is the same with theology. The more you study and immerse yourself in the study of true and Biblical doctrine the greater you will grow in your understanding of the Scriptures. The more you immerse yourself in the Word, the more you will know the truth. Therefore, the second false teaching comes across your path, you will immediately be able to identify it, spot it, and expose it. An understanding of what whole Bible teaches will allow you to discern whether or not a specific doctrine is valid or is false.
(V) To help of grow in our walk with Christ. Finally, a study of systematic theology will allow us as Christians to grow in our walk with Christ. It is often said of pastors and preachers of the Word of God, “The breadth of your ministry will only be as effective as the depth of your ministry.” The same is true with any and every Christian, “Your walk with the Lord will only grow in depth, as your understanding of God grows in breadth.” Systematic theology will give you an amazing understanding of God. It will help you know who God is, what He is like, and how you are to respond towards Him. All doctrines influence and impact the way you think about life and the way you live your life. Therefore it is vital to know what the Word teaches so that you will live how the Lord would want you to live.
Definitions Class: Systematic Theology in 10 Points
“The sum of Your Word is truth, and every one of your righteous ordinances is everlasting.” – Psalm 119:60
In our last instalment of our introduction to theology I want to take a look at the various doctrines that make up the area of systematic theology. As one studies the Word of God and seeks to understand what it is teaching us about God, about man, and about anything else, he is going to systematize everything he learns. Systematic Theology can therefore be broken down into major doctrines that the Bible teaches. As we go through our study of Systematic Theology we are going to look at 10 different areas of doctrine that the Word of God speaks to.
A doctrine can simply be described as something that the entire Bible teaches about a particular topic. Doctrines are the result then of doing systematic theology in one topic of the Bible. A doctrine could be “the study of the church” which would mean that we take everything the Bible teaches about the church and organize (systematize) it under a doctrinal heading. If it was “the doctrine of the church” the term that theologians use to describe this doctrine would be ecclesiology.
As we study through systematic theology, I want to look at 10 major doctrines that I believe the Word of God places great emphasis on. I won’t be digging into each doctrine as deeply as I can, but I hope to hit the major points of each one and give a sufficient description of what I believe the Word of God teaches about each subject. So without further delay, here is Systematic Theology, in 10 points:
I. Bibliology: Is the Doctrine of the Word of God. Bibliology is primarily concerned with the study of the Bible as the revelation of God to man, often dealing with its inspiration, sufficiency, authority, and inerrancy.
II. Theology Proper: Is the Doctrine of God. Theology Proper deals specifically with the being, attributes, and works of God. Theology Proper will often look at the God-Head as a whole while other doctrines will break down each unique person of the God-head.
III. Christology: Is the Doctrine of Christ. Christology is the primarily concerned with the nature and person of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Scriptures.
IV. Pneumatology: Is the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Pneumatology is focused on the third person of the Trinity, answering who the Holy Spirit is, how we receive Him, how He has worked in the past, and how He is still working in our world today.
V. Angelology: Is the Doctrine of the angels, both fallen and holy. Angelology is the study of the angels, their origin, their rankings, details about the ones who have fallen (including Satan), and how they are used by God to perform His will.
VI. Anthropology: Is the Doctrine of Mankind. Anthropology is the study of mankind as he relates to God.
VII. Soteriology: Is the Doctrine of Salvation. Soteriology is the study of the salvation of mankind as effected by the Lord Jesus Christ.
VIII. Ecclesiology: Is the Doctrine of the Church. Ecclesiology is the study of the Christian Church. It looks at the origin of the church as established by Christ, its part in the Christian life, its disciplines, leadership, and ultimate destiny.
IX. Israelology: Is the Doctrine of the Nation of Israel. A much neglected topic, Israelology is simply the study of the nation of Israel. It deals with God’s dealings with Israel both in the Old and New Testaments, His current plan for them, and His ultimate glorious destiny and restoration of the nation.
X. Eschatology: Is the Doctrine of End Times. Eschatology is the study of ‘end things’ or ‘end times’ and deals with God’s plan for the end of this world, the biblical description of how this world will end, and the nature of the future Kingdom of God.
So let’s begin our study of Systematic Theology! I hope you are as excited to learn more about our great God and His Word as I am!