why be systematic?
Why do we study systematic theology? That is, what's the big deal of having a doctrinal system, rather than just believe whatever the Bible says?
God would have us know and love him with our whole being, which includes our minds (Deut 6:4-9; Matt 22:36-40). Love for God begins with the mind -- hearing and understanding his words, knowing his commandments, thinking about his character, and trusting his promises. God is true, reasonable, and consistent in what he reveals. If we do not think rightly about God, we may become idolaters (Ex 20:3-7; 1 John 5:20-21). Systematic theology is stating and connecting the various truths of the Bible into a reasonable and coherent worldview.
Now, everybody has a particular view of God, of salvation, of humanity, of the world, of the future -- it may be fuzzy, or faulty, or disconnected -- but in that sense all of us are theologians, whether good or bad. R. C. Sproul writes, “The purpose of theology is not to tickle our intellects but to instruct us in the ways of God, so that we can grow up into maturity and fullness of obedience to Him. That is why we engage in theology.” (R. C. Sproul, Everyone's a Theologian)
There are usually eight or nine major divisions traditionally given to the topics within Christian theology. The understanding we have of each of these sections affects the understanding we have of the others.
BIBLIOLOGY is the study of the doctrine of God's revelation. In a very universal way, God has revealed his existence and his attributes in creation. He has told us in the Scriptures of his will, purpose, and plan for human history. What we know about God we know because he chooses to reveal himself. This is important because it lays the foundation of God's authority in my life. I can know truth, and reality, and what is authoritative and important in life, because God himself has revealed these things to us in the Scriptures. And this means I can actually know God, which is connected to the next division.
THEOLOGY PROPER is the doctrine of God, who he is, and what we can know about him. He is not a force, not some-thing beyond good and evil, not fatalistic. He is a sovereign and infinitely good Being, whose attributes are the pattern into which I am being remade into the image of God (see the next division). His trinitarian nature shows God to be relational and is reflected in his work of salvation -- the Father planning and ordaining, the Son accomplishing, and the Holy Spirit applying salvation to my life. This is who we love and adore, which leads us to the next division.
ANTHROPOLOGY is the doctrine of humanity and creation. What does it mean to be human? Why were we created? It is important that this section be connected with the previous two. We are not merely animals or machines. We were created by God to know him and reflect his nature. We have dignity and purpose. But also, here we learn there's something deeply wrong with us. Because of sin we do not see or know God, or obey him, as we ought. (To this division we might add ANGELOLOGY, which tells us of the supernatural realm around us, and how that affects our relationship with God.) The next division is related to these first three because God has sent his Son into the world to redeem us.
CHRISTOLOGY is the study of the truths about Jesus Christ, his nature and his work. He is our Savior, and here we learn what kind of Savior he is. He is fully human and fully divine. His work upon the cross is completely sufficient for all our need. His resurrection is the first fruit of the new creation. I am now "in him", and my spiritual life flows out of my union with Christ. Our understanding of Jesus is directly related to who God is, what he has revealed, and what our predicament is. Was he simply a prophet, a teacher, or a good example for us, or is he more? What happened at the cross and empty tomb? What we think here connects to the next division.
SOTERIOLOGY is the study of salvation. What did Jesus accomplish, and how do we receive it? What happens when I come to faith in Christ? What does it mean to walk by faith and what is my assurance of eternal life? What is the place of good works? What does salvation "do", and what can I expect God to do in this life? How does salvation relate to our past, our present, and our future? What kind of security do we have? These are truths vital to our spiritual life today, and they connect with our view of the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
PNEUMATOLOGY is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Is he personal or impersonal? What did the Spirit come to do? What can we expect from life in the Spirit? Where does our power come from, and what kind of power is it? If the goal of my life is to walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16-25), then it's important for me to know about his mission, role, and purpose in my life today. The doctrines regarding the Holy Spirit help us put together God's purpose for us, our understanding of Christ, and how he applies salvation to us. In all of this, however, we are not lone rangers in the Christian life. The Spirit has come not only to unite us to the Lord but also to join us to a body of fellow believers...
ECCLESIOLOGY concerns the biblical truths about the church. What's the purpose and calling of the church today, and why is it important for us to be connected to the "communion of saints"? How do believers today fit in with the church down through the ages? How does the church relate to salvation? How much authority does the church have? What is the role of congregational meetings, preaching, and the ordinances, in our growth as believers? The church helps us to study God's word (Bibliology), in order to know God better (Theology Proper), that we might trust Christ (Christology), be saved (Soteriology), and walk in the power of the Spirit (Pneumatology). You get the picture!
ESCHATOLOGY, finally, is the doctrine of last things, which includes the end of history and the eternal destiny of believers and unbelievers. These teachings give us hope for the future and assurance that God is guiding history for his glorious purpose. The truth of the final judgment gives seriousness to our lives and urgency in our witness to others. We will one day know God perfectly, see him clearly, and will fully enjoy the presence of Christ. We will finally be restored to the image of God and will live in fellowship with fellow saints forever.
IN SUMMARY, our Christian life -- including our faith, worship, and practice -- is founded upon the truth of God’s Word (Bibliology), as we pursue a true relationship with him (Theology Proper), being Christ-centered (Christology), living in a supernatural universe (Angelology), seeing the image of God being restored in man (Anthropology), by faith daily trusting Christ's finished work (Soteriology), in the power of the Spirit (Pneumatology), vitally connected to God’s work among his people (Ecclesiology), and filled with joyful hope for the future (Eschatology). A good systematic theology gives us a consistent, as well as a practical, worldview to embrace!
This fall (2022) we will be studying the doctrines related to Bibliology, Theology Proper, and Anthropology. Why not join us?
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