I’m thrilled to contribute to the CBC blog. I want my contribution to focus on Systematic Theology.
Systematic Theology: Why It Matters
I’m sure you’ve heard of “Systematic Theology” before. No doubt, somewhere in your Christian life someone has dropped that term. Did you know what it means? Do you now?
It’s not just an academic discipline or the sort of thing pastors wrangle over when they don’t have anything better to do. It is, exactly as the name suggests, an attempt to organize our theological convictions into a system that is consistent with itself, and applicable to life.
Why does it matter? It matters because action without faith is impossible.
Let me explain. Everything you do is the result of prior faith. You believe certain things (about God, about yourself, about what you think the good life is, etc.) and those beliefs drive what you do. In other words, every moment of every day is the outworking of your faith.
Are you generous? Quick to forgive? Gentle with your words? Well, all of that is the overflow of the heart, the visual demonstration of what you believe. Are you quick tempered? Critical of others? Pessimistic? Again, these behaviors result from our beliefs.
Now, to be sure, you may not know what beliefs are deeply seated in you, causing such behavior. And that’s exactly the point. Even if you haven’t taken the time to think about what you believe, you still have some beliefs anyway. So the alternative to a “systematic” theology is a “disorganized” theology, a “contradictory” theology, an “erroneous” theology.
3 Components of Systematic Theology
John Frame calls Systematic Theology “any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic.” There are three important components to this definition.
First, Systematic Theology is an attempt to take into account “the whole Bible.” It’s not the sort of theological discipline that allows people to pick their favorite verses. Rather it calls for people to deal with all the Scriptures. So Systematic Theology is not for the faint of heart; when you study the whole Bible you have to be ready to be challenged. You have to be ready to reconsider some of your views. You can’t come face to face with the living Word and not be changed.
Second, Systematic Theology asks what the Bible “teaches us.” That is to say, there will be application. We aren’t interested in esoteric musing, but in how we can put some hands and feet to our theology. It must speak to us.
And third, Systematic Theology wants to apply all this to “today.” Thus, to study the Bible in this way requires an eye toward the culture. How does our theologizing bear on today’s issues? How does it address longstanding social trends? How does it compete in the arena of ideas?
Taking a Rich Journey Together
I’m introducing Systematic Theology to you like this so that we can go on a journey together. I want to take you through the several points of Systematic Theology that comprise a full examination of “the whole Bible.” And we’ll go through them in the order in which the Church has done it for about 1,300 years! So we are putting ourselves in the stream of a very rich tradition. I’m looking forward to the wisdom we’ll find!
So, going forward look for articles titled “Systematic Theology Part _.” Of course, we can’t cover “the whole Bible” in these brief articles, but we can begin to organize our theological convictions, think more clearly about God, sin, Christ and the world, and we can let our beliefs drive our lives so that we may let our light so shine before others that they may see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven (cf. Matthew 5:16).