What is Systematic Theology and Why we need it?

I’m a nerd. Do you want to know how nerdy? I love reading systematic theologies. Currently, I’m working through John M. Frame’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. However, I also have Millard J. Erickson’s Christian Theology on my bookshelf, and of course Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (There might be a few more lying around that I didn’t mention.) 

What is Systematic Theology? I offer a few different definitions given by various theologians. First, Louis Berkhof writes, “Systematic theology seeks to give a systematic presentation of all the doctrinal truths of the Christian religion.” (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Ch. 4).Next, John M. Frame states, “Systematic theology seeks to apply Scripture by asking what the whole Bible teaches about any subject.” (Frame, Systematic Theology, Ch. 1). Finally, Grudem similarly argues that systematic theology seeks to answer the question, “What does the whole Bible say to us today about any given topic?” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, Ch. 1). For example, what does the whole Bible say about God, man, or angels, etc?

Why do we need systematic theology? Can’t we just read the Bible? If you’ve ever read the Bible, you’ll realize it is a vast book, and it is not a theological treatise. God didn’t inspire a textbook, but a beautiful literary work that comprises differing genres, like poetry, narrative, and discourse. Systematic theology helps synthesize all the teachings of the Bible and presents them in an orderly fashion. When you consider this, the benefit of this discipline becomes apparent, because it provides “handles” with which we can properly hold the teaching of the Scriptures. In other words, it gives us summary statements on Christian beliefs.

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