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.

Feelings & Theology

Over the past few months, I’ve returned to Belhaven University to finish my MA in Biblical and Theological Studies. It was a needed hiatus, but I’m glad I returned. I finished my first course in Old Testament Histories last week. The study of how the theme of kingship develops through 1 Samuel to Nehemiah gave me some ideas for a fantasy series (I may write about this in the future). However, today makes the end of my first week in Systematic Theology and so far, it’s amazing!

The assigned texts are John Frame’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief and J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. The program also uses video lectures from Third Millennium Ministries. This week’s video lesson is called “What is Theology?” In the video, they state the primary goals of theology as orthodoxy (right thinking), orthopraxis (right behavior), and orthopathos (right feelings). The first two concepts are familiar to many, but the last idea of having correct emotions is often overlooked. We should balance these three in order to make sure our theology is sound.

Why is the emotional goal of theology not as familiar? I can only speak to my faith tradition, which is protestant evangelical. Our tradition teaches us that our feelings are not to be trusted. Feelings are subjective. However, the video argues that proper feelings are important for a wholistic theology. I found this very interesting. Here is a link to the video here. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments section.

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