The term ‘Systematic Theology’ has come to mean a variety of things and for the average Christian it has taken on a negative connotation. This is unfortunate since the use of Systematic Theology itself is a very positive and beneficial component of faith.

  • What is a good definition of Systematic Theology and why do we even need it?
  • Isn’t it really just man’s way of artificially categorizing and ultimately prooftexting Scripture?

While these criticism are legitimate, they only serve to point out the errors of bad Systematic Theology and not an error inherent to the discipline itself. We must not let the abuses of the past, deter us from embracing the richness of God’s revelation.

Francis Schaeffer said that the traditional goal of Systematic Theology is to show…

Christianity is not a series of isolated religious statements, but that it has a beginning and flows on to an end. Each part relates to each other part and to the whole, and to what stands first in the system.”

In other words, since we know that the Christian faith is based on the unity of our service to one unchanging God, then we should have a theology which reflects that unity.  We must have a systematic theology where all the parts connect with one another and do not violate anything which we know to be true. Certainly this is not to deny the mysteries that yet remain. There are many things which God has kept hidden from us until Christ returns, but even the mysteries we must confess as true do not violate the nature of God who has shown Himself through His Word.

Here are two key definitions:

Theology is the way one interprets the revealed Doctrines of God to effectively address the fundamental needs of modern Man.

Systematic Theology is the study Scripture for the purpose of reflecting the unity of God by providing a system for discerning the purpose and practice of our service to Jesus Christ.

The characteristics of a solid Systematic Theology are as follows:

  1. Systematic Theology does not deny the mysteries of faith or seek to unnaturally categorize those things which we do not understand. We are finite creatures with limited revelation knowledge, thus we can not hope to understand by means of reason every aspect of an infinite God.
  2. Systematic Theology does not “prooftext”. It takes Scripture within its natural context and attempts only to reflect the unity found within the framework of God’s revelation.
  3. Systematic Theology will naturally challenge every teaching and verify its truthfulness in relationship to the God. Every theory and every teaching is a fair topic of discussion. This should not be an effort at destroying our faith, but rather to ensure that we are building on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ.
  4. Systematic Theology will develop a theological perspective that causes people to grow and mature in unity of Faith. There is no true theology that does not seek to magnify our Lord and thus change our hearts and cause us to grow, both individually and corporately, towards a greater reflection of God’s Image.
  5. Systematic Theology will adequately deal with both emotion and reason. A false dichotomy is often made in our day between these two most important aspects of man. Often formal theology is studied without the reference to the existence of the emotional part of our being. Conversely the ‘practical’ courses of our religious institutions jump right in and try to apply theology to our life without first forming in us a solid foundation in God’s self-revelation.
  6. Systematic Theology is a tool of which every Christian should avail themselves to whatever degree they are able. It is not the call of ‘scholars’ or ‘pastors’ but of every Christian to give an account of the hope that is within himself.

Systematic theology then is simply a means by which we can provide ourselves with a consistent framework of Christian living and a uniform system for discerning the truth. When confronted with the issues of today, a systematic theology will help us better evaluate our circumstances and make wiser decisions regarding the course we must take. And of course all of this can only take place under the providential and divine guidance of God’s Holy Spirit who is given to each of us by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.

In the coming weeks, I will take one area of theology and post a basic statement that reflects the biblical teaching. My challenge to you is that you take each post and find some way to let it transform the way you live your life and serve our God.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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