In Lewis Sperry Chaffer’s introduction to his eight volume set titled “Systematic Theology”, he laments a general negligence of reading systematic theology among Christian pastors in his generation. Is our generation of Christian pastors, negligent in studying systematic theology? I certainly don’t have the answer to the question. However, It is my opinion that there is a high level of ambiguity about important theological concepts among this generation of Christian congregants. Why? It seems likely to me, in large part, this problem is the natural result of learning the Christian faith from pastors who had little time or use for systematic theology. Did that come across as harsh? Judgment begins at the house of the Lord right?
Let me back up. I am a very imperfect pastor, and there has never been a perfect pastor, other than Jesus. Please don’t misunderstand that last paragraph as a “chest thumping” attempt. What I really want to draw our attention to is we all need systematic theology. Pastors like me need to read and appreciate this theological discipline and attempt to lead congregants to develop a growing appreciation for it also.
So what is it? In simplistic terms, Systematic Theology is a discipline or method of studying the Bible that is topical, organized, and attempts to summarize the entire Bible’s teaching on each particular topic. Wayne Grudem said, “the adjective systematic in systematic theology should be understood to mean something like “carefully organized by topics,” with the understanding that the topics studied will be seen to fit together in a consistent way, and will include all the major doctrinal topics of the Bible.”
Let me try to give you an easy idea of what systematic theology is. Have you ever looked at a church’s website and found a tab titled something like, “What we believe” or “Our statement of faith”? After you clicked that tab and opened the page to read a little about that church’s beliefs you were likely confronted with several main topics, or doctrines, that had a few sentences or paragraphs to explain what they meant by each topic/doctrine. How did that church come to believe and articulate those said doctrines? Someone did systematic theology in order to summarize those topics or beliefs in a helpful way. Systematic theology is the discipline or method of studying the Bible and organizing it’s teaching using topics we usually call doctrines.
If my church already has a statement of faith, where those doctrines are explained a little bit, then why should systematic theology matter to me? There are several answers that could rightly be given to answer this question, but let me leave you with one important answer. Every pastor and congregant ought to give time and attention to developing their theological understanding of God and His Word with systematic theology because we are called disciples. Quite literally, we are described as learners and followers of Christ. So when someone asks you a question like “what does the Bible say about God?” you might be ready with some organized thoughts about God’s triune nature, and ably unpack those thoughts using some relevant Bible passages for God’s glory and the inquisitor’s good.
The reformer, John Calvin, authored what is likely the most famous Systematic Theology book ever written. This classic Christian work of theology is titled, “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” In his 1545 edition of that work, he wrote a helpful preface to the reader and beautifully communicated the heartbeat of why we all need systematic theology.
Although the Holy Scriptures contain a perfect doctrine, to which nothing can be added – our Lord having been pleased therein to unfold the infinite treasures of his wisdom – still every person not intimately acquainted with them, stands in need of some guidance and direction, as to what he ought to look for in them, that he may not wander up and down, but pursue a certain path, and so attain the end to which the Holy Spirit invites him… Hence it is the duty of those who have received from God more light than others to assist the simple in this matter, and, as it were, lend them their hand to guide and assist them in finding the sum of what God has been pleased to teach us in His word.”-John Calvin, 1545
-Soli Deo Gloria
10 General Doctrines/Topics for Systematic Theology
- Bibliology – The study of Bible
- Theology Proper – The study of God
- Christology – The study of Christ
- Pneumatology – The study of the Holy Spirit
- Angelology – The study of angels
- Anthropology – The study of man
- Hamartiology – The study of sin
- Soteriology – The study of salvation
- Ecclesiology – The study of the church
- Eschatology – The study of last things
- Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Chafer Systematic Theology. Vol. 1. Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press, 1983.
- Grudem, Wayne A., and K. Erik. Thoennes. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
- Calvin, Jean, and Henry Beveridge. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017.