So this is going to be a bigger task than I first envisioned. Fact. I’ll be looking for ways to stream line this and I’m sure overtime I will. But the trick at the moment is to build some momentum and “just keep swimming”. Without going verbatim, or just copying sub-headings – how am I interacting with this and what have I learnt?
Definition: Systematic theology is any study that answers the question: “What does the whole Bible teach us today?” about any given topic.
What S.T. is not:
Grudem starts with unpacking different types of ways to study theology and how they’re all basically not Systematic Theology. He says they’re all useful, helpful and at points there’s some overlap. But on their own they’re not S.T. (my new abbreviation!)
Historical Theology – How Christians at different periods understood theology (how it developed overtime).
Philosophical Theology – Without necessarily using the Bible but the tools and methods of Philosophy to reason about God. “Well, if the earth has ordered seasons, the God who created it must be ordered.” This can only go so far and without the Bible to correct can lead to dangerous lies/conclusions.
Apologetics – This is about the defence of the truthfulness of the Christian faith. (And apparently isn’t a real word according to the version of Office I’m using!)
Christian Ethics – This approach comes later in the chapter, but I think it fits well in this section. Whilst S.T. focuses on what to believe and know. Christian ethics focuses on what to do and attitudes to have. I personally think this is a very important part of any Christians walk with God. And I believe that naturally having the right beliefs and knowledge should and will (if studied properly) empower us to live this.
Grudem also lays out that there is a distinction between Systematic Theology and other Bible based studies of theology: New Testament Theology and Old Testament Theology (both of which I think are pretty self explanatory). But he also gives a distinction between S.T. and Biblical Theology (which by the sounds of it is the bestest one!) But apparently according to terminology Biblical Theology is concerned with what individual authors or books or sections of Scripture say about a topic. Rather than the whole Bible. Biblical Theology focuses on how a doctrine is developed through the Bible, whereas S.T. focuses on the collection, summary and synthesis of the whole Bible’s take on a topic.
Systematic also means that is is not disorganised theology, difference:
- When studying a doctrine it takes other doctrines into account. Therefore a study on Christ’s deity is done alongside His humanity. God’s sovereignty with Man’s responsibility
- There is more detail in Systematic
- Words are used much more carefully to prevent misunderstanding and false teaching. (This might be a downfall of an informal blog approach!)
Application to Life: In systematic theology a doctrine is seen in terms of practical value, the Bible doesn’t advocate study for the sake of study. But always that it would be applied to life. In fact I recently was reminded of a passage where Jesus criticises a group of people for studying the scriptures diligently but refusing to come to Him to have life. (John 5.39-40) It is for these reasons – I am taking seriously the application sections of each chapter.
So what is a doctrine? A doctrine is what the whole Bible teaches us today on some given topic. They can be broad (Doctrine of God) or narrower (Doctrine of God’s Justice) or narrower (What does the whole Bible teach us today about hair length?). In the book there are covered 7 Doctrines in some depth and detail. And in the effort to avoid another list – you’ll find these out later on. But they have been chosen according to what the Bible emphasises the most and what topics have been most significant to Christians in the past and present. There are more doctrines available to explore than what is covered in this big book. Horraay!
Finally, Grudem lays out two assumptions that he has in writing. I think in saying this, he’s not going to try and prove them to us (although they’ll probably be covered later on). 1) Bible is true, and is the only standard of absolute truth: I think this goes back to what was said in the preface about only being able to agree on so much without a common belief about the Bible. 2) The God of the Bible is real and is who He says He is.
I think I’ll be able to cover the rest of chapter 1 in one more post. Then we’re officially off!