Why Study Systematic Theology?

Our church has “equipping classes” instead of Sunday School classes on Sunday mornings before our worship service. One of the classes that we have this session is “Systematic Theology 1,” which is largely based on Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology book. It is a remarkable blessing for the church to offer this kind of teaching and two Sunday mornings ago there were 50 people in the small classroom listening to teaching on “The Attributes of God.” It is remarkable that a church offers this, but it is also remarkable that 20% of the church membership was sitting in a classroom wrestling with pretty heavy ideas about the character of God.

I think that one question that could come up about Systematic Theology would be “Why study Systematic Theology?” Is it just to fill your head and your ego with esoteric ideas? Is it to show how intellectual you are? Is there value in this study? I think the answer is an unqualified “yes.” The following are my thoughts on why study Systematic Theology.

First, it is required that we have a definition of what I mean when I say, “Systematic Theology” (ST). Real ST is necessarily rooted and grounded in the word of God. Speculations and extrapolations which deviate from the express teaching of the Bible are necessarily suspect. These are to be examined critically and, if they are found wanting, these speculations are to be rejected. On the other hand, the closer a given doctrine agrees with the explicit teaching of the Bible, the more vigorously that doctrine is to be held and defended. ST is the discipline that aids us in discerning and examining deeply these essential biblical teachings.

ST is a sanctifying activity, since it is the intense meditation on the word of God and what is taught therein.

ST deepens out faith in the Lord by allowing us to understand more about what the Lord has revealed to us about Himself and prevents us from merely speculating wildly (2 Cor. 10:5).

ST not only deepens our faith, but it simultaneously dispels our ignorance and pushes back the place where we say, “Well, I will just take that on faith.” Now, it is acknowledged that there is a place where everyone, no matter how biblically fluent, must confess that a given idea will be taken on faith. Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us that “the secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Law.” ST helps us to see and understand “the things that are revealed” so we may obey our God and praise His name.

ST glorifies God, for just as the more we learn about the creation, the more we praise the Creator, so the more we learn about our awesome God and all that He has done for us in Christ, the more loudly and joyously we worship Him.

The speculations which come from the minds of fallen men and women pale into insignificance when compared to what God has already revealed about Himself and His work in His word. ST enables us to uncover and display in an orderly fashion all the treasures contained in God’s word and, when ST is done well, it helps us to remove the dross of man’s errant musings.

Imagine a 7-year old who has just learned her addition tables being told about algebra. Her knowledge has recently been extended to include addition, and now she is told of some strange new “math” that makes no sense to her ears. Addition has been revealed to her, but algebra is still a “secret thing.” For her, algebra is just something she must take on faith. It sounds fantastic and strange, and although she is not entirely convinced about this bizarre idea, our 7-year old is willing to take our word for it that algebra really is in a math book somewhere.

In the same way, a true believer will remain ignorant of biblical doctrines to the degree they are ignorant of God’s word. ST is one of the ways that a believer can emerge from their ignorance about what God has already revealed in His word. We do not “remain children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Eph. 4:14).” Rather, we are to grow up! It is not helpful or wise to take “on faith” what God has already clearly revealed in His word. So we make use of any and all means that God has provided to drive out our ignorance and to replace that with firmly grasped truth, and ST is one of those means.

SDG        rmb        2/11/2020

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