Ch.1 Introduction to Systematic Theology

Making Sense of CHRIST AND THE SPIRIT by Wayne Grudem

Introduction to
Systematic Theology
What is systematic theology?
Why should Christians study it?
How should we study it?
EXPLANATION AND SCRIPTURAL BASIS
A. Definition of Systematic Theology
What is systematic theology? Many different definitions have been given, but for the
purposes of this book the following definition will be used: Systematic theology is any
study that answers the question, “What does the whole Bible teach us today?” about any
given topic.1
This definition indicates that systematic theology involves collecting and understanding
all the relevant passages in the Bible on various topics and then summarizing their
teachings clearly so that we know what to believe about each topic.
1. Relationship to Other Disciplines. The emphasis of this book will not therefore be on
historical theology (a historical study of how Chris tians in different periods have understood
various theological topics) or philosophical theology (studying theological topics
largely without use of the Bible, but using the tools and methods of philosophical reasoning
and what can be known about God from observing the universe) or apologetics
1This definition of systematic theology is taken from Professor
John Frame, now of Westminster Seminary in Escondido,
California, under whom I was privileged to study in
1971 – 73 (at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia). Though
it is impossible to acknowledge my indebtedness to him at
every point, it is appropriate to express gratitude to him at
this point, and to say that he has probably influenced my
theological thinking more than anyone else, especially in
the crucial areas of the nature of systematic theology and the
doctrine of the Word of God. Many of his former students
will recognize echoes of his teaching in the following pages,
especially in those two areas.
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( providing a defense of the truthfulness of the Chris tian faith for the purpose of
convincing unbelievers). These three subjects, which are worthwhile subjects for Christians
to pursue, are sometimes also included in a broader definition of the term systematic
theology. In fact, some consideration of historical, philosophical, and apologetic
matters will be found at points throughout this book. This is because historical study
informs us of the insights gained and the mistakes made by others previously in understanding
Scripture; philosophical study helps us understand right and wrong thought
forms common in our culture and others; and apologetic study helps us bring the teachings
of Scripture to bear on the objections raised by unbelievers. But these areas of study
are not the focus of this volume, which rather interacts directly with the biblical text in
order to understand what the Bible itself says to us about various theological subjects.
If someone prefers to use the term systematic theology in the broader sense just mentioned
instead of the narrow sense which has been defined above, it will not make much
difference.2 Those who use the narrower definition will agree that these other areas of
study definitely contribute in a positive way to our understanding of systematic theology,
and those who use the broader definition will certainly agree that historical theology,
philosophical theology, and apologetics can be distinguished from the process of collecting
and synthesizing all the relevant Scripture passages for various topics. Moreover,
even though historical and philosophical studies do contribute to our understanding
of theological questions, only Scripture has the final authority to define what we are to
believe,3 and it is therefore appropriate to spend some time focusing on the process of
analyzing the teaching of Scripture itself.
Systematic theology, as we have defined it, also differs from Old Testament theology,
New Testament theology, and biblical theology. These three disciplines organize their topics
historically and in the order the topics are presented in the Bible. Therefore, in Old
Testament theology, one might ask, “What does Deuteronomy teach about prayer?” or
“What do the Psalms teach about prayer?” or “What does Isaiah teach about prayer?”
or even, “What does the whole Old Testament teach about prayer and how is that teaching
developed over the history of the Old Testament?” In New Testament theology one
might ask, “What does John’s gospel teach about prayer?” or “What does Paul teach
about prayer?” or even “What does the New Testament teach about prayer and what is
the historical development of that teaching as it progresses through the New Testament?”
“Biblical theology” has a technical meaning in theological studies. It is the larger
category that contains both Old Testament theology and New Testament theology as
we have defined them above. Biblical theology gives special attention to the teachings of
individual authors and sections of Scripture, and to the place of each teaching in the historical
development of Scripture.4 So one might ask, “What is the historical development
2Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest have coined a new
phrase, “integrative theology,” to refer to systematic theology
in this broader sense: see their excellent work, Integrative Theology
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996). For each doctrine, they
analyze historical alternatives and relevant biblical passages,
give a coherent summary of the doctrine, answer philosophical
objections, and give practical application.
3Charles Hodge says, “The Scriptures contain all the Facts
of Theology” (section heading in Systematic Theology, 1:15).
He argues that ideas gained from intuition or observation or
experience are valid in theology only if they are supported by
the teaching of Scripture.
4The term “biblical theology” might seem to be a
natural and appropriate one for the process I have called
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Chapter 1 • Introduction to Systematic Theology
of the teaching about prayer as it is seen throughout the history of the Old Testament and
then of the New Testament?” Of course, this question comes very close to the question,
“What does the whole Bible teach us today about prayer?” (which would be systematic
theology by our definition). It then becomes evident that the boundary lines between
these various disciplines often overlap at the edges, and parts of one study blend into the
next. Yet there is still a difference, for biblical theology traces the historical development
of a doctrine and the way in which one’s place at some point in that historical development
affects one’s understanding and application of that particular doctrine. Biblical
theology also focuses on the understanding of each doctrine that the biblical authors and
their original hearers or readers possessed.
Systematic theology, on the other hand, makes use of the material of biblical theology
and often builds on the results of biblical theology. At some points, especially where great
detail and care is needed in the development of a doctrine, systematic theology will even
use a biblical-theological method, analyzing the development of each doctrine through
the historical development of Scripture. But the focus of systematic theology remains
different: its focus is on the collection and then the summary of the teaching of all the
biblical passages on a particular subject. Thus systematic theology asks, for example,
“What does the whole Bible teach us today about prayer?” It attempts to summarize the
teaching of Scripture in a brief, understandable, and very carefully formulated statement.
2. Application to Life. Furthermore, systematic theology focuses on summarizing each
doctrine as it should be understood by present-day Chris tians. This will sometimes involve
the use of terms and even concepts that were not themselves used by any individual biblical
author, but that are the proper result of combining the teachings of two or more biblical
authors on a particular subject. The terms Trinity, incarnation, and deity of Christ, for
example, are not found in the Bible, but they usefully summarize biblical concepts.
Defining systematic theology to include “what the whole Bible teaches us today”
implies that application to life is a necessary part of the proper pursuit of systematic
theology. Thus a doctrine under consideration is seen in terms of its practical value for
living the Chris tian life. Nowhere in Scripture do we find doctrine studied for its own
sake or in isolation from life. The biblical writers consistently apply their teaching to life.
Therefore, any Chris tian reading this book should find his or her Chris tian life enriched
and deepened during this study; indeed, if personal spiritual growth does not occur, then
the book has not been written properly by the author or the material has not been rightly
studied by the reader.
3. Systematic Theology and Disorganized Theology. If we use this definition of systematic
theology, it will be seen that most Chris tians actually do systematic theology
(or at least make systematic-theological statements) many times a week. For example:
“The Bible says that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will be saved.” “The Bible says
“systematic theology.” However, its usage in theological studies
to refer to tracing the historical development of doctrines
throughout the Bible is too well established, so that starting now
to use the term biblical theology to refer to what I have called
systematic theology would only result in confusion.
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that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.” “The Bible says that Jesus is coming again.”
These are all summaries of what Scripture says and, as such, they are systematictheological
statements. In fact, every time a Chris tian says something about what the
whole Bible says, he or she is in a sense doing “systematic theology” — according to our
definition — by thinking about various topics and answering the question, “What does
the whole Bible teach us today?”5
How then does this book differ from the “systematic theology” that most Chris tians
do? First, it treats biblical topics in a carefully organized way to guarantee that all important
topics will receive thorough consideration. This organization also provides one
sort of check against inaccurate analysis of individual topics, for it means that all other
doctrines that are treated can be compared with each topic for consistency in methodology
and absence of contradictions in the relationships between the doctrines. This also
helps to ensure balanced consideration of complementary doctrines: Christ’s deity and
humanity are studied together, for example, as are God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility,
so that wrong conclusions will not be drawn from an imbalanced emphasis on
only one aspect of the full biblical presentation.
In fact, 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. Thus “systematic” should be thought of as the opposite of
“randomly arranged” or “disorganized.” In systematic theology topics are treated in an
orderly or “systematic” way.
A second difference between this book and the way most Chris tians do systematic
theology is that it treats topics in much more detail than most Chris tians do. For example,
an ordinary Chris tian as a result of regular reading of the Bible may make the theological
statement, “The Bible says that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will be saved.”
That is a perfectly true summary of a major biblical teaching. However, it can take several
pages to elaborate more precisely what it means to “believe in Jesus Christ,” and it could
take several chapters to explain what it means to “be saved” in all of the many implications
of that term.
Third, a formal study of systematic theology will make it possible to formulate
summaries of biblical teachings with much more accuracy than Chris tians would
normally arrive at without such a study. In systematic theology, summaries of biblical
teachings must be worded precisely to guard against misunderstandings and to exclude
false teachings.
Fourth, a good theological analysis must find and treat fairly all the relevant Bible
passages for each particular topic, not just some or a few of the relevant passages. This
5Robert L. Reymond, “The Justification of Theology
with a Special Application to Contemporary Christology,”
in Nigel M. Cameron, ed., The Challenge of Evangelical
Theology: Essays in Approach and Method (Edinburgh:
Rutherford House, 1987), pp. 82 – 104, cites several examples
from the New Testament of this kind of searching through
all of Scripture to demonstrate doctrinal conclusions: Jesus
in Luke 24:25 – 27 (and elsewhere); Apollos in Acts 18:28;
the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15; and Paul in Acts 17:2 – 3;
20:27; and all of Romans. To this list could be added Heb. 1
(on Christ’s divine Sonship), Heb. 11 (on the nature of true
faith), and many other passages from the Epistles.
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Chapter 1 • Introduction to Systematic Theology
often means that it must depend on the results of careful exegesis (or interpretation) of
Scripture generally agreed upon by evangelical interpreters or, where there are significant
differences of interpretation, systematic theology will include detailed exegesis at certain
points.
Because of the large number of topics covered in a study of systematic theology and
because of the great detail with which these topics are analyzed, it is inevitable that someone
studying a systematic theology text or taking a course in systematic theology for the
first time will have many of his or her own personal beliefs challenged or modified,
refined or enriched. It is of utmost importance therefore that each person beginning such
a course firmly resolve in his or her own mind to abandon as false any idea which is found
to be clearly contradicted by the teaching of Scripture. But it is also very important for
each person to resolve not to believe any individual doctrine simply because this textbook
or some other textbook or teacher says that it is true, unless this book or the instructor in
a course can convince the student from the text of Scripture itself. It is Scripture alone,
not “conservative evangelical tradition” or any other human authority, that must
function as the normative authority for the definition of what we should believe.
4. What Are Doctrines? In this book, the word doctrine will be understood in the following
way: A doctrine is what the whole Bible teaches us today about some particular
topic. This definition is directly related to our earlier definition of systematic theology,
since it shows that a “doctrine” is simply the result of the process of doing systematic
theology with regard to one particular topic. Understood in this way, doctrines can be
very broad or very narrow. We can speak of “the doctrine of God” as a major doctrinal
category, including a summary of all that the Bible teaches us today about God. Such
a doctrine would be exceptionally large. On the other hand, we may also speak more
narrowly of the doctrine of God’s eternity, or the doctrine of the Trinity, or the doctrine
of God’s justice.6
Within the major doctrinal category of this book, many more specific teachings
have been selected as appropriate for inclusion. Generally these meet at least one of the
following three criteria: (1) they are doctrines that are most emphasized in Scripture;
(2) they are doctrines that have been most significant throughout the history of the
church and have been important for all Chris tians at all times; (3) they are doctrines
that have become important for Chris tians in the present situation in the history of the
church (even though some of these doctrines may not have been of such great interest
earlier in church history). Some examples of doctrines in the third category would be
the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, the doctrine of baptism in the Holy Spirit,
the doctrine of Satan and demons with particular reference to spiritual warfare, the
doctrine of spiritual gifts in the New Testament age, and the doctrine of the creation
of man as male and female in relation to the understanding of roles appropriate to men
and women today.
6The word dogma is an approximate synonym for doctrine,
but I have not used it in this book. Dogma is a term more often
used by Roman Catholic and Lutheran theologians, and the
term frequently refers to doctrines that have official church
endorsement. Dogmatic theology is another term for systematic
theology.
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Finally, what is the difference between systematic theology and Chris tian ethics?
Although there is inevitably some overlap between the study of theology and the study
of ethics, I have tried to maintain a distinction in emphasis. The emphasis of systematic
theology is on what God wants us to believe and to know, while the emphasis in Christian
ethics is on what God wants us to do and what attitudes he wants us to have. Such
a distinction is reflected in the following definition: Chris tian ethics is any study that
answers the question, “What does God require us to do and what attitudes does he require
us to have today?” with regard to any given situation. Thus theology focuses on ideas while
ethics focuses on situations in life. Theology tells us how we should think while ethics
tells us how we should live. A textbook on ethics, for example, would discuss topics such
as marriage and divorce, lying and telling the truth, stealing and ownership of property,
abortion, birth control, homosexuality, the role of civil government, discipline of children,
capital punishment, war, care for the poor, racial discrimination, and so forth.
Of course there is some overlap: theology must be applied to life (therefore it is often
ethical to some degree). And ethics must be based on proper ideas of God and his world
(therefore it is theological to some degree).
This book will emphasize systematic theology, though it will not hesitate to apply
theology to life where such application comes readily. Still, for a thorough treatment of
Chris tian ethics, another textbook similar to this in scope would be necessary.
B. Initial Assumptions of This Book
We begin with two assumptions or presuppositions: (1) that the Bible is true and that
it is, in fact, our only absolute standard of truth; (2) that the God who is spoken of in the
Bible exists, and that he is who the Bible says he is: the Creator of heaven and earth and
all things in them. These two presuppositions, of course, are always open to later adjustment
or modification or deeper confirmation, but at this point, these two assumptions
form the point at which we begin.
C. Why Should Chris tians Study Theology?
Why should Chris tians study systematic theology? That is, why should we engage
in the process of collecting and summarizing the teachings of many individual Bible
passages on particular topics? Why is it not sufficient simply to continue reading the
Bible regularly every day of our lives?
1. The Basic Reason. Many answers have been given to this question, but too often they
leave the impression that systematic theology somehow can “improve” on the Bible by
doing a better job of organizing its teachings or explaining them more clearly than the
Bible itself has done. Thus we may begin implicitly to deny the clarity of Scripture or
the sufficiency of Scripture.
However, Jesus commanded his disciples and now commands us also to teach
believers to observe all that he commanded:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of
the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all
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that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the
age. (Matt. 28:19 – 20)
Now to teach all that Jesus commanded, in a narrow sense, is simply to teach the content
of the oral teaching of Jesus as it is recorded in the gospel narratives. However, in a
broader sense, “all that Jesus commanded” includes the interpretation and application
of his life and teachings, because in the book of Acts it is implied that it contains a narrative
of what Jesus continued to do and teach through the apostles after his resurrection
(note that 1:1 speaks of “all that Jesus began to do and teach”). “All that Jesus commanded”
can also include the Epistles, since they were written under the supervision of
the Holy Spirit and were also considered to be a “command of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37;
see also John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Thess. 4:15; 2 Peter 3:2; and Rev. 1:1 – 3). Thus in a larger
sense, “all that Jesus commanded” includes all of the New Testament.
Furthermore, when we consider that the New Testament writings endorse the absolute
confidence Jesus had in the authority and reliability of the Old Testament Scriptures
as God’s words, and when we realize that the New Testament epistles also endorse this
view of the Old Testament as absolutely authoritative words of God, then it becomes
evident that we cannot teach “all that Jesus commanded” without including all of the
Old Testament (rightly understood in the various ways in which it applies to the new
covenant age in the history of redemption) as well.
The task of fulfilling the Great Commission includes therefore not only evangelism
but also teaching. And the task of teaching all that Jesus commanded us is, in a broad
sense, the task of teaching what the whole Bible says to us today. To effectively teach
ourselves and to teach others what the whole Bible says, it is necessary to collect and
summarize all the Scripture passages on a particular subject.
For example, if someone asks me, “What does the Bible teach about Christ’s return?” I
could say, “Just keep reading your Bible and you’ll find out.” But if the questioner begins
reading at Genesis 1:1 it will be a long time before he or she finds the answer to his question.
By that time many other questions will have needed answers, and his list of unanswered
questions will begin to grow very long indeed. What does the Bible teach about
the work of the Holy Spirit? What does the Bible teach about prayer? What does the Bible
teach about sin? There simply is not time in our lifetimes to read through the entire Bible
looking for an answer for ourselves every time a doctrinal question arises. Therefore, for
us to learn what the Bible says, it is very helpful to have the benefit of the work of others
who have searched through Scripture and found answers to these various topics.
We can teach others most effectively if we can direct them to the most relevant passages
and suggest an appropriate summary of the teachings of those passages. Then the
person who questions us can inspect those passages quickly for himself or herself and
learn much more rapidly what the teaching of the Bible is on a particular subject. Thus
the necessity of systematic theology for teaching what the Bible says comes about primarily
because we are finite in our memory and in the amount of time at our disposal.
The basic reason for studying systematic theology, then, is that it enables us to teach
ourselves and others what the whole Bible says, thus fulfilling the second part of the
Great Commission.
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2. The Benefits to Our Lives. Although the basic reason for studying systematic theology
is that it is a means of obedience to our Lord’s command, there are some additional
specific benefits that come from such study.
First, studying theology helps us overcome our wrong ideas. If there were no sin in
our hearts, we could read the Bible from cover to cover and, although we would not
immediately learn everything in the Bible, we would most likely learn only true things
about God and his creation. Every time we read it we would learn more true things and
we would not rebel or refuse to accept anything we found written there. But with sin in
our hearts we retain some rebelliousness against God. At various points there are — for
all of us — biblical teachings which for one reason or another we do not want to accept.
The study of systematic theology is of help in overcoming those rebellious ideas.
For example, suppose there is someone who does not want to believe that Jesus is
personally coming back to earth again. We could show this person one verse or perhaps
two that speak of Jesus’ return to earth, but the person might still find a way to evade the
force of those verses or read a different meaning into them. But if we collect twenty-five
or thirty verses that say that Jesus is coming back to earth personally and write them all
out on paper, our friend who hesitated to believe in Christ’s return is much more likely
to be persuaded by the breadth and diversity of biblical evidence for this doctrine. Of
course, we all have areas like that, areas where our understanding of the Bible’s teaching
is inadequate. In these areas, it is helpful for us to be confronted with the total weight of
the teaching of Scripture on that subject, so that we will more readily be persuaded even
against our initial wrongful inclinations.
Second, studying systematic theology helps us to be able to make better decisions later
on new questions of doctrine that may arise. We cannot know what new doctrinal controversies
will arise in the churches in which we will live and minister ten, twenty, or
thirty years from now, if the Lord does not return before then. These new doctrinal controversies
will sometimes include questions that no one has faced very carefully before.
Chris tians will be asking, “What does the whole Bible say about this subject?” (The
precise nature of biblical inerrancy and the appropriate understanding of biblical
teaching on gifts of the Holy Spirit are two examples of questions that have arisen in
our century with much more forcefulness than ever before in the history of the church.)
Whatever the new doctrinal controversies are in future years, those who have learned
systematic theology well will be much better able to answer the new questions that arise.
The reason for this is that everything that the Bible says is somehow related to everything
else the Bible says (for it all fits together in a consistent way, at least within God’s
own understanding of reality, and in the nature of God and creation as they really are).
Thus the new question will be related to much that has already been learned from Scripture.
The more thoroughly that earlier material has been learned, the better able we will
be to deal with those new questions.
This benefit extends even more broadly. We face problems of applying Scripture to
life in many more contexts than formal doctrinal discussions. What does the Bible teach
about husband-wife relationships? About raising children? About witnessing to a friend
at work? What principles does Scripture give us for studying psychology, or economics,
or the natural sciences? How does it guide us in spending money, or in saving, or in tith-
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ing? In every area of inquiry certain theological principles will come to bear, and those
who have learned well the theological teachings of the Bible will be much better able to
make decisions that are pleasing to God.
A helpful analogy at this point is that of a jigsaw puzzle. If the puzzle represents
“what the whole Bible teaches us today about everything” then a course in systematic
theology would be like filling in the border and some of the major items pictured in
the puzzle. But we will never know everything that the Bible teaches about everything,
so our jigsaw puzzle will have many gaps, many pieces that remain to be put
in. Solving a new real-life problem is analogous to filling in another section of the
jigsaw puzzle: the more pieces one has in place correctly to begin with, the easier it is
to fit new pieces in, and the less apt one is to make mistakes. In this book the goal is
to enable Chris tians to put into their “theological jigsaw puzzle” as many pieces with
as much accuracy as possible, and to encourage Chris tians to go on putting in more
and more correct pieces for the rest of their lives. The Chris tian doctrines studied here
will act as guidelines to help in the filling in of all other areas, areas that pertain to all
aspects of truth in all aspects of life.
Third, studying systematic theology will help us grow as Chris tians. The more we
know about God, about his Word, about his relationships to the world and mankind, the
better we will trust him, the more fully we will praise him, and the more readily we will
obey him. Studying systematic theology rightly will make us more mature Chris tians.
If it does not do this, we are not studying it in the way God intends.
In fact, the Bible often connects sound doctrine with maturity in Chris tian living:
Paul speaks of “the teaching which accords with godliness” (1 Tim. 6:3) and says that his
work as an apostle is “to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth
which accords with godliness” (Titus 1:1). By contrast, he indicates that all kinds of
disobedience and immorality are “contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:10).
In connection with this idea it is appropriate to ask what the difference is between
a “major doctrine” and a “minor doctrine.” Chris tians often say they want to seek
agreement in the church on major doctrines but also to allow for differences on minor
doctrines. I have found the following guideline useful:
A major doctrine is one that has a significant impact on our thinking about
other doctrines, or that has a significant impact on how we live the Chris tian
life. A minor doctrine is one that has very little impact on how we think about
other doctrines, and very little impact on how we live the Chris tian life.
By this standard doctrines such as the authority of the Bible, the Trinity, the deity of
Christ, justification by faith, and many others would rightly be considered major doctrines.
People who disagree with the historic evangelical understanding of any of these
doctrines will have wide areas of difference with evangelical Chris tians who affirm these
doctrines. By contrast, it seems to me that differences over forms of church government
or some details about the Lord’s Supper or the timing of the great tribulation concern
minor doctrines. Chris tians who differ over these things can agree on perhaps every
other area of doctrine, can live Chris tian lives that differ in no important way, and can
have genuine fellowship with one another.
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Of course, we may find doctrines that fall somewhere between “major” and “minor”
according to this standard. For example, Chris tians may differ over the degree of significance
that should attach to the doctrine of baptism or the millennium or the extent
of the atonement. That is only natural, because many doctrines have some influence
on other doctrines or on life, but we may differ over whether we think it to be a “significant”
influence. We could even recognize that there will be a range of significance
here and just say that the more influence a doctrine has on other doctrines and on life,
the more “major” it becomes. This amount of influence may even vary according to
the historical circumstances and needs of the church at any given time. In such cases,
Chris tians will need to ask God to give them mature wisdom and sound judgment as
they try to determine to what extent a doctrine should be considered “major” in their
particular circumstances.
D. A Note on Two Objections to the Study of Systematic Theology
1. “The Conclusions Are ‘Too Neat’ to Be True.” Some scholars look with suspicion at
systematic theology when — or even because — its teachings fit together in a noncontradictory
way. They object that the results are “too neat” and that systematic theologians
must therefore be squeezing the Bible’s teachings into an artificial mold, distorting the
true meaning of Scripture to get an orderly set of beliefs.
To this objection two responses can be made: (1) We must first ask the people making
the objection to tell us at what specific points Scripture has been misinterpreted, and
then we must deal with the understanding of those passages. Perhaps mistakes have been
made, and in that case there should be corrections.
Yet it is also possible that the objector will have no specific passages in mind, or no
clearly erroneous interpretations to point to in the works of the most responsible evangelical
theologians. Of course, incompetent exegesis can be found in the writings of the
less competent scholars in any field of biblical studies, not just in systematic theology,
but those “bad examples” constitute an objection not against the scholar’s field but
against the incompetent scholar himself.
It is very important that the objector be specific at this point because this objection
is sometimes made by those who — perhaps unconsciously — have adopted from our
culture a skeptical view of the possibility of finding universally true conclusions about
anything, even about God from his Word. This kind of skepticism regarding theological
truth is especially common in the modern university world where “systematic theology”
— if it is studied at all — is studied only from the perspectives of philosophical theology
and historical theology (including perhaps a historical study of the various ideas
that were believed by the early Chris tians who wrote the New Testament, and by other
Chris tians at that time and throughout church history). In this kind of intellectual climate
the study of “systematic theology” as defined in this chapter would be considered
impossible, because the Bible would be assumed to be merely the work of many human
authors who wrote out of diverse cultures and experiences over the course of more than
one thousand years: trying to find “what the whole Bible teaches” about any subject
would be thought nearly as hopeless as trying to find “what all philosophers teach”
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about some question, for the answer in both cases would be thought to be not one view
but many diverse and often conflicting views. This skeptical viewpoint must be rejected
by evangelicals who see Scripture as the product of human and divine authorship, and
therefore as a collection of writings that teach noncontradictory truths about God and
about the universe he created.
(2) Second, it must be answered that in God’s own mind, and in the nature of reality
itself, true facts and ideas are all consistent with one another. Therefore if we have accurately
understood the teachings of God in Scripture we should expect our conclusions
to “fit together” and be mutually consistent. Internal consistency, then, is an argument
for, not against, any individual results of systematic theology.
2. “The Choice of Topics Dictates the Conclusions.” Another general objection to systematic
theology concerns the choice and arrangement of topics, and even the fact that
such topically arranged study of Scripture, using categories sometimes different from
those found in Scripture itself, is done at all. Why are these theological topics treated rather
than just the topics emphasized by the biblical authors, and why are the topics arranged in
this way rather than in some other way? Perhaps — this objection would say — our traditions
and our cultures have determined the topics we treat and the arrangement of topics,
so that the results of this systematic-theological study of Scripture, though acceptable in
our own theological tradition, will in fact be untrue to Scripture itself.
A variant of this objection is the statement that our starting point often determines
our conclusions on controversial topics: if we decide to start with an emphasis on
the divine authorship of Scripture, for example, we will end up believing in biblical
in errancy, but if we start with an emphasis on the human authorship of Scripture, we
will end up believing there are some errors in the Bible. Similarly, if we start with an
emphasis on God’s sovereignty, we will end up as Calvinists, but if we start with an
emphasis on man’s ability to make free choices, we will end up as Arminians, and so
forth. This objection makes it sound as if the most important theological questions
could probably be decided by flipping a coin to decide where to start, since different and
equally valid conclusions will inevitably be reached from the different starting points.
Those who make such an objection often suggest that the best way to avoid this problem
is not to study or teach systematic theology at all, but to limit our topical studies
to the field of biblical theology, treating only the topics and themes the biblical authors
themselves emphasize and describing the historical development of these biblical themes
through the Bible.
In response to this objection, much of the discussion in this chapter about the necessity
to teach Scripture will be relevant. Our choice of topics need not be restricted to the
main concerns of the biblical authors, for our goal is to find out what God requires of us
in all areas of concern to us today.
For example, it was not the main concern of any New Testament author to explain
such topics as “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” or women’s roles in the church, or the doctrine
of the Trinity, but these are valid areas of concern for us today, and we must look
at all the places in Scripture that have relevance for those topics (whether those specific
terms are mentioned or not, and whether those themes are of primary concern to each
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passage we examine or not) if we are going to be able to understand and explain to others
“what the whole Bible teaches” about them.
The only alternative — for we will think something about those subjects — is to form our
opinions haphazardly from a general impression of what we feel to be a “biblical” position
on each subject, or perhaps to buttress our positions with careful analysis of one or two
relevant texts, yet with no guarantee that those texts present a balanced view of “the whole
counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) on the subject being considered. In fact this approach — one
all too common in evangelical circles today — could, I suppose, be called “unsystematic
theology” or even “disorderly and random theology”! Such an alternative is too subjective
and too subject to cultural pressures. It tends toward doctrinal fragmentation and widespread
doctrinal uncertainty, leaving the church theologically immature, like “children,
tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).
Concerning the objection about the choice and sequence of topics, there is nothing
to prevent us from going to Scripture to look for answers to any doctrinal questions,
considered in any sequence. The sequence of topics in this book is a very common one
and has been adopted because it is orderly and lends itself well to learning and teaching.
But the chapters could be read in any sequence one wanted and the conclusions should
not be different, nor should the persuasiveness of the arguments — if they are rightly
derived from Scripture — be significantly diminished. I have tried to write the chapters
so that they can be read as independent units.
E. How Should Chris tians Study Systematic Theology?
How then should we study systematic theology? The Bible provides some guidelines
for answering this question.
1. We Should Study Systematic Theology with Prayer. If studying systematic theology is
simply a certain way of studying the Bible, then the passages in Scripture that talk about
the way in which we should study God’s Word give guidance to us in this task. Just as the
psalmist prays in Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out
of your law,” so we should pray and seek God’s help in understanding his Word. Paul tells
us in 1 Co rin thi ans 2:14 that “the unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit
of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are
spiritually discerned.” Studying theology is therefore a spiritual activity in which we need
the help of the Holy Spirit.
No matter how intelligent, if the student does not continue to pray for God to give
him or her an understanding mind and a believing and humble heart, and the student
does not maintain a personal walk with the Lord, then the teachings of Scripture will be
misunderstood and disbelieved, doctrinal error will result, and the mind and heart of the
student will not be changed for the better but for the worse. Students of systematic theology
should resolve at the beginning to keep their lives free from any disobedience to God
or any known sin that would disrupt their relationship with him. They should resolve to
maintain with great regularity their own personal devotional lives. They should continually
pray for wisdom and understanding of Scripture.
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Chapter 1 • Introduction to Systematic Theology
Since it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the ability rightly to understand Scripture, we
need to realize that the proper thing to do, particularly when we are unable to understand
some passage or some doctrine of Scripture, is to pray for God’s help. Often what we need
is not more data but more insight into the data we already have available. This insight is
given only by the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 1:17 – 19).
2. We Should Study Systematic Theology with Humility. Peter tells us, “Clothe yourselves,
all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but
gives grace to the humble’ ” (1 Peter 5:5). Those who study systematic theology will learn
many things about the teachings of Scripture that are perhaps not known or not known
well by other Chris tians in their churches or by relatives who are older in the Lord than
they are. They may also find that they understand things about Scripture that some of
their church officers do not understand, and that even their pastor has perhaps forgotten
or never learned well.
In all of these situations it would be very easy to adopt an attitude of pride or superiority
toward others who have not made such a study. But how ugly it would be if anyone
were to use this knowledge of God’s Word simply to win arguments or to put down a fellow
Chris tian in conversation, or to make another believer feel insignificant in the Lord’s
work. James’ counsel is good for us at this point: “Let every man be quick to hear, slow
to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righ teousness of God”
(James 1:19 – 20). He tells us that one’s understanding of Scripture is to be imparted in
humility and love:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his
works in the meekness of wisdom. . . . But the wisdom from above is first pure,
then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without
uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righ teousness is sown in peace by
those who make peace. (James 3:13, 17 – 18)
Systematic theology rightly studied will not lead to the knowledge that “puffs up”
(1 Cor. 8:1) but to humility and love for others.
3. We Should Study Systematic Theology with Reason. We find in the New Testament
that Jesus and the New Testament authors will often quote a verse of Scripture and then
draw logical conclusions from it. They reason from Scripture. It is therefore not wrong to
use human understanding, human logic, and human reason to draw conclusions from
the statements of Scripture. Nevertheless, when we reason and draw what we think to
be correct logical deductions from Scripture, we sometimes make mistakes. The deductions
we draw from the statements of Scripture are not equal to the statements of Scripture
themselves in certainty or authority, for our ability to reason and draw conclusions
is not the ultimate standard of truth — only Scripture is.
What then are the limits on our use of our reasoning abilities to draw deductions from
the statements of Scripture? The fact that reasoning to conclusions that go beyond the mere
statements of Scripture is appropriate and even necessary for studying Scripture, and the
fact that Scripture itself is the ultimate standard of truth, combine to indicate to us that we
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are free to use our reasoning abilities to draw deductions from any passage of Scripture so long
as these deductions do not contradict the clear teaching of some other passage of Scripture.7
This principle puts a safeguard on our use of what we think to be logical deductions
from Scripture. Our supposedly logical deductions may be erroneous, but Scripture
itself cannot be erroneous. Thus, for example, we may read Scripture and find that God
the Father is called God (1 Cor. 1:3), that God the Son is called God (John 20:28; Titus
2:13), and that God the Holy Spirit is called God (Acts 5:3 – 4). We might deduce from
this that there are three Gods. But then we find the Bible explicitly teaching us that God
is one (Deut. 6:4; James 2:19). Thus we conclude that what we thought to be a valid logical
deduction about three Gods was wrong and that Scripture teaches both (a) that there
are three separate persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), each of whom is
fully God, and (b) that there is one God.
We cannot understand exactly how these two statements can both be true, so together
they constitute a paradox (“a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be
true”).8 We can tolerate a paradox (such as “God is three persons and one God”) because
we have confidence that ultimately God knows fully the truth about himself and about
the nature of reality, and that in his understanding the different elements of a paradox are
fully reconciled, even though at this point God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts
(Isa. 55:8 – 9). But a true contradiction (such as, “God is three persons and God is not
three persons”) would imply ultimate contradiction in God’s own understanding of
himself or of reality, and this cannot be.
7This guideline is also adopted from Professor John Frame
at Westminster Seminary.
8The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language,
ed. William Morris (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1980), p. 950
(first definition). Essentially the same meaning is adopted by
the Oxford English Dictionary (1913 ed., 7:450), the Concise
Oxford Dictionary (1981 ed., p. 742), the Random House College
Dictionary (1979 ed., p. 964), and the Chambers Twentieth
Century Dictionary (p. 780), though all note that paradox can
also mean “contradiction” (though less commonly); compare
the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards (New York:
Macmillan and The Free Press, 1967), 5:45, and the entire
article “Logical Paradoxes” by John van Heijenoort on pp.
45 – 51 of the same volume, which proposes solutions to
many of the classical paradoxes in the history of philosophy.
(If paradox meant “contradiction,” such solutions would be
impossible.)
When I use the word paradox in the primary sense defined
by these dictionaries today I realize that I am differing somewhat
with the article “Paradox” by K. S. Kantzer in the EDT,
ed. Walter Elwell, pp. 826 – 27 (which takes paradox to mean
essentially “contradiction”). However, I am using paradox in
an ordinary English sense and one also familiar in philosophy.
There seems to me to be available no better word than paradox
to refer to an apparent but not real contradiction.
There is, however, some lack of uniformity in the use
of the term paradox and a related term, antinomy, in contemporary
evangelical discussion. The word antinomy has
sometimes been used to apply to what I here call paradox,
that is, “seemingly contradictory statements that may nonetheless
both be true” (see, for example, John Jefferson Davis,
Theology Primer [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981], p. 18). Such
a sense for antinomy gained support in a widely read book,
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, by J. I. Packer (London:
Inter-Varsity Press, 1961). On pp. 18 – 22 Packer defines
antinomy as “an appearance of contradiction” (but admits
on p. 18 that his definition differs with the Shorter Oxford
Dictionary). My problem with using antinomy in this sense
is that the word is so unfamiliar in ordinary English that it
just increases the stock of technical terms Chris tians have to
learn in order to understand theologians, and moreover such
a sense is unsupported by any of the dictionaries cited above,
all of which define antinomy to mean “contradiction” (e.g.,
Oxford English Dictionary, 1:371). The problem is not serious,
but it would help communication if evangelicals could agree
on uniform senses for these terms.
A paradox is certainly acceptable in systematic theology,
and paradoxes are in fact inevitable so long as we have finite
understanding of any theological topic. However, it is important
to recognize that Chris tian theology should never affirm
a contradiction (a set of two statements, one of which denies
the other). A contradiction would be, “God is three persons
and God is not three persons” (where the term persons has the
same sense in both halves of the sentence).
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Chapter 1 • Introduction to Systematic Theology
When the psalmist says, “The sum of your word is truth; and every one of your righteous
ordinances endures for ever” (Ps. 119:160), he implies that God’s words are not
only true individually but also viewed together as a whole. Viewed collectively, their
“sum” is also “truth.” Ultimately, there is no internal contradiction either in Scripture
or in God’s own thoughts.
4. We Should Study Systematic Theology with Help from Others. We need to be
thankful that God has put teachers in the church (“And God has appointed in the church
first apostles, second prophets, third teachers . . .” [1 Cor. 12:28]. We should allow those
with gifts of teaching to help us understand Scripture. This means that we should make
use of systematic theologies and other books that have been written by some of the teachers
that God has given to the church over the course of its history. It also means that our
study of theology should include talking with other Chris tians about the things we study.
Among those with whom we talk will often be some with gifts of teaching who can
explain biblical teachings clearly and help us to understand more easily. In fact, some
of the most effective learning in systematic theology courses in colleges and seminaries
often occurs outside the classroom in informal conversations among students who are
attempting to understand Bible doctrines for themselves.
5. We Should Study Systematic Theology by Collecting and Understanding All the
Relevant Passages of Scripture on Any Topic. This point was mentioned in our definition
of systematic theology at the beginning of the chapter, but the actual process needs
to be described here. How does one go about making a doctrinal summary of what all
the passages of Scripture teach on a certain topic? For topics covered in this book, many
people will think that studying the chapters in this book and reading the Bible verses
noted in the chapters is enough. But some people will want to do further study of Scripture
on a particular topic or study some new topic not covered here. How could a student
go about using the Bible to research its teachings on some new subject, perhaps one not
discussed explicitly in any of his or her systematic theology textbooks?
The process would look like this: (1) Find all the relevant verses. The best help in
this step is a good concordance, which enables one to look up key words and find the
verses in which the subject is treated. For example, in studying what it means that man
is created in the image and likeness of God, one needs to find all the verses in which
“image” and “likeness” and “create” occur. (The words “man” and “God” occur too
often to be useful for a concordance search.) In studying the doctrine of prayer, many
words could be looked up (pray, prayer, intercede, petition, supplication, confess, confession,
praise, thanks, thanksgiving, et al.) — and perhaps the list of verses would grow too
long to be manageable, so that the student would have to skim the concordance entries
without looking up the verses, or the search would probably have to be divided into
sections or limited in some other way. Verses can also be found by thinking through the
overall history of the Bible and then turning to sections where there would be information
on the topic at hand — for example, a student studying prayer would want to read
passages like the one about Hannah’s prayer for a son (in 1 Sam. 1), Solomon’s prayer at
the dedication of the temple (in 1 Kings 8), Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane
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(in Matt. 26 and parallels), and so forth. Then in addition to concordance work and
reading other passages that one can find on the subject, checking the relevant sections
in some systematic theology books will often bring to light other verses that had been
missed, sometimes because none of the key words used for the concordance were in
those verses.9
(2) The second step is to read, make notes on, and try to summarize the points made
in the relevant verses. Sometimes a theme will be repeated often and the summary of
the various verses will be relatively easy. At other times, there will be verses difficult
to understand, and the student will need to take some time to study a verse in depth
(just by reading the verse in context over and over, or by using specialized tools such as
commentaries and dictionaries) until a satisfactory understanding is reached.
(3) Finally, the teachings of the various verses should be summarized into one or
more points that the Bible affirms about that subject. The summary does not have to
take the exact form of anyone else’s conclusions on the subject, because we each may see
things in Scripture that others have missed, or we may organize the subject differently
or emphasize different things.
On the other hand, at this point it is also helpful to read related sections, if any can be
found, in several systematic theology books. This provides a useful check against error
and oversight, and often makes one aware of alternative perspectives and arguments
that may cause us to modify or strengthen our position. If a student finds that others
have argued for strongly differing conclusions, then these other views need to be stated
fairly and then answered. Sometimes other theology books will alert us to historical or
philosophical considerations that have been raised before in the history of the church,
and these will provide additional insight or warnings against error.
The process outlined above is possible for any Chris tian who can read his or her
Bible and can look up words in a concordance. Of course people will become faster and
more accurate in this process with time and experience and Chris tian maturity, but it
would be a tremendous help to the church if Chris tians generally would give much more
time to searching out topics in Scripture for themselves and drawing conclusions in the
way outlined above. The joy of discovery of biblical themes would be richly rewarding.
Especially pastors and those who lead Bible studies would find added freshness in their
understanding of Scripture and in their teaching.
6. We Should Study Systematic Theology with Rejoicing and Praise. The study of theology
is not merely a theoretical exercise of the intellect. It is a study of the living God,
and of the wonders of all his works in creation and redemption. We cannot study this
subject dispassionately! We must love all that God is, all that he says and all that he
does. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Deut. 6:5). Our response
to the study of the theology of Scripture should be that of the psalmist who said, “How
precious to me are your thoughts, O God!” (Ps. 139:17). In the study of the teachings of
9I have read a number of student papers telling me that
John’s gospel says nothing about how Chris tians should pray, for
example, because they looked at a concordance and found that
the word prayer was not in John, and the word pray only occurs
four times in reference to Jesus praying in John 14, 16, and 17.
They overlooked the fact that John contains several important
verses where the word ask rather than the word pray is used
(John 14:13 – 14; 15:7, 16, et al.).
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Chapter 1 • Introduction to Systematic Theology
God’s Word, it should not surprise us if we often find our hearts spontaneously breaking
forth in expressions of praise and delight like those of the psalmist:
The precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart. (Ps. 19:8)
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches. (Ps. 119:14)
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Ps. 119:103)
Your testimonies are my heritage for ever;
yea, they are the joy of my heart. (Ps. 119:111)
I rejoice at your word
like one who finds great spoil. (Ps. 119:162)
Often in the study of theology the response of the Chris tian should be similar to that
of Paul in reflecting on the long theological argument that he has just completed at the
end of Romans 11:32. He breaks forth into joyful praise at the richness of the doctrine
which God has enabled him to express:
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable
are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory
for ever. Amen. (Rom. 11:33 – 36)
QUESTIONS FOR PERSONAL APPLICATION
These questions at the end of each chapter focus on application to life. Because I think
doctrine is to be felt at the emotional level as well as understood at the intellectual level,
in many chapters I have included some questions about how a reader feels regarding a
point of doctrine. I think these questions will prove quite valuable for those who take the
time to reflect on them.
1. In what ways (if any) has this chapter changed your understanding of what systematic
theology is? What was your attitude toward the study of systematic theology
before reading this chapter? What is your attitude now?
2. What is likely to happen to a church or denomination that gives up learning systematic
theology for a generation or longer? Has that been true of your church?
3. Are there any doctrines listed in the Contents for which a fuller understanding
would help to solve a personal difficulty in your life at the present time? What
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Making Sense of Christ and the Spirit
are the spiritual and emotional dangers that you personally need to be aware of in
studying systematic theology?
4. Pray for God to make this study of basic Chris tian doctrines a time of spiritual
growth and deeper fellowship with him, and a time in which you understand and
apply the teachings of Scripture rightly.
SPECIAL TERMS
apologetics minor doctrine
biblical theology New Testament theology
Chris tian ethics Old Testament theology
contradiction paradox
doctrine philosophical theology
dogmatic theology presupposition
historical theology systematic theology
major doctrine
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Baker, D. L. “Biblical Theology.” In NDT, p. 671.
Berkhof, Louis. Introduction to Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982,
pp. 15 – 75 (first published 1932).
Bray, Gerald L., ed. Contours of Chris tian Theology. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity
Press, 1993.
_____. “Systematic Theology, History of.” In NDT, pp. 671 – 72.
Cameron, Nigel M., ed. The Challenge of Evangelical Theology: Essays in Approach and
Method. Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 1987.
Carson, D. A. “Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: The Possibility of Systematic
Theology.” In Scripture and Truth. Ed. by D. A. Carson and John Woodbridge.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983, pp. 65 – 95.
Davis, John Jefferson. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984.
_____. The Necessity of Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980.
_____. Theology Primer: Resources for the Theological Student. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981.
Demarest, Bruce. “Systematic Theology.” In EDT, pp. 1064 – 66.
Erickson, Millard. Concise Dictionary of Chris tian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986.
Frame, John. Van Til the Theologian. Phillipsburg, N.J.: Pilgrim, 1976.
Geehan, E. R., ed. Jerusalem and Athens. Nutley, N.J.: Craig Press, 1971.
Grenz, Stanley J. Revisioning Evangelical Theology: A Fresh Agenda for the 21st Century.
Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
House, H. Wayne. Charts of Chris tian Theology and Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
1992.
Kuyper, Abraham. Principles of Sacred Theology. Trans. by J. H. DeVries. Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1968 (reprint; first published as Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology in 1898).
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Machen, J. Gresham. Chris tianity and Liberalism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1923. (This
180-page book is, in my opinion, one of the most significant theological studies
ever written. It gives a clear overview of major biblical doctrines and shows
the vital differences with Protestant liberal theology at every point, differences
that still confront us today. It is required reading in all my introductory theology
classes.)
Morrow, T. W. “Systematic Theology.” In NDT, p. 671.
Poythress, Vern. Symphonic Theology: The Validity of Multiple Perspectives in Theology.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987.
Preus, Robert D. The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism: A Study of Theological
Prolegomena. 2 vols. St. Louis: Concordia, 1970.
Van Til, Cornelius. In Defense of the Faith, vol. 5: An Introduction to Systematic Theology.
N.p.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976, pp. 1 – 61, 253 – 62.
_____. The Defense of the Faith. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1955.
Vos, Geerhardus. “The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline.”
In Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, pp. 3 – 24. Ed. by Richard
Gaffin. Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980 (article first published
1894).
Warfield, B. B. “The Indispensableness of Systematic Theology to the Preacher.” In
Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, 2:280 – 88. Ed. by John E. Meeter.
Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973 (article first published 1897).
_____. “The Right of Systematic Theology.” In Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin
B. Warfield, 2:21 – 279. Ed. by John E. Meeter. Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and
Reformed, 1973 (article first published 1896).
Wells, David. No Place for Truth, or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.
Woodbridge, John D., and Thomas E. McComiskey, eds. Doing Theology in Today’s
World: Essays in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991.
SCRIPTURE MEMORY PASSAGE
Students have repeatedly mentioned that one of the most valuable parts of any of
their courses in college or seminary has been the Scripture passages they were required
to memorize. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps.
119:11 NIV). In each chapter, therefore, I have included an appropriate memory passage
so that instructors may incorporate Scripture memory into the course requirements
wherever possible. (Scripture memory passages at the end of each chapter are taken
from the RSV. These same passages in the NIV and NASB may be found in appendix 2.)
Matthew 28:18 – 20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on
earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all
that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
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HYMN
Systematic theology at its best will result in praise. It is appropriate therefore at the end
of each chapter to include a hymn related to the subject of that chapter. In a classroom
setting, the hymn can be sung together at the beginning or end of class. Alternatively, an
individual reader can sing it privately or simply meditate quietly on the words.
For almost every chapter the words of the hymns were found in Trinity Hymnal
(Philadelphia: Great Commission Publications, 1990),10 the hymnal of the Presbyterian
Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, but most of them are found
in many other common hymnals. Unless otherwise noted, the words of these hymns are
now in public domain and no longer subject to copyright restrictions: therefore they may
be freely copied for overhead projector use or photocopied.
Why have I used so many old hymns? Although I personally like many of the more
recent worship songs that have come into wide use, when I began to select hymns that
would correspond to the great doctrines of the Chris tian faith, I realized that the great
hymns of the church throughout history have a doctrinal richness and breadth that is
still unequaled. For several of the chapters in this book, I know of no modern worship
song that covers the same subject in an extended way — perhaps this can be a challenge to
modern songwriters to study these chapters and then write songs reflecting the teaching
of Scripture on the respective subjects.
For this chapter, however, I found no hymn ancient or modern that thanked God for
the privilege of studying systematic theology from the pages of Scripture. Therefore I
have selected a hymn of general praise, which is always appropriate.
“O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”
This hymn by Charles Wesley (1707 – 88) begins by wishing for “a thousand tongues”
to sing God’s praise. Verse 2 is a prayer that God would “assist me” in singing his praise
throughout the earth. The remaining verses give praise to Jesus (vv. 3 – 6) and to God
the Father (v. 7).
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace.
My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad,
The honors of Thy name.
Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
10This hymn book is completely revised from a similar hymnal
of the same title published by the Orthodox Presbyterian
Church in WW 1961.
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33
Chapter 1 • Introduction to Systematic Theology
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life and health and peace.
He breaks the pow’r of reigning sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.
He speaks and, list’ning to His voice,
New life the dead receive;
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice;
The humble poor believe.
Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ,
Ye blind, behold your Savior come;
And leap, ye lame, for joy.
Glory to God and praise and love
Be ever, ever giv’n
By saints below and saints above —
The church in earth and heav’n.
AUTHOR: CHARLES WESLEY, 1739, ALT.