And since I'm guessing lots of people have much more valid reasons not to embark on this adventure right now, I thought I might post gleanings from each chapter as I study with the hope that either a) the gleanings will be helpful all by themselves or b) the gleanings will encourage and inspire others to begin their own journey into studying systematic theology. I am loving it so far. (Yes, I know I'm a nerd. Love me anyway, ok? :-P)
*I should note that I am using the 1994 version of ISBN 0310286700 just in case anyone actually references any of the page numbers I list below.
Chapter 1: Introduction to Systematic Theology
Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, "What does the whole Bible teach us today?" about any given topic.
Historical theology--a historical study of how Christians in different periods have understood various theological topics
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
Apologetics--providing a defense of the truthfulness of the Christian faith for the purpose of convincing unbelievers
doctrine--what the whole Bible teaches us today about some particular topic
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. p. 25
Ethics vs. Theology:
Christian ethics--what God wants us to do and what attitudes he wants us to have
systematic theology--what God wants us to believe and know
. . .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. . . 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. p. 27
The Benefits of Studying Systematic Theology
- It helps us overcome our wrong ideas.
. . .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. p. 28
- It helps us to be able to make better decisions later on new questions of doctrine that may arise.
. . .everything that the Bible says is somehow related to everything else the Bible says. [Consider a 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. p. 29
- It helps us grow as Christians.
. . .studying systematic theology will help us grow as Christians. 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 Christians. If it does not do this, we are not studying it in the way God intends. p. 29
How Should Christians Study Systematic Theology?
- With Prayer
Studying theology is a spiritual activity in which we need the help of the Holy Spirit. . . 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). p. 33
- With Humility
Systematic theology rightly studied will not lead to the knowledge that "puffs up" (1 Cor. 8:1) but to humility and love for others. p. 33
- With Reason
. . .we 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. p.34
- With Help from Others
We need to be thankful that God has put teachers in the church. (1 Cor. 12:28) We should allow those with gifts of teaching to help us understand Scripture.
It also means that our study of theology should include talking with other Christians about the things we study. p. 35
- By Collecting and Understanding All the Relevant Passages of Scripture on Any Topic
a. [Use a concordance or Key Word search to gather a thorough list of Scripture related to the topic.]
b. . . .read, make notes on, and try to summarize the points made in the relevant verses
c. Finally, the teachings of the various verses should be summarized into one or more points that the Bible affirms about that subject. p. 36
- With Rejoicing and Praise
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 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 forever; yeah, 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 Christian 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)