I love systematic theology! While in seminary, I appreciated and enjoyed my theology classes more than my Bible exposition classes. Don’t misinterpret – I do love the Bible – but the theology classes were my favorite. I have a hard time relating to why so many people dread and dislike theology. Even among seminary students, theology classes can be dreaded. Huh? I don’t get it. Well, sometimes theology can be presented in a dry way, but it doesn’t have to be. Some view theology as impractical. But theology, if nothing else, is immensely practical to life! At least I think so…let me explain.
To clarify, what is systematic theology? Here are a couple definitions:
Systematic theology is a discipline which addresses theological topics one by one (e.g. God, sin, humanity) and attempts to summarize all the biblical teaching on each particular subject. – from here.
“Systematic” refers to something being put into a system. Systematic theology is, therefore, the division of theology into systems that explain its various areas. For example, many books of the Bible give information about the angels. No one book gives all the information about the angels. Systematic theology takes all the information about angels from all the books of the Bible and organizes it into a system called angelology. That is what systematic theology is all about—organizing the teachings of the Bible into categorical systems. - from here.
Systematic theology helps a person have a more broad and balanced view of what the Bible teaches on various subjects. Without it, it is easy to end up with truncated or imbalanced views of Christian life and beliefs. Indeed, I’ve found myself sitting in church classes or reading Christian blogs, and things are said (or written) that are just off balance and inaccurate. Heretical? No! But just lopsided. Lopsided views lead to lopsided teaching and ultimately to lopsided living.
Bible study is important, but theology is important too. Someone may study through a book of the Bible that emphasizes one of God’s attributes like love or sovereignty, but doesn’t keep in mind that God has other attributes too. Living your life with an overemphasis on one attribute of God can lead to a variety of problems. The branch of theology called “theology proper” (study of God and his attributes) helps us gain a more complete view of God.
Or…verses about Christian “victory” are seized on, while passages on struggling in the Christian life are overlooked. Verses about the need to persevere to the end are quoted, without noting verses on the security and assurance we have in Christ. The branch of theology called “soteriology” (study of salvation) or “hamartiology” (study of sin) can help bring some clarity or balance to these areas.
I don’t want to over-simplify things. There are differing ways to interpret what the Bible teaches, but studying theology at least gives you a more comprehensive view of what it says on various topics and this can better help you reach your own conclusions. If this isn’t immensely practical to life, I don’t know what is! What you believe influences your day-to-day life. If you don’t have a comprehensive view, that means your view is: incomplete, limited, narrow, etc. Of course, no one can ever be completely objective or know everything, but studying theology can help bring some needed perspective or straighten out a lopsided emphasis.
Systematic theology books can be massive, and overwhelming. A doctrine book may be a better place to start. Typically, a doctrine book is a shorter, more streamlined book on the branches of theological study. For example, Millard Erickson’s book Introducing Christian Doctrine is an abridged (shortened) version of his massive Christian Theology. Or Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrine is an abridged version of his massive Systematic Theology. Wayne Grudem even has a simpler, more basic one entitled Christian Beliefs, which might be seen as an abridged version of the already abridged Bible Doctrine. The point is, if all this is new to you, start with something simpler and move up a little at a time!
I hope these thoughts might encourage you to consider studying doctrine and theology. And maybe even ♥ it!