I tried hard to think of a title for this post that wouldn’t immediately turn people off! Theology. So many unfortunate stereotypes abound.
“Theology is only for academics or seminary students.”
“Theology is boring, and unrelated to life.”
“Who needs theology?”
Yet, theology is simply the study of God. Everyone has thoughts or ideas about God. So that means YOU are a theologian! Yes, you! So, how is your theology? Are you a bad or good theologian? Do you know what you believe? Could you articulate it to another person?
Theology is important. What you believe determines how you live! If you don’t have proper biblical and theological knowledge, you could be improperly living the Christian life without even realizing it. Doctrine determines your attitudes and practices in life. Inadequate or inaccurate knowledge about God can lead to inadequate or even sinful behavior. It is sad that some people could be living their Christian life based on false assumptions, rumors, wishful thinking, or misunderstandings!
I wanted to mention the difference between biblical theology and systematic theology. They are not the same thing. Biblical theology is… when you focus in on a certain section of the Bible. For example: a certain book like Isaiah, a particular author like John, or perhaps a division such as the Gospels (first 4 books of the New Testament). This type of theology is beneficial on many levels, as it helps you narrow in on a specific time frame. I think everyday Christian people tend to be more exposed to biblical theology. They have studied through a certain book of the Bible in a Bible study group. Or they have heard a sermon series that went through a specific section of the Bible. This is all well and good!
Yet, I think there is a serious lack of attention to systematic theology among laypeople. Systematic theology is… looking at the entire Bible (from beginning to end) and collecting together ALL the material in the entire Bible on a particular issue – such as the attributes of God or salvation. This gives you the big picture and a more complete view of what the Bible teaches.
Which brings up another term: progressive revelation. Basically, this means that God did not dump the whole truck in Genesis! God couldn’t reveal everything about everything in Genesis. But slowly over time God revealed more about himself and his plan for this world. As time progressed, God’s revelation became more complete. It is NOT that earlier revelation was wrong, it was simply incomplete. Only part of the story had been told, and more was revealed as the Scriptures unfolded. This is another reason systematic theology is so important…
Sometimes earlier biblical requirements are no longer required later on. For example, we no longer have to sacrifice lambs as they did in the book of Leviticus…that was fulfilled in Christ. You could mis-apply if you only focus on one book or section of the Bible.
You could also end up with an unbalanced or off-kilter view of something. For example, some parts of the Bible emphasize God’s love and mercy. While other parts emphasize God’s judgment and severity. It is not one or the other…but both. Overemphasizing one or the other can lead to faulty theology. It can cause mis-understandings about God and salvation.
Clearly, systematic theology is important. We need the entire picture of what we believe, not just part of it.
You may be thinking…“But, I’m not cut out for seminary!” – Well, you don’t have to be! Theology is for everyday people too! In fact, theology should have always been for everyday people, and it is sad how it has become sequestered in academia.
Here are some books I recommend that might help you become better acquainted with systematic theology:
- “Christian Beliefs” by Wayne Grudem. I’m actually not a Wayne Grudem fan…I prefer other theologians over him such as Millard Erickson. However, I appreciate how in “Christian Beliefs” Wayne Grudem took his 1,000 plus page systematic theology book and condensed it to only 15o pages! It has 20 brief chapters, each one on a key doctrine or belief that every Christian should know. The end of each chapter has questions for thought and application.
- “Knowing God” by JI Packer. This book is considered a classic and has sold over 1 million copies. I’ve read it twice and I know I’ll read it again. It is that good! How to even explain the book? It is not a condensed systematic theology like Grudem. Instead, Packer just talks about God and knowing him, and by the time you finish the book all the core doctrines have been covered. It is profound yet readable…theological yet practical. It touches your head and heart. I highly recommend it!
- “Dug Down Deep” by Joshua Harris. This book I have not read yet, but I’ve heard excellent reviews from people I trust. With a passionate approach and easy-to-read style, Harris covers the basic doctrines of the faith. This is a quote from the book which should also serve as a summation to this post:
“…theology matters…what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. What you believe about God’s nature, what he is like, what he wants from you, and whether or not you will answer to him – affects every part of your life.”