Personal Reflections on Systematic Theology

Posted: March 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

I remember the first Christmas present that my brother bought me after I became a follower of Jesus.  It was a copy of Wayne Grudem’s popular “Systematic Theology.”  When I saw the book I wasn’t even sure what it was.  I had no idea what systematic theology was.  But the book was big and the table of contents sparked an interest.  So, I opened the book and began reading.  That was almost 10 years ago.  Since that time I have read the book from cover to cover, marked it up beyond recognition in certain places, and referenced it more than any other book I own in my study of the Bible.  I am thankful for Dr. Grudem and the influence that he has had on my life through this book.

When I enrolled at Boyce Bible College I immediately signed up for Theology I.  Dr. Mark McClellan was my first theology professor.  The assigned systematic textbook was Grudem’s Systematic Theology.  That first semester of theology was spent discussing the prolegomena, the doctrine of the Word of God, the Canon of Scripture, the Characteristics of Scripture and the doctrine of God.  The way Dr. McClellan taught these things gripped me.  He believed what he said, was confident that the Bible was true, and was himself amazed at who God was.  So, God used both the theology textbook and the teachings of Dr. McClellan to help me love theology.

I wanted more.  So I signed up for Theology II with Dr. Steve Wellum.  The required textbook was once again Grudem’s Systematic.  In this class we tackled the doctrine of man, sin, the covenants, the person and work of Christ, the person of the Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of redemption.  Dr. Wellum was a man who had a great intellect.  Listening to some of his lectures would make your head hurt.  This stuff was deep and serious.  We talked about things I had never heard of and things that rattled my presuppositions.  The Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavnick once said that you should always study something to hard for you to understand.  This counted.  And the result was a desire to dig deeper into God’s Word.  God was continuing to use Grudem and my professors to cause me to fall deeper in love with theology.

There was one more class in theology I was required to take.  I signed up for Dr. Chad Brand’s Theology III.  We would dive into the subjects of the church, spiritual gifts, and eschatology.  I had taken Dr. Brand for a number of other classes and was thrilled to be in this class with a man of his stature.  His theological and historical approach to teaching all of his classes was something I could not, and cannot, get enough of.  He taught these things biblically and then showed you how historically they have been explained, developed, and debated.  God used Dr. Brand to push me further. 

My brother bought me a book called Systematic Theology in the hopes that I would grow in my faith.  He stated that plainly on the inside of the front cover of Grudem’s book.  He  wrote, “May the contents of this volume enlarge your mind and your heart toward the deeper knowledge of Christ.  It is my prayer that the study of the Scriptures and quality works such as this will create an unquenchable passion for the greater glory of God in your life.  May you be arrested by the mission of our Lord and enjoy every step of the journey.  I’m proud of you!  In His grip, Big Brother.”  That book started it.  Dr. McClellan fanned the flame.  Dr. Wellum made my head hurt…and I wanted more.  And Dr. Brand tied things together in a way that made sense theologically and historically.  In all these things God was working to drive me to where I am today.  I am the Family Pastor at a church across the river from Louisville, KY where The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is located.  I am still taking classes and am hungry to know the Word more fully and accurately.  God has been doing more than I could see.

However, if all I have been doing is accumulating information then I fear I have missed the point.  There are very practical and helpful reasons to study and continue to study systematic theology.  Let me point out a couple:

1.  To know God more fully–this is what theology means.  It is the study of God.  Saint Augustine would say that theology was as “reasoning or discussion concerning the Deity” (City of God).  As we study the Bible we first and foremost should want to see God more clearly, love Him more deeply, and live for Him more consistently.

2.  To understand the world around us–the study of theology helps us to make sense of our world.  As we study creation, the fall, sin, and mankind we are able to understand what is wrong in our universe.  When we know what is wrong then we are better prepared to look for the remedy.  Which leads us to another reason to study theology…

3.  To understand the gospel of Jesus Christ–through theological reflection we understand that because of sin we are in a desperate situation.  But, as we keep studying, we find that God has provided us with our greatest need…redemption.  How?  Through sending His Son into this world to die in our place and three days later get up from the grave!

4.  To help us be faithful to the Great Commission–as we are saved by the grace of God we find that we are left on this earth.  We are left here and not carted off to heaven because there is a task at hand.  We are to go into the nations with the message of the gospel (which theology helps us understand).  Then we are to “teach” all that Christ has commanded.  If we have not studied then we will be ineffective at this.  As Wayne Grudem has said, “The task of fulfilling the Great Commission includes therefore not only evangelism but also teaching” (Systematic Theology, pg. 27).

5.  To live rightly–As we study theology, with much prayer, humility, and guidance, then we should come to an orthodox understanding of things.  And it has been said that orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy.  That is, right thinking should lead to right living.  As we understand the Word of God accurately it will challenge our minds.  Our thinking must change to concur with the Word of God and then our actions must conform.

6.  To grow in our faith–as we labor to study theology we should not do it without the desire to grow into Christlikeness.  Grudem is again helpful, “In fact, the Bible often connects sound doctrine with maturity in Christian living:  Paul speaks of “the teaching which accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 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)” (Systematic Theology, pg. 29).

7.  For God’s glory–The ultimate reason that we study the things of God is that He may receive the glory.  What does that mean?  It means we want people to see God for who He is.  We ourselves want to understand the Triune God of Scripture and be captivated by His majesty.  Then we want to help others to see the fullness of His being.  As we study systematic theology we are preparing ourselves to point people towards the God of systematic theology.  And that is our great desire. 

It is my hope that theological reflection never becomes a dry intellectual exercise that stays in the classroom.  I hope that as I study I fall more in love with God and His Christ.  I also hope that as I learn that I will be better able to teach these things.  And as these things are taught, may those who learn by gripped by the greatness of God and set on fire to live for Him.  And just maybe God would see fit to use me in the life of some theology student in the future as He has used Grudem, McClellan, Wellum, and Brand in my own life.  But if not, then my studies will not be lost or fruitless. By God’s grace growth in the knowledge of Him will result…and that is enough of a reason to keep me going. 

For His glory, not mine.

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