Why Should You Care About Theology? - Part 1

Selected Scriptures

Tom Pennington  •  November 2, 2003
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Well, tonight's going to be a little different than what we've normally done. A little more informal, a little more classroom-like; because I want us to begin to look at the issue of Systematic Theology. Now I'm shocked that some of you still came when you heard that was going to be the topic, wondering what in the world is he going to get us into. But I'm glad you did, and I trust by the time the evening is done, you'll understand why it's so important. We're going to really be talking about the issue of theology. Why should you care about theology? Why is it important?

I came across this little collection a few years back, and I thought you might enjoy it. A freshman entering Bible college was asked what part of the Bible he liked best. "Well, I like the New Testament best." he answered. "Well, what book do you like best in the New Testament?" the interviewer wanted to know. "Oh, by far, I like the book of parables best." "Oh, okay, well could you tell me a story from the book of parables? Could you relate one of those parables to me?" the interviewer asked. The freshman said, "Well of course, I'd be happy to," and this was the story he told. "Once upon a time, a man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves. And the thorns grew up and choked that man. And he went on and met the Queen of Sheba and she gave that man a thousand talents of gold and silver and a hundred changes of raiment. And he got in a chariot and he drove furiously, and as he was driving under a big tree, his hair got caught in the limb and left him hanging there. And he hung there many days and many nights, and ravens brought him food to eat and water to drink. And one night while he was hanging there asleep, his wife Delilah came along and cut off his hair, and he dropped and fell on stony ground. And it began to rain, and it rained forty days and forty nights.) And he hid himself in a cave. And he went out and met a man and said, 'Come and take supper with me in my cave.' But the man answered, 'I cannot, for I have married a wife.' And the cave dweller went out into the highways and byways and compelled people to come in. And he went to Jericho and he saw Queen Jezebel sitting high up in a window. And when she saw him she laughed, and he said, 'Throw her down.' And he said, 'Throw her down again.' And they threw her down seventy times seven. And of the fragments they picked up were twelve baskets full. And now, I want to know whose wife will she be in the Day of Judgment?"

You know, that's funny. But what's sad is, that is really an accurate parody of many people's approach to Scripture. Their theology is a poorly sewn quilt of only partly-related ideas, much like that funny story. They have no comprehensive understanding of what the entire Scripture teaches on any particular topic. Giving us that broad understanding is the role of the discipline that's called Systematic Theology. Now before we get into the specific teaching of Scripture on various doctrinal issues, which we will do in the coming weeks. And by the way, when I use the word doctrine we're simply talking about all that Scripture teaches about a particular topic.

We're going to do that in the weeks and months ahead, but before we get there, I need to lay down some preliminary definitions and some guidelines for our study together. Tonight, primarily, we're going to look at two primary objectives. The first is to define Systematic Theology, and the second is to defend Systematic Theology against some of its critics. So, that's my goal tonight.

Let's start with our first objective, and that is defining Systematic Theology. I want you to know what theology, or Systematic Theology is, and then secondly, in a few moments we're going to look at why it's important. So let's begin with what is it? Let me start with defining a basic word, and that is the word "theology". Basically, it comes from two Greek words. One of those is theos and the other is logos. So, word or rational expression or discourse. So we could define, then, systematic theology, or I should say we should define theology as nothing more than a discourse about God or the rational interpretation of the Christian faith. That's all we mean when we say theology. It's a discussion or a discourse about God. It's an understanding, an interpretation, of what the Bible says about God and His relationship with the world that He's made.

But what can be confusing is that this word is used in a variety of different ways. It has a number of senses in which it's used, and I think this confuses some people. Let me give you an illustration. It's like the English word run. Now, you speak English, or at least most of you do. And so you understand that the word run can be used in a variety of contexts. For example, your nose runs. An engine runs. A person runs. Each of those senses of the word run has one theme in common, and that is the idea of movement. But that movement is different depending on the sense in which it's used. The same is true for other words in other languages, but it's also true for the word theology.

Let me give you the various senses of this word. First, it's used to describe everything pertaining to the study of religion. In other words, all the subjects that might be treated in a seminary, for example. That's why Strong said, "Theology is the science of God, and of the relations between God and the universe." So this word "theology" is used sometimes in this way, simply to describe everything pertaining to the study of religion. Other times it's used to describe various fields of study in the doctrines of Scripture. For example, Biblical Theology or Historical Theology or Systematic Theology, which I'll define those terms for us in a moment. The word theology is also used to describe a very specific field within Systematic Theology and it's the very specific study of the person of God. It's sometimes called Theology Proper. So you have to understand, when you see the word theology, how is it being used and where is it occurring.

Now, let's look at the kinds of theology that are existent. When you look at theology, basically you can class it one of three ways. The first is by era. That's not error, that's era. For example, there's Patristic Theology. That word sounds hard, but the word patristic simply comes from the Greek word for father. It means the theology of the early church fathers. Those men who lived and ministered after the death of the apostles, shortly after the death of the apostles. So you have Patristic Theology. You have Medieval Theology. It's looking at a slice of time, and you're examining what the church taught about the various teachings of Scripture - how they summarized the teaching of Scripture during those various times. You have Reformation Theology. You have Modern Theology, which isn't worth studying very much. So you can class theology or you can catalog it by era. That's era.

You can also catalog it by viewpoint. For example, you have Arminian Theology. You have Calvinistic Theology, Catholic Theology, Liberal Theology. You can look at a particular viewpoint, and you can examine what their perspective is about all that the Bible teaches in its various topics: the topic of salvation, the topic of man, the topic of sin. What do these various viewpoints hold about those teachings or those doctrines?

You can also look at theology by focus. And here's where we're going to spend most of our time tonight. There's Historical Theology, Biblical Theology, Systematic, Philosophical, and Practical. Now, let's define those terms because that's where the heart of our study is going to be tonight.

First of all, Historical Theology. What does that mean? Basically, very simply, it's how Christians at different times have understood various biblical topics. So, for example, in Historical Theology, you might go back and say, "How did those who lived in the time of the reformation - what did they teach and think about the doctrine of Scripture?" That's Historical Theology. You're basically looking at someone in history's theology. It's just that simple. There are a couple of ways to approach Historical Theology, and I know that some of you men have been going through a course offered here for the men's ministry in this area. But there are two ways you can organize Historical theology. You can either study what a particular theologian has taught, for example you can look at the theology of Augustine, or you can look at a school of theology that is a group of people who agreed. You can look at all that they taught regarding various biblical doctrines. For example, one of my favorites is Reformation Theology. You can look at how those men who were involved in the reformation understood the Scripture, what issues they taught on, what topics of Scripture or doctrines, and how they understood those doctrines.

The other approach is, in Historical Theology is, to trace the thought concerning a particular doctrine through all the periods of church history. For example. If you wanted to study the doctrine of salvation, you might begin at the very beginning. First of all, looking obviously at the Scripture, but then beginning with the early church fathers. What did they teach about the doctrine of salvation? At that point it really wasn't as clearly refined, because typically, the church refines its doctrine in the cauldron of heresy. As heresy arises - as wrong teaching and error comes - the church refines its doctrine. So initially, maybe its teaching on salvation wasn't as refined. But then you look at it in the next period of time and you see what was taught during that period of time about the doctrine of salvation. You come through medieval times and then to the reformation and then up through modern times. What have various groups taught about the doctrine of salvation? That's another approach to Historical Theology.

Another approach is Biblical Theology. This takes into account the sweep of the content of the Old and New Testaments. Its theology found within either the entire Old Testament, the New Testament, or within various biblical books. So, for example, there are books - and there are some probably in our bookstore, certainly in my library - called Old Testament theology. It traces the progressive revelation of God from the beginning of time through the end of the Old Testament, and how the various doctrines unfolded, how people came to understand more profoundly what the Scriptures taught. Take for example, the doctrine of salvation. You start out with a very simple understanding in the Old Testament. The first mention of the gospel, actually it's called the proto-evangelium, that is - it's sort of a precursor to the gospel - is found in Genesis 3:15, where God promises that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent. And as you unfold the Old Testament, you begin to see the doctrine of salvation grow, and you begin to see and have a greater and deeper understanding of it. That process by which you unfold that doctrine flowing through Scripture is called Biblical Theology.

The same can be said for the New Testament. You start, most of the books I have on my shelf that talk about New Testament theology, they'll first of all take the gospels. What did the gospel writers and the ministry of Christ - what did Christ teach about this particular doctrine. And then let's look at Paul, and then let's look at the other epistles, and so forth. They also separate out Acts and Revelation. That's Biblical Theology. It's theology that has its only source in the Bible. Now let me tell you this. A good Systematic Theology will also be a Biblical Theology in this sense. Biblical Theology is the raw material from which a good Systematic Theology builds. Biblical Theology provides the raw material. Systematic Theology organizes it and builds it into a comprehensive structure that can be understood and examined.

Another focus in theology is Philosophical Theology. That is, studying theological issues, mostly without the use of the Bible, but instead using tools and methods of philosophy, or what can be observed in the natural world. It's mostly speculative and we won't spend a lot of time here. In fact we'll spend almost no time here. But I want you just to be aware of it. It is one of the approaches that some books take to theology.

And then there's Practical Theology. This is where most of us spend most of our time. Practical Theology is simply the study of the practical issues of Christian living. For example, if you go through your Bible and you study the role of marriage, or the responsibilities of a husband, or the responsibilities of a wife, and all that Scripture teaches about that, that is practical theology. You are looking at the practical issues of life to understand all that the Bible teaches about that specific issue.

And then the one we're going to concentrate on for the next weeks, or months perhaps, is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology. Now let's look at what Systematic Theology is and how it differs from these others. The word "systematic" comes from the Greek verb systema, which means to stand together or to organize. So to systematize our theology is to make our understanding of a particular topic stand together. Or to organize it in a way that aids our understanding. That's why I like this definition of systematic theology. It comes from John Frame, "Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, 'What does the whole Bible teach today about any given topic.'" That's all Systematic Theology is, so you have no reason to be afraid. It's very simple, very straightforward. What is it that the whole Bible teaches about a particular topic? That's all Systematic Theology is. So that means, if we take that definition, and I think it's a very good definition - if we take that definition - it means that systematic Theology involves several activities. It involves collecting all the relevant passages in the Bible about a topic. It means exegeting those passages. It means then interpreting those passages. It means personally coming to an understanding of that interpretation -understanding the passages. And then organizing and synthesizing those passages into a comprehensive whole, and finally it means summarizing everything that the Bible teaches, once you have collected the verses and exegeted them and interpreted them, summarizing what the Bible teaches about that topic. This summarizing is the key element of Systematic Theology. It is not creating new truth if it's done right. Now there are Systematic Theologies that sort of step out on a limb in terms of the assertions they make. We're not going to do that in our studies together. What we're going to do is look at a comprehensive whole of what the Bible teaches about a particular topic. We're going to exegete individual passages. We're not going to make the Bible say what we want it to say. Instead, we're going to seek to understand what the Bible has said, but to come to a comprehensive understanding of any particular given topic.

Now let me make a very important point. This bothers some people about systematic theology. When you step back and you summarize all that the Bible teaches, sometimes it means using terms that are not strictly speaking biblical. But that doesn't mean that the concepts are not biblical. Let me give you a few examples. You do this already. If you're a believer, you use words that are unique to Systematic Theology that are not found in the Bible. For example, the word "trinity." You will not find that word in the Scripture. But in the process of systematizing all that the Scriptures teaches about the person of God, we have come to understand that God is a trinity. That He is one essence expressed in three Persons. And so, that defines what the Bible teaches about the nature of God. It's not extra-biblical. It's biblical. We've simply created a word. The Christian community through the history of the Church, has created a word to understand and to put a handle, if you will, on what the Bible teaches about the nature of God.

Let me give you another such word "incarnation." That is a systematic theological word. It's not found in the Scripture. There are words similar to it found in Scripture, but that specific word is not found in Scripture. But what does that word do? It puts a handle, if you will, on all that the Scripture teaches about Christ's humiliation - His becoming man. The incarnation. And under the incarnation is described all of the things that Scripture teaches about Christ becoming a man.

Let me give you a third example. And this is one that's very important to our faith. The word "deity". The deity of Jesus Christ. That expression does not occur like that in the New Testament. And yet, we use that expression. Why? Because it summarizes our understanding of what the Scriptures teach about the person of Jesus Christ - that He is very God of very God, and yet very man of very man. When we get to the person of Christ we'll look at that in much more detail, but that's a Systematic Theology word.

So don't be afraid of words that we'll come across that maybe aren't found in Scripture, but they are used to help summarize what, in fact, Scripture teaches. And that is the key issue. I encourage you that if I teach you something that isn't clearly found in the Scripture to come up and point that out to me. But that will be my goal - is when I come before you each Lord's Day evening, and I open up a particular topic and I say we're going to study all that the Bible teaches about this particular topic, my goal will be to have gone to all the relevant passages, to have exegeted them, and to have determined in summary, then, what they teach. And of course I will rely, as well, on the gifted men God has given the church through the history of the church - but not solely on them. I have a responsibility to do the work as well. And so, that is the goal, is to summarize all that the Scriptures teach about a particular topic.

Another example that I have in my notes in terms of a word that is not strictly speaking a biblical word, but a word that summarizes what the Bible teaches, is the word "perseverance." I used it a couple of Sunday mornings ago. The word itself doesn't appear in Scripture, but it is a biblical concept. That is, that God will preserve those who have come to genuine faith in Christ. He will preserve them until they are like Christ in Christ's presence. That word, in that form doesn't occur in Scripture, but it is a word that summarizes what the Scriptures teach about the nature of our security in Christ.

Now, when we approach systematic theology, there are basically three presuppositions we'll make. And I may touch on this more next week, but let me just give them to you. They're important, as you'll see in a moment, for the next topic I want to bring up. Three presuppositions when we come to Systematic Theology.

Number one, God is and He is who the Bible says He is. We start with that presupposition. Because the Bible starts with that presupposition. We are presuppositionalists. That is, we believe that the Scriptures are self-authenticating. The Holy Spirit uses the Scriptures and they are self-authenticating in our hearts. That doesn't mean there's no place for biblical evidences or other evidences. But those evidences are not necessary to authenticate Scripture. We are presuppositionalists. I will start with the assumption that God is, and that He is who the Bible says He is.

A second presupposition that we'll have is that God has revealed Himself in the Bible and it alone is the absolute standard of truth.

And thirdly, that revelation is intelligible. It can be understood by the mind. It's not some mystery book. I'm not going to bring before you the Bible decoder. The Bible can be understood and grasped with the mind. Those are the assumptions we begin with.

So with that in mind, these are the tools of systematic theology. With those presuppositions, here are our tools. First of all, obviously, the Scripture itself. Because in the Scripture the mind of God is revealed, not the whole mind of God, but what God intends for us to know. I'll never forget, in my first Systematic Theology class in seminary, an illustration that my professor used. He walked up to the blackboard and he took his piece of chalk, and he made one tiny little dot on that chalkboard. And he stepped away. He said, "Now I want you to assume for a moment that this chalkboard is not the size you see it, but instead it extends as an infinite plane in all directions." Which was challenging for some of us who were mathematically challenged to begin with, but that was the concept. Imagine that that is an infinite plane, and I have just created a small dot. He says, "That dot is all that God has revealed to us about Himself. It's true, it's accurate, it can be believed, but that infinite plane represents all that is knowable about God." We will never know everything that can be known about God or we would be as great as God. Just as something you make cannot grasp the complexity that is you. But God has revealed Himself. And He's revealed Himself finally and ultimately in one book. Have you ever stopped to think what a blessing that is? God has told us everything He thinks we need to know in a single book. A book that is external to us. We don't have to interpret our feelings. All we have to do is use the minds He gave us, use the gifted men God gave the church, and the work of the Holy Spirit.

You're familiar with the verses that drive home the importance of the Scripture; 2 Timothy 3:16-17. All Scripture is literally breathed out by God. It's exhaled by God. It speaks to the issue of the Scripture's divine origin. God breathed out all of the words in this book. That's called inspiration, and we'll look at that in detail when we get to the Scripture. Technically, inspiration is described with two words, "plenary." Perhaps you've heard that word. The word plenary speaks of the whole. The entirety. It is God-breathed in its entirety. There were liberal theologians early in last century who taught that the Bible contained the Word of God. That it wasn't the Word of God, that it contained the Word of God. There were elements in it, scattered throughout of the Word of God. No, the doctrine of inspiration teaches that there is plenary inspiration, that in its entirety, it's inspired by God. It's breathed out by God.

But there's another word that's important for us to understand in inspiration, and that is the word "verbal". Verbal. And that speaks of the particulars. The very words the human authors used were breathed out by God. How did that happen? A very interesting verse, I want you to turn there to 2 Peter 1:21. Let's start at verse 20. "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation," or of one's own origin or creation. Verse 21, "for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." Very interesting, that verb "moved". Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. That same verb is used in Acts 27. I want you to turn there, because it will make sense of this passage. Turn to Acts 27 for a moment. You can keep your finger in 2 Peter. Acts 27:15. It's the story of the shipwreck of Paul and when this great northeastern storm caught them, this violent wind, verse 15, "When the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along." That is the same Greek word "driven along" as in Peter, the men of God were "moved" by the Holy Spirit. Notice verse 17. They're still trying to get control of this boat and they hardly can get it under control. Verse 17 says, "After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor, and in this way let themselves be [there it is again] driven along." What's the conclusion we come to. In the same way that a ship, a sailing ship caught in a storm, is borne along, is carried along by the wind, the writers of Scripture were carried along by the Spirit of God. The entirety of what they said, and the very words they used came from the Spirit of God. They are exactly what the Spirit of God revealed, and they were carried along as if caught in a violent storm. So when we look at theology we have to deal with the whole as well as the individual words to construct this summary of what the Bible teaches about any issue.

The next tool we have is exegesis. Simply the practice of, and the set of procedures, for discovering the author's intended meaning. You see when we come to any passage of Scripture, we believe that there is one intended meaning of that passage. The Holy Spirit doesn't speak in allegories unless it's clearly indicated in the passage. So the author intended to say one thing. And my job as an interpreter is to understand what that one thing is. And when you and I come to Scripture to construct our Systematic Theology, we start with Scripture and then we use exegesis. That is simply the set, or the process, the set of procedures, or the process for understanding any particular biblical text. I look at the grammar. I look at the history, just as we did this morning. We looked at the history of the words. We looked at the historical context in which those events occurred there in Philippians 1. That's what we have to do whenever we come to Scripture.

The third tool we have is reason. Now, let me be very clear here. I'm not talking about rationalism. I'm talking about rationality and reason. Rationalism is the view that reason is the ultimate source of or the judge of all truth, and that Scripture is only true if it agrees with the conclusions of the mind. Or if it can be rationally demonstrated. That's rationalism. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about reason or rationality. It is the legitimate use of the faculties of the mind God gave us to understand what is on the pages of Scripture. God expects us to use reason. Scripture's meaning is comprehended by use of the mind. In John 5:39, Christ told the Jews, "search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life, but they are they which speak of Me." He was commanding them to use their minds to try to comprehend what the Scripture teaches. In Matthew 12 verses 3 and 5, He uses those familiar expressions that He uses throughout His ministry, and I'm sure it was a serious blow to the ego of the scribes of his time when He said, "Haven't you read? I mean come on guys, didn't you read? Can't you read the Old Testament?" When he says that, Christ was simply calling for a straightforward rational understanding of the Scriptures. He wasn't telling them that they needed to take out their code book to understand the Old Testament. He was saying, if you'd just bother reading it, it's right there in common sense language, and in words that you can understand.

The apostles used reason in their ministry of the word. Let me turn to two favorite examples. Look at Acts chapter 2 for a moment, in Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost. As he interprets the Scripture he uses his mind. He uses reason. Notice verse 25. In verses 25-28, Peter quotes from Psalm 16. So he has this quote, and then in verse 29 he proceeds to use his reason to show that it cannot refer to David. Notice what he says in verse 29, "Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day." In other words, think about this with me, guys. The Psalm says that You won't allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. What do you think happened to David? He's dead. He's buried. His tomb is just down the street. He's decaying. So what does that mean about that passage? It can't refer to whom? David. You see how Peter is using reason to argue the interpretation of the Scripture? Paul does the same thing. Turn to Galatians chapter 3. You get a good illustration, by the way, and this is just an aside, but in verse 16 you get a good illustration of why interpreting individual words in Scripture is important. Paul does it. In fact, I have to read it now that I've said that. Verse 16, "Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say 'And to seeds,' [plural] as referring to many, but rather to one, And to your seed." That has to be singular. That has to be one person. That has to be Christ. But then notice what he says in verse 17, "What I'm saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant [or a promise] previously ratified by God," He's saying, listen, think about it. The promise came first and then came the law. So the law can't do away with the promise God made. He's asking his people, the readers in the churches in Galatia, to think, to use their minds as they interpret the Scripture. But while I say reason is an important tool, let me hasten to say that human reason alone is not enough.

1 Corinthians chapter 2. Those familiar verses; verses 14 -16, "A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." So how do you get this capacity to appraise those things that are spiritual? He goes on to say,

But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For "WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTUCT HIM?" But we have the mind of Christ.

You see, we've been given the capacity to understand. But that capacity is not in our own human faculty, but it's because of the Holy Spirit who enables us to understand. Man's fallen mind must be aided by the Holy Spirit. That is the role of what is called "illumination." There's another word, another one of those Systematic Theology words, that doesn't occur in Scripture, but the concept does.

What is illumination? Illumination is what the Holy Spirit does when I come to a full and complete grasp of the truth of Scripture. It's the work of the Holy Spirit. Psalm 119:18, listen to the Psalmist. He's praying. He says Lord, "Open my eyes that I may behold Wonderful things [out of Your word]." Now obviously, his physical eyes were open. He had a mind. He could grasp the words on the page. But he's praying for something more than that. He's praying for illumination. He's saying, "Lord, help me to come to a full complete spiritual grasp of the depth of this truth." The same thing is true in Ephesians 1:18. Paul says, "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened." The eyes of your heart? What does he mean? He means that ability to really see the truth in all of its beauty and glory. An illustration I like to use of illumination is a stained glass window. I've driven past, probably as all of you have, past that large Methodist church down on White's Chapel. They have one thing going for them and that's a beautiful facility. I've read their; I should tell you why I say that, I've read their literature and it, from everything I see, there doesn't seem to be much truth there. Maybe I didn't get the right pieces, but the pieces I read didn't seem to represent the truth. But as you ride past that building during the daytime and you look at that stained glass window, you can make out some of what's there. You can see some of it. You can understand some of the picture and the intricacy. You get it. But if you ride past at night, and the light is shining out through that window, it just seems to come alive in a special way. You see it in all its brilliance and all its glory. That's what illumination does. You and I can read the Scriptures. We can come to a basic understanding of what the words mean. But in illumination, the Holy Spirit turns on the light. He helps us see the depth and the richness and the reality in a way that ministers to our hearts. That's illumination.

So reason is not enough. The Spirit of God must open the eyes of our understanding. But reason is still a valid tool. So we don't look for codes or hidden messages. When we come to the Scripture, we come with our minds looking to understand it like any other book, even though it's not like any other book. It's the Word of the living God. So those are the tools for Systematic Theology. We all have them. So we're all capable of Systematic Theology.

Now, let me briefly go through the order and topics of Systematic Theology. Let me give you sort of a bigger picture. First of all, you have all theological studies. Remember, we talked about everything pertaining to God and religion. Out of that, there are those particular schools that we talked about. The particular focii. Biblical Theology, Historical Theology, Systematic Theology, Philosophical Theology and Practical Theology. Out of that big pool of potential topics, these fields of study emerge. Now, when you talk specifically about Systematic Theology, you're talking about what topics the Scriptures cover. Now, there've been various methods for arranging the biblical topics that will be covered. You can't cover every topic obviously that the Bible discusses. So how do you decide which topics to discuss? There've been various methods for arranging the biblical topics that are covered in Systematic Theology, but the most common is the method that organizes the important doctrines of Scripture from cause to effect. So, they start with God and Scripture, and they go down through all of those issues that fall. Let me give them to you in order. Here are the basic biblical doctrines that are usually covered in Systematic Theology. Doctrines, again, are simply topics that the Scripture addresses. What are they? Here they are.

Scripture. We start with Scripture, by the way, let me just back up. We start with Scripture because everything else grows out of this. Without a proper understanding of the Bible, our source for all doctrine become suspect. Our source for everything else we learn. So we have to start with the Scripture. Each of these, these topics that are studied, I'm giving you the simple ones up on the screen. There are complex topic titles as well. You've probably heard them. Some of you are more into this than others. They come from Greek words, most of them. For example, the study of what the Bible says about itself, is called Bibliology. Bibliology.

The second is the doctrine of God. And that's Theology Proper. That is, who is God? What's He like? Understanding that He is a trinity. Understanding what His attributes are. Understanding how He created and how He governs His world. It's looking at God. I'm eager to get to that part of our study, as we look together at the things that are true about God. I know that your heart will be deeply enriched from our study of those things.

So this is simply called Theology Proper.

The first, Scripture is Bibliology, the doctrine of God is Theology Proper. The next thing in our study will be the doctrine of man, also called anthropology, from the Greek word anthropos for man. Anthropology. How was he created? What does it mean that he was created in the image of God? Is man two parts or three parts? And what ramifications does that have on how we live and how we act from day to day, how we grow spiritually? What happened at the fall to this man?

Then we'll look at the doctrine of Christ. This is simply called Christology. Christology. We'll look at salvation, which is called Soteriology, it comes from the Greek word soter which means savior or salvation. The study of salvation. And then the doctrine of the church, Ecclesiology, because, again, it comes from the Greek word ecclesia. You've heard that word, assembly. That's the word for church. Ecclesiology, the study of the church. And then finally, the doctrine of the future, or Eschatology, meaning last things - a word meaning last things. So those are the major topics that the Bible discusses, and we're going to look at each of those in, Lord willing, great detail, and see what the entire Bible teaches about each of those issues.

So, our first objective tonight was defining Systematic Theology. Our second objective isn't going to happen, because we're out of time. Next week, we will look at why this should be important to you. Let me just give you just a little hint. When you think about Systematic Theology, all we're talking about is your coming to a full and complete understanding of all that the Scripture teaches about any particular topic. You remember the story we started with this evening - this collection of words and phrases pulled from various parts of the Bible with very little relationship to each other and pieced together? That's what I don't want your theology to be. Instead, I want it to be cohesive. We're not going to look beyond the pages of Scripture, but we're going to look at everything the Scripture says about each of these areas. And we're going to go beyond that. We're not going to leave it with cold hard analysis. We're going to look at the difference it makes in how we live. The difference it makes in how you live your Christian life each week. Each day. And believe me, doctrine and your Christian experience are intimately related. You will only grow to the extent that you understand God's word.

I'll close with one verse. I want you turn to Colossians chapter 1. Colossians chapter 1 and I'll leave you with this this evening. Paul writes to the Colossians and he says this in verse 9.

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work [the next expression isn't translated well in the New American Standard, because what it literally says in the Greek text is] increasing [or growing by means of] in the knowledge of God.

In other words, our spiritual growth and development is directly tied to one specific tool, and that is the growth and the increase of our knowledge about God and who He is. That's what we're studying when we talk about Systematic Theology. These are not cold, hard, unrelated to life facts. This is what our God has told us about Himself and about the world we live in.

Well, next week we'll look at a defense of Systematic Theology, and I'll show you from the Scripture why this is a worthy use of our time. Let's pray together. Father, thank you for the time that we've been able to spend together tonight. It's really been introductory. It's been basic, but Lord, I pray that You would challenge each of us with our ignorance. Lord, we acknowledge before You that we are ignorant and in need of a teacher. Thank You for Your Holy Spirit. Thank You for Your Word. Thank You for the gifts that You've given to us of the men down through the years and history of the church who have been gifted to teach and explain Your word in a way that we can understand and grasp. Lord, help us to take advantage of these tools. Lord, don't let us be lazy in our thinking. We live in a generation of people who are lazy. They're lazy in their thinking. They're lazy in their pursuit of You and the pursuit of the knowledge of You. Lord, keep us from that malady and help us instead to pursue You with all diligence - to be diligent, as Paul said, to rightly divide Your truth. Lord, I pray that You would help us in the weeks and months ahead that we would grow in our knowledge of You and by growing, we would grow in our spiritual development, in our maturity, and in our relationship to Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.