Why You Should Study Systematic Theology

I was recently having a meeting with my discipleship group and, while reading a book, we all came across this statement,

“Notice what these guys didn’t inquire about. Systematic Theology was not their first choice. Church growth and leadership wer not at the top of the list either.”[1]

I recently began a Master’s degree in Theology and Ministry from Welch College and have been extremely busy reading, writing, working, and trying to spend time with my family. This degree, as any graduate work should be, is extensive in its course readings – specifically in the area of theology. While I do not claim to know the vast depths of all theology, it has truly grown me in many ways.

As a theology student, I was truly taken back by this statement (the author has a Ph.D. from a Southern Baptist seminary!). I could not understand why the author would say such a thing. Now, in his context of the book, the chapter was on prayer and how Jesus modeled for us, as believers, the correct way to pray. However, I do think the statement above could have been reworded or even removed so it would not communicate such a thing.

Throughout this post, I want us to examine what is systematic theology and how it is profitable for the lives of all believers.

Systematic Theology Defined

Specifically speaking, Systematic Theology is different from random topics of theology, although it may all seem to run togetherSystematic theology is a methodical approach to theology rather than pulling topics out of thin air and thinking theologically about them. Essentially, there is an order (or method) to systematic theology. F. Leroy Forlines defines it in his own words:

“Systematic Theology is a topical study of the whole of Christian Truth, using any and all source of Truth, with a view to seeing the parts as making up an integrated and harmonious whole, resulting in a Christian worldview.”[2]

Essentially, our systematic theology informs our view of the world. This is a crucial aspect of understanding the purpose of systematic theology. As Forlines notes, the tried and true process of forming a way in which you view the world is by knowing what you believe and why you believe what you do about the world, through the lens of Scripture.

Is Systematic Theology Only For Pastors and/or College Professors?

The short answer is absolutely not. To conclude that systematic theology is only for pastors or Bible college professors is to present the Bible itself as exclusively for these two groups of people. It is the Scriptures and the Scriptures alone (sola scriptura) that show us and teach us our theology (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).

If the Scriptures is the basis of theology for the Christian faith, then we must conclude also that the Scriptures can teach us every aspect of our viewpoints of the world. And if the Scriptures can teach us every aspect of our worldview, then we can also assert that anyone who is willing to learn these things can do so! Once again, it was Paul writing to Timothy and saying that:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable to teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).”[3]

In their book, Who Needs Theology, Olson and Grenz give us ample proofs for the necessity of both, as they call them, professional theologians and lay theologians. They write,

“Professional theologians exist to serve the community of faith, not to dictate to it or lord over it intellectually. Lay theologians need professional theologians to give them to the tools of biblical study, historical perspective and systematic articulation so that they can improve their own theologizing.”[4]

Why Should I Study Systematic Theology?

Here are a few reasons why I believe every Christian should study Systematic Theology:

  1. It teaches you the foundational doctrines of our faith. Please hear what I am NOT saying. I am not saying the Scriptures are not sufficient within themselves to teach us the things of God we need to know about living the Christian life to the fullest. I also am not saying that a degree in theology is a necessary element for a successful pastorate and ministry. However, it should always be our aim to be continually growing in our knowledge of the things of God. Without the theological doctrines of our faith, we have no foundation on which to stand.
  2. It teaches you why you believe what you believe. There are too many believers, who are completely unaware of what they believe, trying to communicate why they believe certain things. I know it’s a blunt statement, but I believe it to be true. We result to the internet for our truth claims instead of the inexhaustible truth of God’s Word. Systematic Theology teaches you why you believe the way you do about things such as salvation, the atonement, the Church, baptism, etc.
  3. It influences your church methodology. How are we to truly understand what baptism means and represents without the theological background and basis for which we baptize? We cannot possibly know the reasons behind what we do without the theological foundations for doing such things. The Lord’s Supper is another doctrine we would know nothing about if it were not for the theology of the Church (Ecclesiology). Church membership means nothing if we have no expectations and guidelines for joining the church laid out in Scripture.
  4. It influences how you disciple others. If your goal for discipleship is to make disciple-makers, then your basis for discipleship should be the Scriptures. It is important, in your discipling endeavors, to disciple people in such a way that invokes the mystery and wonder of God to their everyday walking and growing in Christ Jesus. I’m not implying a theological lecture when you meet with those whom you disciple but I am conveying an idea of your theology influencing the way in which you disciple. Your theologies of man, the church, and mission should all be elements of your discipling efforts.

Conclusion

No, a degree in theology is, once again, not a necessity for effective ministry. And you can disciple people effectively without such a degree. However, theology informs our lives as believers and invokes us to an awe and wonder of a supreme God who is the sovereign Creator and Ruler of the world. Theology is practical life for every Christian and without it, we lose the essence of our Christian faith and worldview.


Bibliography

[1] Out of respect for this well-known leader, I will leave this quotation un-cited.

[2] F. Leroy Forlines. The Quest For Truth: Theology for Postmodern Times (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), 4.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, biblical passages are referenced from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology: An Invitation to the Study of God (Downers Grove: InterVaristy Press, 1996), 14.

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