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Religion and Theology

1st Reply Erik Knight According to Demarest, systematic theology attempts “to

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1st Reply
Erik Knight
According to Demarest, systematic theology attempts “to reduce religious truth to a coherent and relevant whole for the church” by presenting “a unified formulation of truth concerning God and his relationship to humanity” based on divine revelation, and attempts to apply those formulations to “the entire range of human life and thought.”[1] In other words, systematic theology brings together the unified truth in Scripture and presents it in an understandable, relevant, and communicable manner to the church today. Systematic theology is closely connected to and relies on the work of biblical theology. Biblical theology is not defined here as the movement that spanned from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. Exclusion of the biblical theology movement leaves “true” biblical theology and “pure” biblical theology, which are the definitions Erickson relies on, with “pure” biblical theology being primary, and is defined as that biblical theology which is focused on the unchanging truths which are conveyed throughout the Bible, and are valid for all times.[2] “True” biblical theology is the collection of the theologies of a given book or a specific biblical author.[3] In short, biblical theology is most closely related to biblical studies.[4] Systematic theology is related to historical theology in that historical theology is the study of the systematic theology of the church throughout the history of the church by studying the theology of a specific time period, or the theology held by a specific person within that time.[5] Regarding systematic theology and philosophical theology, systematic theology more appropriately relies on the third contribution philosophy makes to systematic theology, as opposed to the first two mentioned by Erickson, which are to supply content for theology and to defend theology. In the third contribution, which is in the form of criticism, philosophical theology is, in a way, a sort of check and balance for systematic theology, which does sort of blends in with the second contribution of defending theology or the claims of theology.[6]
Current and Future Ministry Context
Of the four types of theologies discussed here, systematic theology is the most important one for my current and future ministry context. The primary reason is that systematic theology is connected with each one and relies on each one in some way. Both teaching and preaching rely on each one, which are all brought to the front in the work of systematic theology. Currently, I am involved in the preaching and teaching ministries at my church. I believe this will remain true for me for the rest of my days. However, I have a strong desire to teach through writing as well, and, perhaps, in seminary, although that will most likely be online. Systematic theology will be most beneficial as the study will aid in being able to more clearly communicate to the church and students what God has revealed in Scripture about Himself and His plan in salvation for both the individual life of the believer and the universal body of believers as a whole. The connection systematic theology has to biblical, historical, and philosophical theologies build towards this end helping people to see Scripture as a whole, how it has been understood and applied in the past, and ways to check the understanding against Scripture itself. The real value here is seen in the lives of each person being taught as they learn and grow from the study or lesson.
[1] Bruce A. Demarest, “Systematic Theology,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 1162, Logos.
[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 10-12.
[3] Ibid., 11.
[4] Ibid., 10.
[5] Ibid., 12.
[6] Ibid., 13-14.
2nd Reply
Samuel Morgan Theology is the study or science of God (Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013, 8). Etymologically, the word theology comes from the Greek nouns theos (God) and logos (word); hence, theology is the discourse or word about God (Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Revised and Expanded, Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014, 151, 189).
Demarest defines systematic theology as “the attempt to reduce religious truth to a coherent and relevant whole for the church” (Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001, 1162). Etymologically, the word systematic comes from the Greek verb sunistano meaning “to stand together” or “to organize” – therefore, systematic theology focuses upon the systemization (or organization) of theology (Enns, 2014, 151).
The starting point for systematic theology is biblical theology. Biblical theology practices the process of investigation using sound grammatical, historical and cultural exegesis, it seeks to discover the sitz im leben (original life setting or contexts) of the biblical text (Walter Elwell and Robert Yarbrough, Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998, 172, 174). Systematic theology uses the biblical text (the Old and New Testaments) and extra-biblical truth, it identifies the sitz in leben of the biblical text organizing it into a coherent whole, and connects and relates the biblical text to the practical life of the believer in Christ and to the life and witness of the body of Christ (Ewell, 2001, 1162; Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols., Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary, 1947, 1:6). Biblical theology is the raw material with which systematic theology works, systematic theology is inextricably linked to biblical theology (Erickson, 2013, 12).
Historical theology is the study of the historical development, the historical unfolding and the historical understanding of theology, including specific theological doctrines (Enns, 2014, 152; Ewell, 2001, 557). Approaches to historical theology may include studying the theology of a specific time, studying the theology of a specific theologian, or studying the theology of a particular school of theology (Erickson, 2013, 12). One of the relationships between systematic theology and historical theology is demonstrated in exposing personal presuppositions or preunderstandings. Each person brings with him (or her) a particular perspective to the study of biblical revelation. When one studies biblical revelation historically and systematically, one is exposed to the various interpretations and applications of biblical revelation during different historical times. One gains additional biblical revelation insights and views (Erickson, 2013, 12-13).
In addition to biblical sources, philosophical theology incorporates philosophical reflection, language and methods in the interpretation and understanding of biblical revelation (Erickson, 2013, 13-14; Theopedia Online Evangelical Encyclopedia of Biblical Christianity, sub verbo “Philosophical Theology,” accessed August 25, 2022, https://www.theopedia.com/philosophical-theology). A value of philosophical theology in relation to systematic theology may be the sharpening and the bringing additional clarity of the theological message by scrutinizing the meaning of theological terms and ideas, and by critical analysis of theological arguments (Erickson, 2013, 13-14).
Of these four theological approaches (biblical theology, historical theology, philosophical theology, and systematic theology), biblical theology is the most important in my current ministry context because biblical theology precedes historical theology, practical theology, philosophical theology, and systematic theology. If a person, a church or a denomination does not intentionally apply biblical theology to his (or her) or its preaching or teaching ministry, there is the risk of eisegetical exegesis, imposing or reading one’s personal presuppositions, agendas or biases onto or into the biblical text, rather than allowing the biblical text to speak and inform the reader. The following is a contemporary example.
“Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:19-20, New King James Version). This passage is often quoted during church gatherings and is used to convey the idea when two or three people are gathered together, Jesus is present among them and God will grant their prayer request. In low attendance gatherings, it is often used to encourage those in attendance (and to distract from the low attendance). Is this passage negated if there are more four or more people gathered together (touching and agreeing, praying and asking God for the same thing)? Are two or three people the requisite amount for Jesus to be present? Is not Jesus’s presence always with those who believe in and trust him?
These verses are from a larger scriptural pericopae, Matthew 18:15-20, which deals with church discipline and forgiveness. Sins and transgressions committed against each other is no small matter and should be resolved among the immediate parties, person to person (verse 15). If resolution fails among the immediate parties, lack of admission of sin and repentance, “two or three witnesses” (disinterested third parties) should become involved, not to pray but that “by the mouth of two or three witness every word may be established” (verse 16). This was the standard from Mosaic law whereby facts of an incident could be accurately established and judgment impartially rendered (Deut. 19:15-21). If resolution failed again even after the matter was fully established, the matter along with its involved parties were to be brought before the church, who after hearing the totality of the matter, would disclose its findings and render its judgment (verses 17-18). Jesus concluded by saying the Father would grant the request of “two or three” who have gathered together in his (Jesus’s) name and are in agreement (verses 19-20). What was the issue upon which they agreed? The totality of the matter, including the discipline related to the sinning brother (or sister). Hence, church discipline is a serious matter, and should be considered and implemented carefully and prayerfully.
Actively learning and applying biblical theology to one’s teaching ministry allows one to arrive at the text uninformed and depart the text informed with an accurate, clear and relevant understanding of the text. Has this (not actively and skillfully apply biblical theology to the preaching and teaching ministry) happen within my current ministry context? Without hesitation, prevarication, reservation or vacillation, I can answer, YES!

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