Reading Systematic Theology with Wayne Grudem – What is systematic theology? Why should Christians study it? How should we study it?

This post is part of a 50+ post series from the classic work by Wayne Grudem (PhD, Cambridge), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. The aim of each post is to provide an overview of each chapter in the book and related resources for each topic.

Synopsis of Chapter

In Wayne Grudem’s opening chapter to Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine he covers a range of topics related to the study of theology – particularly systematic theology. He defines systematic theology, and its relation to other theological disciplines, lays out his initial assumptions in the book, addresses core objections to the study of systematic theology and covers some practical aspects of theology. As is typical in his review of a theological topic, he also demonstrates how God can be worshipped more completely through a more biblical understanding of theology.  

What Is Systematic Theology

Grudem, giving deference to his professor John Frame, opens the book with the following definition of Systematic Theology: Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, “What does the whole Bible teach us today?” about any given topic.

He explores the difference between systematic theology and other ‘theologies’ like historical theology (a historical study of how Christian in different periods have understood various theological topics) or philosophical theology (studying theological topics largely without use of the Bible, but using the methods of philosophical reasoning, etc.), or apologetics (providing a defense of the truthfulness of the Christian faith for the purpose of convincing unbelievers.)

Grudem also underscores most people do systematic theology several times a week. For instance, when someone says, “The Bible says…” they are making systematic-theological statements. So the term ‘systematic’ should mean something like “carefully organized by topics”. By contrast, systematic is the opposite of “randomly arranged”. In other words, its theology that is carefully and systematically organized.  

Why Systematic Theology Is Important

So why should we study systematic theology? Grudem reminds us that Christians are commanded to teach believers to observe everything Christ commanded us (Matthew 28:19-20). So foundationally we study systematic theology because God commands us to understand his teaching in Scripture. In studying systematic theology, we study what Christ wants us to understand.

Another reason we study systematic theology is to make better decisions as Christians. We don’t always know what we should do. But having a more thorough understanding of biblical principles, especially in the area of particular doctrines, gives us a more complete picture of God’s wisdom. The more we grow in the knowledge of his ways, the more we grow in our ability to integrate biblical truth in every area of our lives.

Objections To Studying Systematic Theology

Grudem relays a couple objections to why people don’t think we should study systematic theology. For one, the conclusions are sometimes “too neat to be true.” In other words, theologians are trying to squeeze the Bible into an artificial mold of topics. This objection can suggest the objector doesn’t always believe the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God. Since God cannot lie (Titus 1:2) and the Bible is God’s word, it will not err despite how it was penned by multiple authors, over 1500 years, on three continents. Systematic theology turns out to be “neat” because God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).

A variant of the first objection is that “the choice of topics dictates the conclusions”. For example, the theologian wouldn’t be asking about the divine authorship of Scripture unless he believed in the divine authorship of Scripture. Those who object to studying systematic theology for this reason generally aim to study theological issues as the biblical authors approached them. Actually, there is a completely separate field dedicated to this approach called biblical theology. Personally, I think this is a valid concern, but akin to people disagreeing about topical sermons. Biblical theology has its place, but not at the exclusion of systematic theology.  

Conclusion: Studying Systematic Theology Should Result In Worship

In summary, there are many benefits to studying systematic theology for the Christian. But there is a temptation that arises in studying anything, especially pertinent to the Christian studying theology. Solomon wrote…

“For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” (Ecclesiastes 1:18)

Since studying theology can result in increased “vexation” or “sorrow”, Christians should be aware of the dangers. Ultimately, we don’t read theology to gain the upper hand in a theological dispute with less-aware Christians. We read theology to be better pray-ers, more humble, reason more logically, help others, which all results in our worship to God.

Special Terms

  • apologetics
  • biblical theology
  • Christian ethics
  • contradiction
  • doctrine
  • dogmatic theology
  • historical theology
  • major doctrine
  • minor doctrine
  • New Testament theology
  • Old Testament theology
  • paradox
  • philosophical theology
  • presupposition
  • systematic theology

Resources: Wayne Grudem

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