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What is Theology?
Our English word, theology, comes from the Greek word theologia, which combines the words theos meaning God and logia meaning study of. So putting that all together, theology is the study of God. But we need to get a little more specific than that for our purposes. First let’s look at several types of theology in Christian study:
- Historical theologyThis type of theology seeks to look at how Christians viewed theological topics throughout history. So we might consider how the early church viewed prayer.
- Systematic theologyGrudem defines systematic theology as “any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic” (21). So in systematic theology we would consider what the whole Bible has to say about prayer.
- Old Testament and New Testament theologyOT and NT theology organize topics historically and in the order they are found in the Bible. So we might consider what Isaiah says about prayer.
- Biblical theologyBiblical theology sort of combines OT and NT theology and considers individual authors, sections of Scripture, and the original audience of the book. So biblical theology might look at what Paul said about prayer in his epistles and how his original audience understand his teachings.
I imagine you are thinking that is a whole lot of theology. You are probably ready to quit this journey now. Hang on a bit. We aren’t going to be studying all those types of theology! And I admit, they still seem a bit confusing to me, too! Our focus will be on systematic theology. Grudem highlights 3 steps in a study of systematic theology:
- Collect all relevant passages on a topic
- Understand each passage individually
- Summarize the passages as a whole
Wowsers, that sounds like a lot of work! Yes. It is. Thankfully, really smart, dedicated people like Wayne Grudem have studied, sought the Lord, and done a lot of the hard work for us. We will be studying the fruits of his labor, but that does not mean we simply take what he says without any thought! I encourage you to search the Scripture yourselves if you find anything that challenges your previous thoughts or beliefs.
Before we dive into this study, you need to be aware of two basic assumptions that I (and Grudem) hold that are the foundation of everything we will study. If you do not agree with these two assumptions, you will likely struggle with the study to follow. Give me a shout in an e-mail, and we can discuss it there.
- The Bible is true and is our only absolute standard of truth (26).
- The God of the Bible exists and is who the Bible declares Him to be: Creator of heaven, earth, and all things in them (26).
Why should we study systematic theology? Why not spend our time reading Scripture itself? (27-29)
- A study of systematic theology helps us teach ourselves and others what the Bible teachers. This is commanded of all believers in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
- By studying what the whole Bible says about a given topic, we are able to correct wrong thinking and false beliefs.
- Similarly, we are better equipped to make decisions regarding our beliefs in the future with a solid understanding of what the Bible teaches.
- Finally, studying systematic theology helps us to grow as a Christian.
How should we approach a study of systematic theology? (33-37)
- Prayer: as with any Bible study, always begin in prayer. Asking the Lord to open your eyes and heart to what He has to show you. This can be especially difficult with systematic theology because often our long-held beliefs are challenged when we look at the whole of Scripture.
- Humility: This goes right along with prayer. Approach systematic theology with humility, acknowledging that you don’t know or understand everything. Ask for a Spirit that is willing to learn. (This is easier for us since we don’t know much about theology to start with!)
- Reason: God is an orderly God. He gave us brains equipped with reasoning skills. Use them. Sometimes we get tied up in our relationship with Christ as an emotional experience, but we can use our intellect to praise God as well through learning.
- Help: Be willing to accept help from others. Research if you do not understand a topic. Ask a trusted leader. Please e-mail me if something does not make sense. I will do my best to clarify or find someone to help us.
- Collect all Scripture on the topic and understand them: this is the basis of systematic theology.
- Rejoice and Praise: Learning more about God will naturally cause us to rejoice and praise in who He is and what He has done.
I’m excited to announce that I’ll be adding a Personal Study guide each week. It will include additional resources, reflection questions on the day’s topic, prayer, key passage for the topic, and preparation questions to get you thinking on the next week’s topic! I am going to attach it to today’s post, so everyone can see what it will be like. Then next week, the guides will be available for subscribers only. So be sure to subscribe via e-mail or a reader!
(click to download document)
Wondering what the numbers in parenthesis are? They are the page numbers from Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem, which is my guide for writing this series.
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