A Guide to Christian Theology - Lesson 1

Why Study Systematic Theology

In this lesson, you delve into the importance of systematic theology, understanding it as both an academic and deeply personal journey towards comprehending God's teachings. Balancing theology with genuine devotion, you're guided to interpret biblical passages through different lenses, recognizing how theology influences perceptions and beliefs. This knowledge equips you to both fortify your faith and confront deceptive teachings, enhancing your prayer life and offering perspectives on life's trials. Through this exploration, you're encouraged to study theology personally, biblically, and responsibly, recognizing its critical role in your spiritual growth and discipleship.

Gerry Breshears
A Guide to Christian Theology
Lesson 1
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Why Study Systematic Theology

I. The Importance of Studying Systematic Theology

A. Introduction to theology

B. The value of understanding God’s thoughts - Psalm 139:17-18

C. Engaging with theology personally

D. Relationship between theology and piety

1. The dangers of sterile abstraction

2. Risks of empty emotionalism

II. Approaches to Theology

A. Biblical times insights

1. The pitfalls of the Pharisees' precise theology

2. The risks of the Sadducees' emotionally warm theology

B. Impact of theological frameworks

1. Interpretation of the book of Jonah

2. Different perspectives on Hebrews 6

C. Role of theology in understanding Jesus

III. The Practical Implications of Theology

A. Role of Bible in theology

1. Command to always have the Bible during lessons

2. Importance of Titus 1:9 in understanding leadership roles

B. Theology in prayer

1. Traditional structures of prayer

2. Emotions and theology in prayer

C. Theological responses to trials and challenges

1. Personal experiences of pain and loss

2. Different theological explanations for suffering

IV. Course Overview

A. Addressing common questions

B. Aims of the course in relation to practical life situations


  • In this lesson, explore the significance of systematic theology, blending academic insight with personal devotion. Learn to interpret biblical texts, understand how theology shapes beliefs, and fortify your faith against deception. This study fosters personal, biblical, and responsible theological growth, vital for spiritual development and discipleship.
  • Learn diverse ways to tackle theological questions, focusing on Holy Spirit baptism. Understand deductive, inductive, and retro-abductive methods. Acts 17:11 and Acts 15 show how community perspectives contribute to nuanced theological discussions, promoting unity amidst differing viewpoints.
  • This lesson provides insights into theological certainty levels, categorizing beliefs into "die for," "divide for," "debate for," and "decide for," highlighting essential doctrines, divisive issues, passionate debates, and less crucial matters, while underscoring the significance of understanding diverse perspectives and theological terms across different Christian tribes.
  • Explore general revelation through creation and conscience (Psalm 19, Romans 1). Responding leads to God, though not salvation alone. Special revelation possible. Diverse salvation views, favoring knowing Jesus. Seared consciences don't always void salvation.
  • Gain deep understanding of special revelation: history, divine acts, and communication revealing God's character and redemptive plan via Messiah. Lesson highlights Bible's key role, conveying God's nature, guidance, and transformative power, emphasizing ongoing divine-human communication.
  • This lesson delves into the concept of divine inspiration in Scripture, citing 2 Timothy 3:15-16 and 2 Peter 1:16-21. It explains "God-breathed" as a term highlighting God's creative influence on words, rejecting mere concepts or dictation. Inspiration involves human authors, their personalities, and styles, conveying God's message to the entire church.
  • In this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the characteristics of God, including their definitions, biblical support, and implications and applications.
  • In this lesson you will gain insight into the Bible's clarity, sufficiency, and authority, and the Canon.
  • In this lesson, you'll grasp a deep understanding of God's character. His foremost quality is compassion, like a mother's love. He's gracious, patient, loving, faithful, and forgiving, extending favor even to the undeserving. Yet, He's just, not sparing the persistently rebellious. This lesson dispels misconceptions, urging contemplation of God's profound blend of love and justice.
  • This lesson delves into holiness via Isaiah 6, emphasizing dedication over separation from sin. It challenges misconceptions and calls for church reform.
  • This lesson delves into the fundamental characteristics of God, particularly the Trinity, emphasizing God's essential relational nature within Himself and its biblical implications, while also addressing theological controversies and highlighting the complexity of the Trinity.
  • This lesson explores different approaches to knowing God, inspired by Thomas Aquinas, discusses the doctrine of immutability, and highlights how God can change in his attitude and actions based on biblical evidence, emphasizing the value of in-depth Bible study and open dialogue in understanding God's nature.
  • This lesson covers key theological concepts: sovereignty, election, and free will. It explores differences between Calvinist and Wesleyan-Arminian views on God's sovereignty, impacting God's plan and human responsibility. Emphasis on defining terms to prevent disputes. Speaker is a "Calminian," blending Calvinism and Arminianism for a balanced perspective. Valuable insights into theological complexities and scripture interpretation.
  • Exploring various theological views and problematic issues surrounding the concept of providence, we will gain a comprehensive understanding of the role of prayer in providence, as well as the compatibility of God's sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • You will gain knowledge about anthropology and its biblical foundations, creation of human beings and the image of God in humans, fall and sin and their implications on human nature, redemption and sanctification, and human destiny and eschatology, including views on heaven and hell and the return of Christ.
  • This lesson offers valuable insights into the multifaceted nature of providence and its profound implications for our comprehension of God's role in the world.
  • The lesson touches upon various types of suffering, categorizing them into six different types: moral evil (e.g., rape), natural evil (e.g., cancer), persecution, sharing the suffering of another, punishment for sin, and suffering caused by the devil.
  • Learn to discern God's will by cultivating a Christ-like character, living by moral principles, seeking counsel, embracing uniqueness, and praying. It's about aligning with your long-term happiness and godly desires, offering a balanced approach to life decisions.
  • Explore Jesus' nature and incarnation. Learn how He balanced divine and human attributes, challenging traditional views. Reflect on His mission and ours, empowered by the Holy Spirit, bridging divinity and humanity.
  • This lesson delves into the incarnation of Jesus, explaining his dual nature as both God and man during his earthly mission, supported by Old Testament, Gospel, and epistle references. It acknowledges the complexity of his divinity and humanity, even after his ascension.
  • This lesson explores Jesus' dual nature, divine and human, delving into emotions, knowledge, sin, and his role as the Second Adam, offering theological insights.
  • Learn about Jesus' life and mission, challenging traditional beliefs like the virgin birth. Explore his spiritual journey, resurrection, and more, fostering critical thinking and alternative perspectives.
  • This lesson provides a comprehensive examination of atonement, its various dimensions, and the theological concepts surrounding it.
  • Learn about the Holy Spirit, baptism, and its role in Christian faith. Understand diverse perspectives on its workings in believers' lives, emphasizing its incorporation at conversion and empowering influence, supported by biblical insights.
  • Gain insight into the relationship between spirit baptism and conversion, the various terms used in Scripture, and the importance of ongoing fillings with the Holy Spirit for special ministry tasks, character, and as a command for all believers.
  • This lesson explores the role of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. It challenges traditional definitions, proposing that any ability empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in ministry is a spiritual gift. The primary gift is the Holy Spirit himself.
  • Learn about the theological debate on spiritual gifts like prophecy and miracles. Explore four perspectives: cessationism, continuationism, functional cessationism, and word of faith. The instructor, a continuationist, emphasizes discernment and scripture while promoting respectful dialogue among believers with differing views.
  • This lesson explores the Bible's view of humanity, emphasizing humans as God's unique creation, made from dust and breath, in His image. It delves into human origins, our role as covenant partners, and the interaction between spirit and body, supported by biblical passages, offering a holistic perspective on being human in God's eyes.
  • This lesson redefines humans as image-bearers of God, emphasizing the role of reflecting divine attributes in all work, gender equality, and growth in Christ-likeness. It promotes dignity for all, with potential for deeper reflection as faith matures.
  • In this lesson you will explore the origin of sin, rejecting dualism in favor of a Christian perspective where sin arises from the choices of morally responsible creatures. The lesson introduces the idea of a pre-creation rebellion by Satan, emphasizing that humans are called to engage in spiritual warfare by doing good and promoting Shalom in the world.
  • You will gain knowledge and insight into the nature, marks, purpose, structure, and sacraments of the Church and learn about the different views and definitions used to define it.
  • This lecture discusses the leadership offices of a church, including eldership, deacons, and church members, and how they function according to biblical principles of polity, which prioritize following what the Bible prescribes, closely following what it describes, and using wisdom and being Spirit-led in matters it is silent about, all with the aim of effectively sharing the Gospel and achieving unity and focus.
  • In this lesson, you will explore baptism's significance, modes, and theological perspectives, and learn its role in church membership, unity, discipleship, and spiritual growth.
  • This lesson provides an overview of the historical, biblical, and theological aspects of Communion, including practical considerations for its practice.
  • You will gain a good understanding of death and its theological implications, including the biblical view of death, consequences of death, and resurrection and the afterlife. The lesson covers the definition of death, cultural views, and the portrayal of death in the Old and New Testaments. You will also learn about the physical and spiritual consequences of death, as well as the Bible's teachings on resurrection and the afterlife.
  • From this lesson, you gain insight into the biblical concept of God's Kingdom, its significance in Christian theology, and its impact on eschatology, social justice, and the Church's role.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into eschatology, examine biblical perspectives, explore key events like the Rapture, Tribulation, Millennium, and Final Judgment, and learn the significance of eschatology for today's believers.
  • By studying the eternal state, you gain insights into the new heaven and earth, resurrection, judgment, and eternal life, deepening your understanding of Christian hope and assurance.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into the crucial role of church leaders, their essential qualities, and the challenges they face, while discovering the importance of support and encouragement for their growth and effectiveness in ministry.
  • In this lesson, you gain an understanding of the nature of Scripture and learn to interpret the Bible within its historical, literary, and canonical contexts while addressing challenges in biblical interpretation.
  • This lesson delves into the structure and authority of a church, examining different leadership models and emphasizing the overarching role of scripture as the final authority, while also highlighting the need for congregational involvement in decision-making processes and the unique nature of the apostles in early church leadership.
  • Learn Dr. Breshears' local church leadership principles: focus on equipping, inspiring, empowering, unifying, exemplifying, caring for, overseeing, and shepherding members. Rooted in biblical teachings, emphasizes servant leadership. The lesson discusses congregational decision-making, women in church leadership roles with respect for differing views.
  • Learn about church leadership principles, roles of elders and deacons, active membership, mutual commitment, gift utilization, and clear processes in this comprehensive lesson.
  • This lesson explores sacraments, focusing on baptism and diverse theological views. Baptism signifies a profound commitment to Christ within a believer community, emphasizing understanding and promptness post-conversion.
  • In this lesson, you'll grasp the essence of baptism, its questions, and debates. Discover belief's role, its confession, and the link to repentance and faith. Explore diverse views on baptism performers, methods, and locations. Gain insights and wisdom for informed baptism decisions in your faith community.
  • From this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of Communion, also known as the Lord's Supper or Eucharist. It will provide you with insights into the controversy surrounding its terminology and the theological background of Communion, primarily focusing on 1 Corinthians Chapters 10 and 11. You will learn about various theological perspectives on the real presence of Christ in the Communion elements and explore different viewpoints on the frequency, leadership, eligibility, and practical aspects of Communion. Overall, this lesson will equip you with the knowledge to better understand and participate in the Communion meal.
  • This lesson delves into two ends: individual death and the end of the age. It explores human death, material and immaterial aspects (Ecclesiastes 12:7, Genesis 3), fear, loss of autonomy, cremation, death determination, rewards, and urges preparation to meet Jesus, facing the undeniable reality of death.
  • Learn about the Kingdom of God, its aspects, Christ's return interpretations, and key concepts like inaugurated, Messianic, and millennium kingdoms. Emphasizing humility and mission in theological debates, it prepares you for insightful discussions on Christ's return and tribulation.
  • Learn about Christian views on heaven and hell. Hell is punishment for those who reject Jesus; heaven is eternal bliss with Him on a renewed Earth. Explore differing views respectfully.

Understand the core topics of systematic theology, from what we know about God to the future state of humankind. Special emphasis is given to such topics as Christ, salvation, the church, and the future.

A Guide to Christian Theology
Dr. Gerry Breshears
Why Study Systematic Theology
Lesson Transcript

Well, the first question we're doing this thing is, why in the world would you invest this kind of time in studying systematic theology? That's a really good question and I have a really good answer, because it's useful and I'll show you how.

In this first little segment in here, I just want to think about how to approach the idea of doing theology, studying what the Bible teaches about God and us, and sin, and all those things. And it comes down to two verses from Psalm 139. Psalm 139:17-18, "How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you."

And that attitude is the heart of what I do when I do theology and what I try to get people I'm teaching to it, is realize that God has given us his thoughts, his ways, his truth, and he's given it to us as a gift. And vast? Oh, my. We'll never get to the bottom of it, but we're going to give ourselves to understanding the best we can. "How precious to me your thoughts, oh God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you." And that's the heart of it. We are studying God in a personal relationship with him.

So when you do this, what I want you to do when you do theology fundamentally is I want you to study personally. That is bring your whole person to the presence of God and the presence of the community of God and be with him in the process. We're always studying with Yahweh present. We're never talking about God, we're talking along with God. Now, you can bring anything to him, but you always do it respectfully, you always do it submissively, and you always do it, "Check my thoughts and be sure I'm right."

Personally, with God present, in the provincial capital of British Columbia, there's a window that talks about the different dimensions of theology. What I took away from that window is, first of all, theology without piety. So one window is theologia, the other is pietas. Theology without piety is sterile abstraction, and it's worse than useless. Piety without theology is empty emotionalism. The difference between those two is really important. Theology without piety, without that pious personal response, is sterile and it's deadly.

When I go to study marriage, I recognize there's a deadliness constraint. I have a long relationship and when I'm studying it, if I'm studying it abstractly, it can actually corrode our marriage. If I come and bring Sherry with me and we do it together, it can build our marriage. That's where we do theology. But piety without theology, it's just emotionalism because we extract it from who God is, then we go in crazy places. Join together, we end up with the John 4:24, worship in spirit, truth.

So George MacDonald said this, "Nothing is so deadening as the divine as an habitual dealing with the outsides of holy things." I'll read that one more time. "Nothing is so deadening to the divine as an habitual dealing with the outsides of holy things." We want to dig in deep into the living core of what's going on. So on one hand, going back to biblical times, we need to be very careful about the danger of precise orderly theology of the Pharisees. They're going to kill Jesus. And a lot of its work I see in theology is logical, precise, and dead. The other side, of course, is nothing. Note, the other danger of the emotionally warm theology are the Sadducees. They were so concerned for relevance, they're ready to give up truth. We've got to hit that balance between the two and be the idea of this neither pharisaic nor saddusaic.

So when you think of this again, why do this? Because when you do theology, we're bringing a framework to passages of scripture. One of the books that has just intrigued me forever is the book Jonah. I began with that Jonah and the Whale and that kind of stuff and kind of a kid's tale. And the more I've pondered that over the years, the deeper I've gotten into it, the more I realize the profound lessons.

But you got this crazy thing that happens, God sends Jonah and he says, "Warn them I'm going to kill, 40 days, you're toast." So Jonah very reluctantly goes under duress and says, "40 days, you're toast." No turn or burn, it's just in 40 days, you're toast. "They repent and God forgives them," is what it says. And what happens? You'll bring a theological frame to that. Can God actually respond to the repentance of somebody else? And different theologies have defense for that question.

And you'll interpret that theology very differently if you're kind of hardcore Calvinist than if you're a staunch Arminian or something in between. And that framework you bring, because for some, God is always the initiator, never the responder. See, if I bring that framework to the past, it will come to a different conclusion. Never bring that God is the one who's looking for response for his people, and that can actually be changed by their response than somewhere between. So that theological frame is important.

Another one, Hebrew 6. What does it say when it says, "It's impossible for those who turn away to be renewed to repentance?" Again, very different frames. Some people say, "One time you fall away, end of story, you're done. You got one chance on the train, you jump off, you're done, in hell forever." On the other side, you get a more Calvinist viewer and they're going to say, "No, it's impossible to lose your salvation so that must be something else. That's a warning passage. And God uses the warning passage to accomplish his purpose of keeping us in the faith." Very different interpretations, the same passage because of the theological framework. And so what we're going to do here is talk about not just the passages, not just the theologies, but how you do theology behind it. But that framework is really important.

I'm an old man, if you haven't noticed. I grew up on the song, You Shall Know Them By Your Love. And the phrase, at least in my young days, I think it's still true, "I just love Jesus." Okay, who's Jesus? And what I find is just incredibly different response to the question, who is Jesus? Well, that's theology. Who is this one? What manner of man is this? We'll talk about it as one of our topics. So that's an important thing to do.

Many of you here are leaders. Oh, did I tell you to get your Bible? Okay, push pause right now. Go get your Bible if you don't already have it, okay? Do it, this is a command from God. Push pause, get your Bible, you got to have it. Okay, and push pause and turn to Titus 1. I'm going to do that here too, Titus 1. We're going to do this a lot in here, so keep your bibles around. This is talking about leaders in the church. It's talking about elders, a number of things we talk about.

Titus 1:9, so you've got it in phone already. There's somebody like that in paper, like these people here in front of you, and it takes a while to get there. Titus 1:9 says this, "He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they're disrupting whole households by the teaching things they ought not to teach."

And see, that's one of the things we're told to do. As leaders in the church, we must be able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict, which means we need to know what we're teaching to build people to the measure of the stature of fullness of Christ, and also to refute those who by subtle deception are ruining the faith. And that's what we're looking for. We want to do that kind of stuff. There are a lot of people who claim to speak for God. A lot of people claim to be a follower of Jesus. We need to know who they are. And personal charisma, persuasiveness, is it supernatural power or is it consistent with who God really says he is? That's our question.

Intelligent prayer, when I think about that, I was taught as a kid, in many cases, I still hear that, I've got to get my attitude fixed before I come to God in prayer because I always have to begin my prayer with praise. I always have to begin with adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. What happens if you feel the pits? What happened if I just happened in our church? 59-year-old man loved Jesus, took Jesus with him everywhere, had a heart attack just over a week ago, and within five days was dead. I talked to his widow yesterday. What do you do when your husband just died and you're alone in the world? You got to begin with adoration? Well, it depends on your theology.

See, I look at Psalm 13, which is one of those incredible psalms written by David, and it begins, "How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?" That's not adoration. See, you bring a theology of understanding of God to your prayer. Do you have to get reverent, sing and adore before you can pray? My answer is no. But for a lot of people, they're not allowed to bring in sadness. They're not allowed to bring in hurt. Or they play the victim side, and really, that's all they do is bring hurt to God and complain to him. So again, your picture of God is going to be very central to your life of prayer.

What do you do with trials? Again, thinking of this woman I talked to yesterday, widow, husband dead. She was in the hospital room with him when he finally passed after several heart attacks, and brain damage, and all kinds of stuff. What do you do with that? Where's God? I just talked to a policeman this morning who was involved in an officer-involved shooting, and he ended up shooting a man who was trying to kill him. Where's God in this? Your baby just died. Where's God in the suffering?

See, the thing is that different theologies will bring different answers to that. And in some cases, a theology can be very comforting, and one person will be deadly to another one. And what I would do in this course is we think through it, is approach these questions and many more. Well, one more question. Again, talking to a guy just very recently and he kept describing himself, "There's nothing good in me. There's nothing good in me. Fortunately, God accepts me as a sinner."

And I let him talk for a while before I said, "Can you open your Bible and read me?" And I took him some passage because he's born again in Jesus, there's a lot of good in him. It's called new heart. It's called deep desires for godliness. Now, there's bad in him too, at least my understanding, but he is representing a theology that says, "There's nothing good in me. I'm saved by grace alone. I'd be given the righteousness of Jesus and nothing there." I talk to other people and they say, "Thanks be to God. I have been renewed completely. There is no sinful desire in me whatsoever." Poor opposites about how you approach the Christian life.

And I lay these things out partly to trouble your mind. Yeah, it's true. And partly to think that what we're doing here, as we invoke on this study, is something that's deeply personal, deeply applicable to your Christian life, and critically important for your discipleship life as you bring others to the measure of the stature of fullness of Christ. That's what we're going to do over these lessons. And I want you to do it personally. I want you to do it biblically. I want you to do it responsibly, and if possible, I want you to do it in community because that's the best way to do things. Okay?

Let me pray for us to begin this study, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, thank you that you've entrusted us with the words of life. You've given us your thoughts, you've given us your ways. You've shown us who you are. Holy Spirit, show us those places in us where we need to learn and grow. And as we do this course together, I pray rich blessing for us all. In Jesus' name, amen.


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