Lecture 1: Introduction to Systematic Theology
Course: A Guide to Christian Theology
Lecture: Introduction to ST
This is the 1st lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References within the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.
(Any slides, photos, study guides or outlines that the lecturer refers to should be down loaded separately. If they are not available, you may be able to find something similar using the Google© search engine.)
Welcome to the basic introduction to what we believe as Christians; we call it systematic theology. This is a fancy term for what the Bible teaches about various topics. This course assumes that you don’t have any particular background. Of course you will need a Bible. When we think about what we believe as Christians, first of all, I am thinking attitude wise. So if I look at Palm 139, a well-known Psalm. There are a couple of verses that relate to what I will talk about in terms of doctrine. Read the following in verse 17 & 18:
"How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you."
That idea that God has revealed himself to us so that we can have a relationship with him, not just an intellectual relationship but a truly personal relationship; with a person who talks and responds and answers prayer yet he is beyond comprehension. There is more to him that he can ever reveal to us. But those things that he has revealed are incredibly powerful. Deuteronomy 29:29 says that ‘the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. These things are revealed to us, we are going to be entranced and deepened by them. Titus 1:5, a passage that is talking about the qualifications of an elder; he finishes up here by saying that they must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. So I hope that you will learn what this trustworthy word teaches and that you will be able to instruct others in what the Bible actually teaches and you will be able to refute those who disagree with what is being taught. This is a role of leaders in the church.
II. Approaches to Learning Theology
A. The Deductive Approach
In thinking about the approach of learning theology consider a deductive approach which many new learners do. This approach involves going to a trusted leader and ask them about the topic. For example, the topic of election or security of the believer or the baptism of the Holy Spirit; you see in Hebrews 13:17 that you are to obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. So speaking to leaders he reminds us that we are ones who give an account to God for those under us. But for those who are under it, they are to obey and submit; so going to a leader and asking them is a really good thing to do. The limitation of this method is that leaders simply may not know and in some areas Christians disagree with each other. So if a person has made a mistake and we repeat that mistake and worse yet we don’t have personal conviction of these things; so we just end up repeating those you talked to about it. Start by asking leaders, which is a good thing but that is not the only way to approach learning theology.
B. The Inductive Approach
Another approach that is often done is inductive Bible study. So instead of going to a leader, go to the Bible and see what it says, then you come to your own conclusion and then analyze what others say about it. The Bible as an authority is absolutely critical; however the Bible is a big book. Note that I was raised with the idea that a person was made up of body, soul and spirit; this is called a trichotomy. So I went to 1st Thessalonians 5:23 which says that your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. So I saw that it being three parts of a person; it’s really simple. I believe it. Then, much later, a person who had a different view commented that Mark 12:30 says that you shall love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, thus saying that the heart, soul and mind are three parts of the body as a way of describing the whole person. This was very similar to 1st Thessalonians 5:23 that said: spirit, soul and body. So this is also relevant to the idea of the trichotomy of the person. So we just don’t know enough about any one topic or idea.
There are passages that tell us how we deal with theology. The first being Acts 17 Paul has had to leave Thessalonica heading down to Berea in verse 10. In arriving, he finds the Jews more ‘noble’ than those in Thessalonica. They received the Word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures to see whether what Paul was saying was true or not. This is a way people studied theology and this is often used in inductive Bible Study. But look again; they first listened and then examined what it said in the Old Testament. So this is not really inductive Bible Study. It is actually using Paul as a teacher and then critiquing him against Scripture.
III. The Jerusalem Council and the Matter of Circumcision
In Acts 15, there was a controversial issue of circumcision that had to be dealt with by the Jerusalem Council. Some people in Jerusalem were upset that gentiles were coming to Christ and not being circumcised. This was especially so by those believers who were members of the party of the Pharisees, as they were the first people to speak. These were people really serious about following God and the Bible. They went back to Genesis 17:12 where it says that those of eight days old need to be circumcised. It was then that Peter explained that God has chosen that the gentile should hear the Gospel and believe. After this, Barnabas and Paul explained about the signs and wonders God did among the gentiles. The next person was James who talked about the Book of Amos; all of them testing Scripture yet first listened to four different views. This is the best way to do theological exploration. So there were people who expressed different views quoting key passages as to why they believe what they do. In doing this, you are seeking to understand what people say and what the Scriptures say. You shouldn’t consider a critical view to understand a view as this will not provide the best picture. So we talk to people that hold certain views.
So method and theology is absolutely committed to the authority of Scripture. As far as possible, you should look at different views first hand and evaluate what you believe and why you believe it and what key passages you use to support it. State how you interpret controversial passages and then ask yourself which approach accounts for the most data with fewest difficulties. You will find things that are absolutely clear while there are some things that differ between Christians to the point that we can’t work together very well. Barnabas and Paul were like that; they had an argument and ended up going separate ways in separate ministries. There are issues that seem to divide people and then issues that become non-issues. Note that the fundamental teachings on issues don’t change.