We’re doing this podcast because we’re passionate about theology.
And not just because we’re interested in thinking thoughts, but because these thoughts inform (and fill out) a deeper worship.
But as pastors, we’re passionate this be true any lay-person within the church.
As a result, we often recommend books and articles. We even use a lot of terms in our sermons (or on this podcast). And so sometimes we just throw out words (or phrases) that carry whole freight load of meaning -- In fact, there’s entire disciplines (and areas of study) bound up in a single word.
So we thought it’d be good to talk about the different kinds of theology out there -- and what’s meant by a certain term (or theological discipline).
When you use the term theology, many will simply think of systematic theology (e.g., Grudem, Berkhoff, etc.). But ST is simply one kind of theology.
There’s many kinds of theology out there. They all mean something different, and there’s certain goals with each of those.
So we want to give a brief survey.
Definition: “Any study that answers the question: ‘What does the whole bible teach us today?’... about any given topic.” (Grudem)
This is a pretty good definition.
First, it focuses on the fact that systematic theology is interested in what the entire Bible has to say about any given topic.
So ST is attempting to create a system of understanding (or system of thought), but based upon everything that the bible is saying regarding any given topic.
Systematic Theology begins with the bible, but will pull from other disciples (i.e., philosophy, reason, etc). But the bible is typically the controlling point in systematic theology.
For example: You’ll never find the word “Trinity” in the Bible.
However, the doctrine of Trinity is a system of thought, through which can we talk about (and then understand) the nature of God.
So throughout Scripture, God has revealed Himself as a Trinitarian reality, but the Word Trinity is never used.
So what we’re doing, then, is pulling together all the different ways God has revealed Himself in the Bible (e.g., Father, Son, and Spirit), and then developing a comprehensive (or systematic) understanding of that.
So the result of seeing God as Father, Son, and Spirit is the conclusion that God is 1 yet 3.
However, we’ve developed a certain system through which we understand the nature of what Scripture is.
So were looking at all the ways the Bible talks about itself, and then developing a system of understanding as to what the Bible then is.
So the result is that we then understand the Bible is both inerrant (there’s no error) and infallible (it’s not even capable of error).
Second, Grudem states that it’s figuring out what the whole of the Bible is teaching us today.
And this is why new systematic theologies are coming out all the time.
They’re seeking to take the fullness of Scripture, but then bring to bear upon the issues of today.
Example: Theological Anthropology.
What does the Bible say when it comes to issues of human sexuality?
This gets into the issue of transgenderism.
---- This wasn’t an issue 50 years ago.
---- Today it is – so new systematic theologies are being developed to see how the bible addresses this particular issue.
It’s important to know that ST is not without error.
ST is a man-made system, where finite minds are attempting to pull all the thoughts of God together (from the bible) to address a specific issue.
So since ST is a discipline involving finite (sinful) minds, it will always have error.
Three typical areas of Systematic Theology:
i. Theology I
a. Introduction (“a word before…”)
b. Typically giving explanations as to how the ST is
being done by a particular author.
c. Laying out his/her methodology, goals, outcomes.
3. Theology Proper.
ii. Theology II
iii. Theology III
Other areas of study typically categorized as Systematic Theology.
i. Ethics (e.g,. Div. & Rem., sexul ethics, beginning and end of
life issues (IVF, Euthenasia), etc.)...
iii. *There’s different approaches to each of these, which
require their own episodes.
Definition: “Biblical Theology is that branch of Exegetical Theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible. [It’s a study]… which moves along the axis of
redemptive history.” (Geehardus Vos).
“Biblical Theology seeks to uncover and articulate the unity of all the biblical texts taken together, resorting primarily to the categories of those texts themselves.” (Carson)
“Biblical theology “asks what themes are central to the biblical writers in their historical context, and attempts to discern the coherence of such themes.” (Schreiner)
Biblical Theology’s very hard to summarize in a simple definition, just due to the nature of what it is.
Essentially, it’s the idea of tracing out a biblically stated theme of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, and then seeing how it develops throughout redemptive history--- that is, as the Bible is being written.
It then, typically, climaxes in the person of Jesus Christ. (example: You can trace out the themes of kingdom, or rest, or temple, or love, or Word of God, etc…).
Example: a Biblical Theology of Rest.
In Gen. 1-2, there’s a parallel statement after each creation day… “There was evening and there was morning – an X day…”
But once we get to the 7 th day (Gen. 2:2-3), God blesses the 7 th day and then rests.
So what becomes interesting, is that because there’s been this cadence after each creation day (i.e., evening and morning), the reader’s expecting something obvious.
So after 6 days of creation (and 6 parallel statements), we’re expecting to read, “There was
evening and there was morning, a 7 th day....”
But, you don’t read that. It’s completely left out.
So what you begin to discover, especially as you trace out the theme of “rest” in the Bible, is that
the 7th day rest now appears to be perpetual. There’s everlasting rest, so to speak.
So the next time that we observe any “rest” language in the Bible, it’s in reference to the Sabbath, which is inherently bound up with the 7th day rest in Genesis.
After that, we then encounter the exodus, where the nation of Israel is led out of Egypt to the Promised Land, which of course, is referred to as the land of rest.
So, in Psalm 95, then, we observe the writer picking up on this language of rest when God proclaims these words: “Therefore I swore in My anger, Truly they shall not enter into My rest.”
Now, what’s interesting about this passage is that by the time Psalm 95 is written, Israel had been in the Promised Land for some time. And so how is God now able to say… “Truly they shall not enter into My rest?”
They’re already in the rest. And so what you have to conclude, then, is that in some way, there’s a greater rest being spoken of in Psalm 95.
So what you end up having concluding, is that it must be speaking of that 7th day in some way (that perpetual rest, if you will).
So once you get to the NT, then, Psalm 95 is picked up by the writer to the Hebrews (in chs 3 and 4). I won’t get into the complexities of how he’s using Ps. 95, but he’s nevertheless tapping into the theme of rest to make a point regarding salvation, and God’s expectation for godly living.
And there’s many other passages that pick up on the theme of rest that we could talk about, but the pay-off of biblical theology is to show the unity of the entire Bible.
There’s one author, one point, one goal.
The Bible is utterly connected, and driving somewhere along this axis of redemptive history.
So in Matt. 11, where Jesus is speaking, we come to the pinnacle of the theme of rest, but in the person and work Christ.
“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I shall give you rest.”
So here, we begin to see the value of biblical theology.
After you trace out the theme of rest, you can finally begin to understand the kind of rest that Jesus is inviting us into. And so I’d argue that He’s actually speaking of that 7th day rest back in Genesis.
It’s that eternal rest which only God can give. It’s a rest we’re partaking in with the person of God Himself.
So it’s a divine and everlasting rest which God has been in since the 7th day of creation.
And so it’s here that we begin to discover the significance, then, of the Genesis account not stating the existence of an evening or morning after the 7th day. God is still in it and it will be in it, perpetually.
So if you’re in Christ, then, you will one day share in this rest which began in the 7th day of creation.
So for all those psychological sermons on Matt. 11 where Jesus is just trying to give you rest from
things like anxiety and depression, short of developing a biblical theology, what else would you preach.
But if you have a biblical theology, Matt. 11 all of sudden becomes incredibly profound, and
something far greater, that has eternity in mind.
In the end, Biblical theology is simply tracing out a theme of Scripture.
You can do it from Genesis to Revelation, or within a single book, or within a single author.
So for instance, you can develop a biblical theology of suffering, by tracing out the theme in 1 Peter.
You can also trace out the theme of love, but as John uses it in Gospel and Epistles.
So there’s all sorts of ways to do biblical theology, but the point to understand, is that you’re always developing a particular theme along a temporal axis.
This is in contrast to Systematic Theology, which doesn’t care about time.
The Trinity is the Trinity, whether you’re in Genesis or Romans.
Definition: “The study of the interpretation of Scripture and the formulation of doctrine by the church of the past.” (Allison)
In other words, what’s the history of thought on a particular topic.
For instance, you’re looking at how the doctrine of the Trinity has been developed and refined over time. Or perhaps you’re looking at all the different ways the idea of the atonement was viewed over time.
It’s simply taking a particular topic (usually Systematic Theology) and seeing the different ways people understood it.
Note: Allison’s HT is a companion to Grudem’s ST.
Historical Theology is such an important area of study. In fact, the reason the Church keeps getting into so much trouble is because it refuses to learn historical theology. So we just keep repeating old
This is why people who refuse to be trained, or refuse to study these things, then decide to step into the pulpit, can stunt the church.
They’re not aware of History, so they’re not controlled by truth and error. As a result, they’re tossed to a fro with whatever might sound good in the moment.
It then makes us repeat controversies over and over.
Definition: Any teaching that’s held to as the official teaching of a church or organization.
This is similar to systematic theology, in that it’s interested in what the entire Bible teaches on any given topics. However, it’s different in that it focuses on what a particular church (or religious organization) officially affirms the Bible to be teaching on any given topic.
Dogmatic Theology became popular during the Reformation from Roman Catholicism. The protestant reformers were seeking to clarify distinctions between themselves and the Catholic Faith.
So Dogmatic Theology can be anything from a simple statement of faith (e.g., BFM 2000, 1689 Confession, etc.) all the way up to something like Karl Barth’s 6-million-word (14 vol.) work (“Church Dogmatics”).
Practical Theology (includes pastoral theology)
Definition: The discipline of putting academic theology into practice within the church and world.
Areas of Pastoral/Practical Theology:
Good practical theology always begins with an academic development from the Scriptures, but then seeks to put it into practice.
Poor practical theology will focus on pragmatics and methodology without first developing a sound theological foundation from the Scriptures.
Example 1: Exegetical preaching vs. relevant/application preaching.
Expositional preaching is what’s demonstrated in the Scriptures. So a sound theology of expositional preaching has been developed time and time again.
Relevant/application preaching has very little theology behind it. It’s not built off the Scriptures, but more or less modern pragmatics. So there’s almost no theology that’s been formally developed for “relevant/applicational preaching.”
This is why “applictional” preaching has not proven to be truly transformative in the long-term.
Example 2: Biblical counseling vs. psychology/psycho-therapeutic counseling.
Biblical counseling has an enormous amount of theological support and foundations.
The psychoanalytical approaches have been developed from modern/secular theories that then seek to find Scriptural support.
The point is, one begins with God’s revelation and seeks to develop a practice from God’s revelation. The other begins somewhere outside of Scripture, and then seeks to make Scripture support it in some way. One is a good practical theology, the other is a bad practical theology.
Definition: “A branch of philosophy and theology which attempts to either prove God's existence, define God's attributes, or derive correct doctrine based solely from human reason and observations of the natural world.”
This is contrasted with seeking to understand the person (and attributes of God), as well as his plans and purposes, from special revelation alone (i.e., the Bible).
The Reformers understanding of Sola Scriptura meant they thought God’s person and purposes could only be understood through special revelation.
Prov. 3:5 "Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding."
Psalm 147: 19-20 “He declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; And as for His ordinances, they have not known them.”
Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, thought God could be proved (and believed in) through reason alone. So he argued for the existence of God through logic, reason, and evidences of God’s existence.
Notable proponents of Natural Theology:
1. Alvin Plantinga.
2. William Lane Craig.
3. C.S. Lewis.
4. J.P. Mooreland.
5. Paul Tillich.
6. Emil Brunner.
Notable Theologians writing against Natural Theology:
1. Cornelius Van Til.
2. Karl Barth.
3. Greg Bahnsen.
Definition: Classic process theology deals with the doctrine of God and His nature, stating He is a dipolar and developing being. (if you want to have fun look up “dipolar theology” on wikipedia.)
On the one hand, God is absolute, unchanging, independent, and unsurpassable in His perfection.
On the other hand, God is relative, changing, dependent, and always surpassing Himself in His perfections.
So when you boil it all down, He’s constantly growing and responding to the creation itself.
This is a form of panentheism, where all of creation is part of God.
This, of course, violates the Creator-creature distinction.
It always communicates God is the process of learning,and in part, dependent on the world for His being and perfections.
Obviously, this system is developed from philosophy/reason, goesoutside the bounds of Scripture, and should be avoided. It’s very liberal, and very annoying.
Definition: The goal of uncovering the meaning of a biblical author’s intent.
This will involve:
Word studies, Historical studies (background and setting of a given
text), Grammar, Understanding genre, issues of Continuity/discontinuity.
Again, the goal is to think the author’s thoughts after them.
-- Falls within the broader category of hermeneutics.
-- Tends to focus on the grammar and syntax of a text.
-- The best place to do this is with the original text itself (i.e., The Greek and Hebrew).
Exegesis based off the English is simply the exegesis of a translator’s interpretation of the Greek or Hebrew. This is an invaluable skill for anyone seeking to be a teacher/preacher of the Scriptures.
(higher criticism: historical, redaction, etc. / Lower criticism: textual, etc.)
Not going to get into these, because most people (even serious Bible students) will never interact at this level. Just know that most of these are liberal attempts to understand how the Bible is “really” put together.
The major assumption is that God is not the ultimate author of Scripture.
Textual criticism has been helpful to evangelicalism, and given us great confidence that our Bibles are incredibly reliable, but the rest have typically undermined the authority of Scripture.
This is a basic survey. Theology is always being done at every level.
New theologies come out weekly, and as long as the issues keep changing in our world, so will theology—it has to. The Bible is able to address every issue for life, and good theologians are able to bring the Bible to bare on everything.
Our recommendation is to establish a firm foundation by reading good Systematic Theologies, Biblical Theologies, and Historical Theologies.
One wise approach is to start with an older theological model and build out from there as you grow and learn. They have stood the test of time.
Never tolerate your theology demanding the text to mean something. But also unless you’re well-grounded, don’t abandon the classic understanding of a passage simply because you heard a sermon.
If you have a firm foundation, you can pretty well sniff our poor theology, and not be tossed around by every new theological fad.
Neglecting to be grounded in sound theology is how the modern evangelical church has become what it is today – ignorant of our past, and illiterate when it comes to the Bible.
If you’re going to be a teacher (or preacher), it’s important you develop sound hermeneutics and exegetical skills.