Adapted from Systematic Theology in Two Volumes
Systematic Theology is an effort to apply Scripture systematically to various spheres of faith and life. At the same time, the title distresses me, because too often "systematic theology" now has reference to a seminary subject taught by a member of the "Theology and Philosophy of Religion Department." As such, it is a separate subject from "Biblical Theology," "Practical Theology," and various other divisions of the subject. This kind of academic dissection and analysis may perhaps be necessary, but I wonder, for example, how Biblical Theology and Systematics can be separated? Is it not wrongly dividing the word of truth? Are we not suffering from too much scholarly dissection where the living word is needed?
Seminaries, for example, divide Biblical studies often into two departments, "Old Testament" and "New Testament," and, with some professors, never the twain shall meet. These men will refer questions which connect the Old and the New Testaments to the other department! Some seem more anxious about offending a colleague than speaking plainly about the word of God.
It is a serious mistake to see theology as an academic exercise. The word theology means God's word; it begins with the presupposition that Scripture is the word of God, and the duty of the theologian is to understand it and to apply it to every area of life and thought.
Theology belongs in the pulpit, the school, the work-place, the family, and everywhere. Society as a whole is weakened when theology is neglected. Without a systematic application of theology, too often people approach the Bible with a smorgasbord mentality, picking and choosing that which pleases them. Then, in the name of Christianity, we have interpretations of the meaning of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit which are alien to Scripture.
A modernist scholar stated recently that he went to the Bible for what would be applicable to the context of modern life; this meant that much, if not most of Scripture, was relegated to only an ancient application. This is no different from the approach of evangelicals and fundamentalists who want to limit the Bible to its salvation message; such a limitation also perverts the word.
For me theology means the total mandate of God through His word. What I have written only scratches the surface; it is an introduction to the subject, and it is written to move men to faith and action. The neglect of theology in our time is in part due to the theologians, who have multiplied the various divisions, so that, among the divisions of study have been Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, Dogmatical Theology, Exegetical Theology, Practical Theology, and so on. The areas of study also include such subjects as Natural Theology and Speculative Theology. With the inventions of so many variations, it is no wonder that both pastors and people have lost interest in the subject and avoid it.
Clarity of doctrine and theological precision are essentials, but this does not justify turning theology into an esoteric sphere of studies for scholars. Almost all the contents of this study were delivered orally to Christian laymen and women and discussed with them.
In our time, theology has in the main left the pulpit for the seminary classroom. The Calvinistic churches retain some theology, but in a frozen and often irrelevant form. Arminian churches have largely abandoned theology, the doctrine of the triune God and His being, word, purpose, and works, to confine themselves to the doctrine of salvation. Humanism sees man as the measure of all things, but its "all things" is limited to the material universe. For Arminianism "all things" includes God. They go thus beyond humanism in this respect in that for them the concern of God and His universe is man's salvation, an amazingly man-centered and egocentric view. Our Lord, to the contrary, says, "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness (or, justice)" (Matt. 6:33). The churches of our time seem to believe that God exists to save man and keep him happy. Theology is therefore only studied as an adjunct to the doctrine of salvation. This turns the world of scripture upside down. How can anyone believe that God blesses this, or feels other than displeased? Are we not inviting God's judgment?
Since so many now believe that God exists to serve them, is it any wonder that they also view the church and clergy in like terms? The church and the clergy have for these people as their justification the service of man. They do not hesitate to demand time and effort from the clergy for all their needs with less concern to give their time, efforts, and money to the work of the Kingdom of God. When God's judgment comes justly upon them, they cry out, How could God do this to me? Their standard is themselves; their gospel is, my will be done, by God, the church, the clergy, and all men. Theology is weak today, because anthropology and psychology reign, i.e., the doctrines of man, and of his psyche. But the world is not governed by your and my will and wishes, but by the triune God and His eternal decree. Until we learn that fact, and say Amen to it as persons and societies, we shall only gain God's wrath and judgment. Of course, our humanistic age finds the wrath of God a remote concept; it will learn otherwise, because God is God.