What Is Systematic Theology?


Just What Is Systematic Theology?


Theology comes from two words.  Theos” which is Greek for God and “Ology” which means the study of.  So essentially anytime that we raise questions about God, questions about life/death issues, or raise questions of our place in this universe we are essentially doing Theology.  Every time we attend a funeral and say to ourselves, “I wonder where they are at right now?” we are essentially practicing Theology.  It would be safe to say that the ideology of theology is not something that is restricted to the academics, book worms, or pastors but rather is something that is performed by a vast array of people of all different backgrounds and experiences whether they know it or not.
Within this realm of what we call Theology there are essentially different categories in which we practice Theology.  Historical theology, exegetical theology and systematic theology are several of the different theologies that are practiced.  More specifically systematic theology is the categorization of topics of the Bible.  Simply put, systematic theology takes all the Biblical passages about a topic and clumps them together so that it allows all the different sections of the Bible to speak coherently and collectively to a specific subject.  For example, what does the Bible say and teach about the doctrine of man?  Systematic theology will then answer this question by gathering information from Genesis 3, Psalm 51, the words of Jesus, the teachings of Paul, etc… and then builds a comprehensive explanation of this doctrine.  It allows the whole of scripture to speak to the issue at hand.
So, as we ask specific questions about God/Christianity and peruse through scripture, past sermons that we’ve heard and our memory, with the purpose of gathering a comprehensive answer, we are essentially practicing systematic theology. 
There is another aspect of this that we need to keep in mind.  As we systematize scripture, assess a subject and answer a specific question, we many times do this in a way that puts the best spin on ourselves and God.  The reason why we do this is that we desire our answers to fit neatly into our own theological system or grid.  In other words, as subjective beings we approach scripture with our own bias and our own presuppositions.  Due to our sinful nature, we will inherently assess things in a manner that puts the best spin on things in order to protect our own spiritual projects, endeavors and kingdom of self.  Furthermore, we many times will assess things about God in a form and fashion that keeps God tame and manageable; let’s keep God off our back![1]  As a result, there are many times that we won’t answer our systematic questions with straight forward answers but will answer them in order to keep our conscience at rest and to keep the tension of paradox at a minimum.  All of what I have just described is a way of thinking that resorts in one having bad theology.  It is bad because it doesn’t answer things the way they actually are, avoids tension and excuses paradox all for the sake of comfort.  This not only harms the way that we perceive the revealed realities of God but also misconstrues how we process the events and realities that we encounter right before us. 
Rather, good systematic theology let’s God be God and let’s scripture speak to us regardless of its verdict towards mankind and our circumstances.  Reason doesn’t stand above scripture but scripture stands above mankind’s reason.  In other words, good systematic theology let’s scripture speak about God in a way that lets it stand  regardless if it is  perceived to be illogical, lacking luster or is down-right confusing.  Furthermore, good theology speaks where scripture speaks and will not speak where scripture does not speak.  What this means is that good theology will many times leave things with mystery, leave things in paradox, and may even times say, “we just don’t know, but here is what we do know.”

[1] A term used by Gerhard Forde.