Why Should You Care About Theology? - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2003-11-09 PM
  • Systematic Theology
  • Sermons


Thank you all for your singing, and for your being here this evening. We're going to continue our look at Systematic Theology. Well, I began last week by telling you that some people are very confused about what the Bible teaches. I read you a little parable that had been put together by a student. I was reminded this week of a little book that I have on my bookshelf. I picked up - I mentioned this morning - the Huntington Library. I picked this book up at the Huntington Library, and it's called Anguished English an Anthology of Accidental Assaults upon Our Language. These are, as best the author can determine, actual quotes from students' papers written about various issues. This includes a number of categories including about the law, and about various other categories: modern day malaprops and etc. But there's a category in here called "The World According to Student Bloopers" and it's a sort of assimilation of what students have actually written about history. And he's simply pieced them together - sort of pasted them together - as a running description of world history. But the Bible hasn't been left out of this description. I wanted to read you some of the confusion that people have, particularly students, about the Bible. These are actual quotes now, don't forget.

"The Bible is full of interesting caricatures. In the first book of the Bible, Genesises, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One of their children, Cain, asked, "Am I my brother's son?" God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Montezuma. Jacob, son of Isaac, stole his brother's birthmark. Jacob was a patriarch who brought up his twelve sons to be patriarchs but they didn't take to it. One of Jacob's son, Joseph, gave refuse to the Israelites. Pharaoh forced the Hebrew slaves to make bread without straw. Moses let them to the Red Sea where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Afterward, Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Commandments. He died before he ever reached Canada. David was a Hebrew King, skilled at playing the liar (l.i.a.r). He fought with the Finkelsteins (the Philistines) a race of people who lived in biblical times. Solomon, one of David's sons had three hundred wives and seven hundred porcupines. Later, King Job, who had one trouble after another, eventually lost all his cattle and all his children, and had to go live alone with his wife in the dessert." And it goes on from there.

Well, those are humorous, but sadly, many people are every bit as confused about what the Bible teaches and the results aren't funny. The results can be tragic, because a misplaced or an erroneous theology can lead to wrong behavior. That's why we're stepping back and looking at the issue of Systematic Theology. We want to understand what the Bible teaches so we aren't misled by wrong perceptions, wrong conceptions about what the Scriptures teach. And before we get into the specific teaching of Scripture on various doctrinal topics, or various topics of Scripture in the coming weeks and months, we're trying to arrive at some preliminary definitions and guidelines. And let me just briefly remind you of what we covered last week. I won't spend much time with it, but I do want to just touch on it.

In these introductory messages, last week and this week, I really had two primary objectives. The first is to define Systematic Theology. And the second was to defend it against some of its critics. I want you to know what it is and why it's important. Last week we started by looking at defining Systematic Theology. Now, the word theology comes from a Latin word "theologia" which in turn comes from the Greek word, my Latin pronunciation isn't as good as my Greek, which in turn comes from the Greek "theologia" and that word is made up of two words. "Theos" which means God, and "logos" which means word. Or a discourse about God. So, in reality, theology is nothing more than a discourse about God. It's a rational interpretation of the Christian faith. But what's confusing is, we use the word theology in a variety of ways. And if you're not careful of what sense it's being used, it can sort of lead you astray.

Let me remind you of what we talked about last time. Basically we use theology, first of all to speak of the entire study of religion. That is, everything that a seminarian might study at seminary. And even some things beyond that. But that whole corpus of study, we call theology. In addition, we use the word theology to describe the field within Systematic Theology that covers the person of God. That's sometimes referred to as Theology Proper. We'll do that. We'll come in a few weeks to a study of the person of God. That is called Theology Proper. A third way that we use this word theology that can make it confusing is we use it to describe various fields of study of the doctrines of the Bible. Specifically, what are those? Let me give - remind you again of what we studied last time. When you look at theology and the various fields of theology that can be covered, there are several.

First of all, there is Historical Theology. This is how Christians at different times have understood biblical topics. So you can take the flow of church history and you can study what people in a given time thought about a particular topic that Scripture addresses. That's called Historical Theology. That makes sense. A second is Biblical Theology, and that is a study of the theological content of the Old Testament, the New Testament, or some individual books or even a group of books. And then another kind of theology is Philosophical Theology. That's studying the biblical issues without the use of the Bible. We're not going to do that as we study together, but that is done. It's basically coming from the approach of philosophy and looking at what God has said, or what not so much what the Scriptures teach as what religion teaches, particularly Christianity. Then there's Practical Theology. That is the study of the practical issues of Christian living. Practical Theology. And then finally, there's Systematic Theology and that's what we're really doing together. Practical Theology, by the way, has to do with looking at the practical issues of Christian living. Studying all that the Bible has to say about marriage, let's say, or all that the Bible has to say about prayer. Those are practical Christian living issues that are covered.

Systematic Theology is a bit different. How can we define Systematic Theology? Basically, a simple definition is - I like this definition from John Frame, and I used it last week. Basically, "Systematic Theology is any study that answers the question, 'What does the whole Bible teach us about any given topic?'" That's all Systematic Theology is. It's looking at what the whole Bible teaches us about any specific topic. Or what does the whole Bible teach? More technically precise. Let me back up here. More technically precise, Systematic Theology is a method of studying the Bible's contents. Listen carefully. A method of studying the Bible's contents, that views the Bible as a completed revelation, whereas what is normally called Biblical Theology - you just saw it a moment ago - views the Scripture as an unfolding revelation. So it looks, for example, at "What do we learn from the progressive revelation of the Old Testament?" "What do we learn from the unfolding of revelation in the New Testament?" That's Biblical Theology. Systematic Theology typically steps back and says, "We've got the whole revelation, we've got the whole package, now what does that whole tell us about any given topic?"

So, done correctly, both Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology have the Bible as their basis. It's just a different way of looking at the contents of the Scripture. Robert Raymond makes a very insightful comment about Systematic Theology; He says this, "The systematic theologian, viewing the Scriptures as completed revelation, seeks to understand holistically, the plan, purpose, and intention of the divine Mind revealed in Holy Scripture, and to arrange that plan, purpose and intention in orderly, coherent fashion as articles of the Christian faith." Now, to accomplish that, last week we noted that these are the order and topics of Systematic Theology. You start with all theological studies and those really can be reduced into these categories that I gave you a moment ago. Those basic categories. But when you talk about Systematic Theology, basically, it produces several topics that ought to be covered. It seeks to organize what Scripture teaches about these specific topics.

Here's what we'll cover together. First of all, we'll look at what the Scripture has to say about Scripture. What does the Scripture say about itself? A technical term for that is Bibliology. The study of the Bible. That makes sense. A second category that we'll look at, or a topic that the Bible discusses, is: What does the Bible say about God? That's Theology Proper. Another category is man. What does the Bible say about man? About us? That's called Anthropology, taken from the Greek word anthropos. Anthropology. Next we'll look at Christ and all that's true about Christ that's revealed in the Scripture. That's called Christology. Then salvation. Salvation is called Soteriology, the study of salvation is called Soteriology, from the Greek word soter, meaning to save or savior. The family of words. And so, we will study all that the Bible has to teach about salvation, the application of the work of Christ to an individual. Then we'll look at what the Bible says about the church, and all that's involved with that. That's called Ecclesiology from the Greek word ecclesia, which means assembly or church. And then, finally we'll look at what the Bible says about the future. That's called Eschatology, the last things, the study of last things.

So those are the categories. When you look at Systematic Theology, those are the categories - the large sweeping topics that Scripture deals with, that Systematic Theology examines. And again, our starting point is not philosophy. Our starting point is the Scripture. And we're going to seek in each of these categories, in each of these topics, to understand what the Bible teaches about each of these things. And we'll go in, I think, to more detail than you've gone before. And we'll see, I think, uncovered, great riches, and what the Bible teaches about these things.

Now. Our first objective last week was defining Systematic Theology. That's what I've just reviewed for you on the overhead here. Tonight, I want us to address our second objective, which is defending Systematic Theology. You see, theology has fallen on hard times. Jaroslav Pelican said that the nearest equivalents to the term "theologians" in the Scripture are the scribes and Pharisees. Unfortunately, that's not an uncommon perspective. Gordon Clark began his book called In Defense of Theology with these words, "Theology, once acclaimed as the queen of the sciences, today hardly rises to the rank of a scullery maid." You know what a scullery is? That's a small room next to a kitchen where usually the dishes were washed in a big house. He says, "Now, theology hardly rises to the rank of a scullery maid. It is often held in contempt - regarded with suspicion, or worst of all, just ignored." Why should you care about theology? Why should it matter to you as an individual Christian? Why is it important? And can I or anyone else defend systematizing what the Bible teaches, as far as Systematic Theology? Can I defend it? I think I can, and I think I'm going to do that now, because there are several compelling arguments - biblical arguments in some case, in other cases they will be merely observations about reality - for this approach to Scripture. So let's begin. Let's look at why this should be important to you. Now, maybe I'm preaching to the choir. You're here, right? And that means you consider it to some degree important. But I hope to make it even more important to you before we're done this evening.

So let's look at the arguments for Systematic Theology. The first is the universality of the approach. What do I mean by that? In other words, approaching the Scripture in a systematic way is a universal reality. Everybody already does it. You do it. One of the most common objections to Systematic Theology is, "Oh I don't want a system. I just want to be biblical." Now, that's a logical fallacy. Let me just pick that statement apart a moment before we look at this in more detail. That's a logical fallacy. It's called technically the either or fallacy. It says, either this is true or this is true, and it doesn't allow for the fact that there may be a lot of other options that are true. Because that particular approach - that objection - I don't want to be, I don't want to have a system. I just want to be biblical, says you either can be biblical or you can have a system. But it leaves no room for the possibility that you can legitimately organize and summarize what the Scripture actually teaches. The truth is, listen carefully, everyone here tonight actually practices systematic theology. You do. Wayne Grudem puts it this way in his excellent Systematic Theology. He says, "Most Christians actually do systematic theology, or at least make systematic theological statements many times a week." For example, the Bible says that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will be saved. The Bible says, "That Jesus Christ is the only way to God." The Bible says, "That Jesus is coming again." Have you said any of those statements? These are all summaries of what Scripture says, and as such, they are systematic theological statements. In fact, every time a Christian says something about what the whole Bible says, he or she, in a sense, is doing Systematic Theology.

So every time you make a sweeping statement about what the Bible teaches, you have just practiced Systematic Theology. Grudem goes on to say that the difference between what most Christians do and true Systematic Theology is that the right approach, number one, is more carefully organized. Number two, it goes into more detail. Number three, the results are more accurate, and number four, it deals with all the important passages. So the end result gives you the scope of all that Scripture says. The bottom line is this: everyone uses systematic theology. The only question is whether your system is thorough and accurate or whether your system is random, disorganized, and flawed. Let me say that again. Everybody does Systematic Theology. The only question is whether you're going to have a biblically accurate and thorough system, or whether you're going to have a sort of quilted, random, tattered, patchwork of barely related ideas. So, my first argument for Systematic Theology is one just out of observation and reality, that all of us practice it. Let's just practice it well.

The second is the nature of the faith. The nature of the faith. Notice, not of faith, but of the faith. You see, Christianity is based on a set of doctrines. The New Testament constantly calls us to defend, proclaim, and pass on a body of doctrine. Let me show you several examples of this. And obviously, there are so many that I can't begin to touch them tonight, but let me just show you the ones that stand out to me.

Let's start with 2 Thessalonians 2:15. Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians, makes a very interesting statement to them. He says "So then, brethren," Again, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us." Now, the word tradition is an interesting word. Unfortunately there is the Roman Catholic Church, which embraces that as if they have sort of carte blanc to write whatever doctrine they want because it's tradition - it's been handed down. That's not what this is referring to. Notice it's qualified. The traditions which you were taught, Thessalonians, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. In other words, the traditions are nothing more than what the apostles taught these churches, before those traditions, if you will - those statements about God and statements about the Old Testament - were recorded here in the Word of God. So we're not talking about extra-biblical tradition. We're talking about the doctrine of the apostles recorded in Scripture. So there is this body of information called "the traditions" that's now recorded on the pages of Scripture. It's an entity. It's a body of doctrine.

This becomes clearer, I think, in a couple of other texts. Turn to Romans 6:17. There's a very interesting Greek expression in verse 17. Paul, of course, is in the middle of arguing that sin shouldn't be a master over a believer, and that we shouldn't sin to somehow justify the grace of God, and he says this in verse 17. "But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart [notice this next expression] to that form of teaching to which you were committed." A better translation of that is, "you became obedient from the heart to that pattern of doctrine to which you were committed." I.e. to which you heard from us, and which you heard from others - from other apostles. A pattern of doctrine. A form of teaching. Turn to Jude1:3. We highlighted this on several occasions. Jude begins his letter in verse 3 by saying, "Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." All of that phrase modifies "the faith." We could put it this way, "You should be contending, you should be fighting for the once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints faith." There's this body of doctrine that has been dumped in our laps that we're supposed to be fighting for. He's not talking here about an individual text of Scripture. He's talking about a body of doctrine.

But my favorite passage on this issue is in I Timothy. I Timothy chapter 6. Of course, in the Pastoral Epistles, they're dear to my own heart because this is supposed to set the direction for my ministry. And for every pastor's ministry - for every elder. Notice I Timothy 6:20. Paul says "O Timothy," as he concludes his first letter to his young son in the faith, "O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you." Now, on first glance, that doesn't seem to be apropos to what we are discussing. But a very interesting Greek expression is used there. What is translated in the NAS, "what has been entrusted to you" is a noun that literally means "the deposit." Here's what Paul actually says. He says, "Guard the deposit." What is the deposit? Well, he goes on, if you turn to 2 Timothy chapter 1, he's not done with this. When he writes Timothy later, he makes this same point. Notice 2 Timothy 1:14. He says, "Timothy, I'm going to remind you of what I told you in my first letter. 'Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.'" That phrase "which has been entrusted to you" is our word deposit again. The word translated "treasure" is literally "good." Here's what he says, "Timothy, let me remind you, guard the good deposit." That's exactly what he says. "Guard the good deposit." Now what is the deposit? Well, look back at 2 Timothy 1:13, "Retain the standard of sound words." There it is. The deposit is this standard, this pattern of sound words, of sound doctrine that has been passed on from me to you.

It's interesting, Paul tells Timothy back in 1 Timothy 4:6, he tells Timothy he needs to proclaim this deposit that he's received. He needs to teach people about this deposit of sound doctrine he's received. And then in 2 Timothy 2:2, he tells him he's supposed to pass this deposit on. He's supposed to entrust it to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You know what my job is as a pastor? And I take this very seriously. My mentor, John MacArthur, beat this into my head time and time again. I stand in a long line of men who've been called by God to minister the Word of God, and I've had passed along to me the treasure - the good deposit - the standard of sound words. And I'm supposed to do three things with that deposit that I've received. I'm supposed to guard it. I'm supposed to defend it against anyone who would attack it. I'm supposed to guard the sound doctrine carefully, point out error, and refute those who are confused. Secondly, I'm supposed to proclaim it. I'm supposed to do just what Paul told Timothy, and that is, I'm supposed to teach the deposit. I'm supposed to teach the treasure of sound words that's been given to me and to all of us. And thirdly, I'm supposed to take that deposit and I'm supposed to pass it off to the next generation who will be able to teach others also. That's where it comes in - training young men for the ministry. My hope and prayer is that there will be men, young men, grow up in our church who get the fire in their bones for the ministry. Who will be called of God and set apart for the ministry. Who will take the good deposit, the standard that's been passed along through generations, and they too will guard it and proclaim it, and pass it on to the next generation. That's what Paul intends to happen.

These biblical expressions: the faith, the good deposit, the traditions, point to the fact that already in the days of the apostles, the process of organizing the teaching of Scripture into a doctrinal or theological understanding of the whole had already begun, in the days of the apostles. That means that the apostles were actually consenting to it. Not only consenting, but if you look at Acts 15 you can see the apostles are actually involved in this kind of a process, of systematizing what the Scriptures teach. Turn to Acts 15 for a moment. Of course, it's the Jerusalem Council, the account by Luke of the gathering of the elders and the apostles to discuss a particular issue. So the apostles, along with other leaders of the church come together to discuss the theological issue of what Old Testament laws pertain to the Gentile Christians. Notice Acts 15:5. "But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.'" - talking about Gentile believers. So that is the surface issue. But in fact the issue is much more profound, it's much deeper. It was this, what must a person do to be saved? It was the first battle over sola fide, over justification by faith alone. Why do I say that? Look at what Peter says. Verse 10, or let's back up to verse 7.

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; [now watch verse 9 - here's the issue] and He made no distinction between us and them." [How's that?] He cleansed both their hearts and ours by faith alone. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? [Here's the core issue, verse 11] But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are."

There's the issue. This was a battle about justification by faith alone. It was a response to the Judaizers who wanted to mix in the keeping of the law. And what you have here is the apostles and the elders defying efforts to impose legalism and ritualism as necessary prerequisites for salvation, and they forever affirm that salvation is totally by grace, through faith, in Christ alone.

But you know what's interesting? Their conclusions aren't found in one single passage or one single biblical command. Instead, their conclusions were a summary of what the entire Scripture teaches. You see, the apostles and the elders there in the Jerusalem church, by weighing what the whole of Scripture taught about salvation, established a pattern for us of looking at what the entire completed revelation of God says about a particular issue. That's so important.

Another one of my mentors, who's gone to be with the Lord - I never met him, but still he serves as a wonderful mentor to me, I have a picture in my office of him - is Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He said this. He says, "We talk, do we not, about missing the forest because of the trees and what a terrible danger that is. The real trouble with the Jews at the time of our Lord was that they stopped at the letter and never arrived at the spirit. In other words, they never got at the doctrine. They were content with a general familiarity with the words, but they did not get the Word."

That's what Systematic Theology keeps us from doing. May God keep us from a general familiarity with the doctrines or passages of Scripture that stops short of the comprehensive teaching of Scripture. May we never lose sight of the forest for the trees. And again, Systematic Theology will help us keep that bigger perspective and we see it in the nature of the faith.

A third argument for Systematic Theology is the analogy of faith. The analogy of faith. This requires it. You see, the reformers constantly and correctly proclaimed that Scripture interprets Scripture. They called that simple principle "the analogy of faith." Let me explain that to you. Scripture interprets Scripture. In that expression, the word Scripture is used in a double sense. The first occurrence speaks of the entire Scripture. The second occurrence speaks of any particular part of Scripture, such as a verse or a passage. So restated, the principle would read like this. The entire Scripture is the context and guide for understanding any particular passage of Scripture. Let me say that again. The entire Scripture is the context in which you and I should interpret any specific passage of Scripture. That means you must know what the entire Scripture teaches about a given topic to accurately interpret a specific Scripture. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Ecclesiastes, which is one of my favorite books, and if the Lord tarries and you still want me to stay as pastor, we will get to some day. Ecclesiastes, though, has a lot of troublesome passages that can easily be misinterpreted. Let me read you one - Ecclesiastes 3:18. It appears to deny the eternal existence of the human soul. Listen to what he says,

I said to myself concerning the sons of men, "God has surely tested them in order to see that they are but beasts. For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies, so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there's no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of beast descends downward to the earth?"

Again, on the surface, that seems to be denying what the rest of Scripture teaches about the eternality of the human soul. What protects us from coming to a wrong interpretation of that passage? The rest of Scripture. The analogy of faith. We know that elsewhere, Scripture teaches clearly and forthrightly the eternality of the human soul. So we know that can't be what that passage means. We interpret a specific passage in light of the given whole.

Let me give you another example. Hebrews 6:4-6 - one of the most troubling passages in the New Testament. It says this,

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

What does that seem to say? It seems to say that a true Christian can be forever lost. That a true Christian can fall away from the faith and go to eternal hell. What protects us from coming to that interpretation? It's our knowledge of the rest of Scriptures' teaching about the security of the believer. We know that God will finish what He's begun. In a couple of weeks we'll see that in Philippians 1:6. God will complete the work He's started.

So the simple yet absolutely crucial principle of interpreting Scripture called the analogy of faith, that is Scripture interprets Scripture, demands that we understand in an organized way all that Scripture teaches. We're really not ready to interpret a single passage accurately until we have an understanding of the whole. That's why we're here. That's why we're studying Systematic Theology. My goal is to give us a grid. To give you a grid as we go verse by verse through the rest of Scripture - to give you a grid so that you understand, and you too can, can interpret the passages because you have a comprehensive understanding. That's not to say we start with a perfect Systematic Theology. I'm sure as we study together, there'll be small points of refinement here and there, but as the overall scope, we have a grid through which to understand and approach the Scripture.

Now, let me give you another argument. We need to hurry on. The example of Christ. When we examine Christ's own approach to Scripture, we see Him on occasion taking a systematic approach. Turn to Luke chapter 24 for a moment. Luke 24:13. You remember the story. It's after the resurrection, and Christ shows up with two disciples on the Emmaus Road. Which is about 7 miles from Jerusalem, verse 13 tells us, and they were conversing with each other about all that had taken place. And it came about, verse 15, after a while, they were conversing and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him, and He said to them, "So, you know, what are you talking about?" One of them said, "Where have you been?" Verse 18, I'm loosely interpreting – paraphrasing, "Where've you been? Everybody knows what's happened." And then they recount the story. Verse 25, after they say "we don't understand--these women went--they told us that Jesus had risen." He says to them in verse 25,

O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?

Watch verse 27, "Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scripture." He explained it to them.

He does the same thing, by the way, over in verse 44 of the same chapter. He says to all the disciples after He'd fed them breakfast that morning. He says,

These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

You see what Christ is doing? He is basically collecting and organizing all that the Old Testament taught about him for these two Emmaus Road disciples, and then later for the eleven disciples. He is collecting it all together, flowing through the text and showing them what each passage had to say about Him. And His approach sets the standard for our approach to systematizing what Scripture teaches. We collect all that Scripture teaches on a particular topic. We exegete, or exposit each text, and then we explain, as Christ did. The word literally means to expound or interpret what the whole teaches. And as with Christ's example, there's a sense in which the end of all good theology ultimately comes back to the person of Christ. So Christ Himself encouraged by His example a systematic approach to Scripture. He took the whole of the Old Testament, that was all the Scripture they had at that point, and He basically taught them Christology - a doctrine of Christ. The doctrine of the Messiah. Wouldn't you have loved to have been there that day?

The next argument I have for you is the example of Paul. The example of Paul. You see, soon after his conversion, Paul shows us his method of systematizing the Scripture. Turn to Acts chapter 9. Shortly after he came to Christ, he begins ministry. Notice verse 20,

And immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, "Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?" [watch verse 22] But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Messiah.

The verb translated "proving" literally is "to join or knit together." It's a kind of teaching that joins arguments together to prove your point to others. This is in Paul's young days, but he continued this same approach. Later as a seasoned missionary, in Acts 17, he takes the same approach. Acts 17:1. He arrives in "Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue." He comes to the synagogue and verse 2 says he goes into the synagogue,

And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining [that word at the beginning of verse 3 literally means opening up completely] and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah."

He's taking that systematic approach that his Lord took on the Emmaus Road. But he's not done, notice Acts 20. He's speaking to his beloved Ephesian elders, those who worked in the church with him there in Ephesus for the three years that he ministered. He's not going to see them again, and there's a lot of crying going on - a lot of weeping. But he says this about his ministry to them in verse 27, "I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God." I summarized the Scripture. I taught those key passages in the Scripture that summarized the purpose of God to you. That doesn't mean he taught every verse in the Old Testament, although he may have done that. But he's saying, "I put together - I joined together - those things that illustrate and demonstrate the purpose of God."

We see Paul's theological method even more clearly I think in the book of Romans. It shows a theological approach to the Old Testament Scripture. Romans is organized not by the flow of the Old Testament, but by topic. He starts with what? What's the first topic he addresses? Man's sin. The sinfulness of man. And then he flows from that into what topic? Justification, and as part of justification, he explains the nature of faith, and he pulls on Old Testament texts to demonstrate and to prove that. And then he gets to the center of the book and he deals with the issue of sanctification, the practical application of salvation to the life of the believer. And then you come to chapter 8 and you have the security of the believer, where he pulls together in a magnificent way all the Scriptures teach about the security of the believer in Christ. You get to chapter 9, 10, 11, and you have the truths about election and the place of Israel and the purposes of God.

And then you get to chapter 12 and you begin to have the practical application of all of those doctrines in the life of the believer. Romans is organized in a systematic theological way. But I think you can see him doing that about a particular topic in Romans chapter 3. And I won't take time to go there because we're running out of time, but if you go to Romans 3:10 and following, you see Paul wanting to demonstrate the depravity of man, and what does he do? He basically pulls together from a number of places in the Old Testament passages that help frame a doctrine of the depravity of man. It's a systematic approach. Paul is being systematic in his approach to what the Scripture teaches in a variety of places. So this is often Paul's approach.

And then, finally, my final argument is the command of Scripture. The command of Scripture to take this kind of approach. Very interesting, in 2 Timothy. We're all very familiar with that passage in 2 Timothy 4 where Paul charges Timothy to preach the word. Verse 2, "Preach the word." Why, why should I do that, Paul? Verse 3, "Because the time will come when people will not endure," endure what? Sound doctrine. Part of the command to preach the Word includes constructing a body of doctrine against which error can be measured.

That brings us to the benefits of Systematic Theology. The benefits of Systematic Theology. First of all, it helps defend against doctrinal error. And I'm just going to breeze through these. It defends against doctrinal error. Basically, when you understand what the whole Bible teaches about any particular topic, it helps you avoid error. In the early days of the church there was one very simple doctrinal statement. It was this. Jesus is Lord. No one could join a church without confessing that Jesus was Lord. Later, they would start catechizing baptism candidates. And that's when doctrine became more refined. There were further refinements when heresies arose that needed to be addressed. And eventually, of course, you come to the time of the reformation - you have creeds, which is nothing more than what those men believed the Scripture taught about those various doctrines. We have a doctrinal statement at this church; as does every church that's worth its salt. What is that? That's simply what the elders of this church believe the Scripture teaches about each of those topics. Why? Because it helps defend against error. You say, well, can't I just read the Scripture verse by verse and that's all I need? Well, no, not exactly because someone can read the Scripture verse by verse and come to exactly the wrong conclusion. Isn't that what Peter says about Paul's writings? He says, "Listen, there are people every day who read Paul and do what with Paul? Distort what he says." So there has to be this fence, if you will. And that's what a doctrinal statement is - it's a fence that guards against error, that says you can vary in that fence. We can argue about, as I often use the illustration of the tenth toe on the beast. But you can't go outside that fence, because when you go outside that fence, you have gotten into potential error. That's what a doctrinal statement does, it guards from error.

It also, and I wish I had time to go to a text about that. Let me just give it to you for your consideration. Defends against doctrinal error. You can look at Jude 1:4. Well, I have to go there, I'm sorry. I have to go there. I'm hurrying. Jude 1:4. Jude 1:3 we've already cited. He says, listen, I'm writing to you about this body of doctrine, the faith, the once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints body of doctrine. Verse 4. Why? Why is it important for you to contend for that body of doctrine? Because "certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master." He says, here's why you need to have this body of doctrine - the faith that you contend for and that you guard. Because there are people out there who are doing something entirely different. You want to see that? Turn on your television set. You'll find people who've crossed that boundary. They've violated the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It guards against error.

Secondly, is, I've put up there, not only does it guard against error, but it guards against wrong behavior. It guards against wrong behavior. Let me just show you one passage on this. In 1 Timothy 1:8. Paul says, "We know the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that the law is not made for the righteous, but it's made," and he lists all of these sins. And then notice how he ends verse 10, "And whatever else, or whatever other behaviors are contrary to sound teaching." You see, sound teaching will guard against wrong behavior. Ultimately your behavior will betray your belief. Let me say that again. Ultimately your behavior will betray what you really believe. You might tell me, I believe this. But I can look at your behavior and I can tell you what you really believe. And that's why doctrine is so important. Because sound doctrine, Systematic Theology, because it guards ultimately against wrong behavior. Because your behavior will eventually demonstrate where you're wrong in your theology.

It promotes your own spiritual growth and I just have this one and one more. Stay with me just for a moment. It promotes your own spiritual growth. You see, truth and experience are related, as I said. It's like the man who falls from a twenty story building, and on his way down, he's heard at each floor saying, "Okay so far." You see, the facts will eventually catch up with a person's experience. Eventually your bad theology will affect your spiritual growth. And it's like with a compass. A slight one degree variance on a journey of two thousand miles can mean you have woefully missed the target. Paul makes it clear that doctrine or theology is foundational to Christian maturity. How does he do that? I'm just going to cite the big picture for you. What does he do in his epistles? Romans 1 to 11 is what? Doctrine. And then what does he do when he begins chapter 12 verse 1? "Therefore." Because of what I've taught you, here's how I want you to live. Same thing in Ephesians. First three chapters, primarily doctrine. He gets to chapter 4 and he says, "I want you to walk worthy of the calling that you have." Behavior is based on sound teaching. "Doctrine without duty is a tree without fruits. Duty without doctrine is a tree without roots."

And finally, it deepens your relationship with Jesus Christ. You see, Systematic Theology, properly taught, is not some cold heartless analysis. It should, instead, strengthen your devotion to Christ and stir up your heart. I'll close with Luke chapter 24. Flip back there where we were looking before, with Christ with the Emmaus Road disciples. He took a systematic approach. I want you to notice the effect in their hearts. You remember verse 30:32,

He reclined with them, He took the bread, blessed it, breaking it and giving it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?"

As He was taking a systematic approach, their hearts burned. Their hearts were stirred up in devotion to the Messiah. And they didn't even know they were speaking to Him. That's what Systematic Theology will do. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it more profoundly than I ever could. He said, "the doctrines of the Bible are not a subject to be studied. Rather, we should desire to know them in order that, having known them, we may not be puffed up with knowledge and excited about our information, but may draw nearer to God in worship, praise, and adoration because we have seen in a fuller way than we'd ever seen before, the glory of our wondrous Lord." That's what we're going to be doing over the weeks to come.

Let's pray together. Father, thank You for our study this evening. Thank You for Your word, for how it speaks to the issues of our minds and our knowledge as well as our hearts. Lord, I pray that You would stir our hearts that as we study over the coming weeks, we would become more deeply committed to You and to Your Son and to the Scripture. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Systematic Theology