Four Approaches to Theology

theology

While theology is the rational reflection on God/god(s) and every religion, regardless of simplicity or intricacy has a theology, Bruce Demarest defines systematic theology as, “the attempt to reduce religious truth to a coherent and relevant whole for the church [which serves to:] (1) edify the believing community, (2) allow the gospel in its fullness to be proclaimed, and (3) preserve the truth content and lived experience of the faith.”[1] Demarest further illustrates, “systematic theology concerns itself with God’s saving history with His people, the utterances of divinely ordained prophets and apostles, and supremely the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[2]

            In contrast, Demarest explains how, “biblical theology sets forth the message of biblical books by author or other scheme, while historical theology traces the church’s faith topically through various eras of history. [Then,] systematic theology incorporates the data of exegetical, biblical, and historical theology to construct a coherent representation of the Christian faith.”[3] Lastly, philosophical theology is also utilized by systematic theology and Millard Erickson highlights three contributions, “philosophy may: (1) supply content for theology, (2) defend theology or establish its truth, and (3) scrutinize its concepts and arguments.”[4] Philosophical theology prepares one to receive the special revelation revealed in Scripture and Erickson, explains how, “Philosophy also performs the second function of weighing the truth-claims advanced by theology and giving part of the basis for accepting the message.”[5]

When looking at each branch of theology, it is apparent systematic theology and biblical theology are closely connected, however, as Erickson demonstrates, “in biblical theology, there is no attempt to contemporize or to state these unchanging concepts in a form suitable for our day’s understanding, [but Erickson does recognize,] the systematic theologian is dependent on the work and insights of the laborers in the exegetical vineyard.”[6] Historical theology also contributes to systematic theology, as it makes one aware of his or her own preunderstanding or presuppositions, it always one to look back at how other theologians in the past approached a specific topic, tradition, or issue, and it also provides the ability to analyze a specific belief by looking back to exactly where and when it began, which allows today’s scholars the ability to see how people came to various professions of faith, conclusions, and/or deductions.

In a ministerial setting, an understanding of each field of study is necessary, but overall, systematic theology appears to provide the most benefit and context. Demarest demonstrates, “Although Scripture is inviolable, fresh theological understanding and reformation are required in every generation and for every culture, first, because the corpus of Christian truth must be clad in every distinctive cultural form and context, and second, because new issues and problems arise to challenge the church, [so] theologians need to be continually re-contextualized.”[7] Being proficient in systematic theology allows one the ability to openly communicate the gospel message while also being able to provide a relevant rationale why one should choose the Christian faith over other various belief systems. However, without an understanding of the other fields of theology, one will have a difficult time utilizing systematic theology to its fullest potential.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013.

[1] Bruce A. Demarest, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 1162-1163.

[2] Ibid., 1163.

[3] Ibid., 1164.

[4] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology. 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 13-14.

[5] Erickson, Christian Theology, 14.

[6] Ibid., 10-11.

[7] Demarest, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1162.

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