Thursday, July 14, 2011

How Should We Study Theology?

When it comes to theology, there are several different methods that can be used to organize thoughts of God interacting with man. One method is called Historical Theology. This is the study of what those in the past have said about God and man's relationship. It might show how the church has viewed truth and error over the centuries. A good study of historical theology will take a person through a journey of the church fathers and what they believed about different topics. For instance, let's say we wanted to study the topic of justification. We would read the different church fathers as to how they interpreted the Scriptures to understand justification. What did Aquinas, Augustine, Luther, and so on think about this topic.

Another method is called Biblical Theology. This is generally thought of as what the individual authors of Scripture have to say about certain issues. To continue on our example, we might want to ask what Paul thought about justification. What did Moses have to say about the being justified. It seems to reason to me, that this form of study would be better than historical theology. That is not to say that historical theology doesn't have value, but at least in this method, we are looking at the Scriptures themselves as a starting point and not the views of some man (who is sinful).

Another method, and probably the most popular, is called Systematic Theology. Wayne Grudem defines systematic theology as "any study that answers the question, 'What does the whole Bible teach us today?' about any given topic" (21). It is the collection, study, then summary of all the passages of a particular topic. And so, to fully understand justification, we are asking not just what Paul thought or what Moses thought, but what do they both say as well as the other authors of Scripture? What does the Bible say?

There are certainly other methods that people use when they study theology. Some might use a philosophical approach. Others a social approach. For me, as I study with our elders, we will be using the systematic approach. Here is the only danger I see in this approach. My experience has been that those who use a systematic approach to theology tend to interpret Scripture based upon their system of thought instead of letting the text speak for itself.

The Covenant Theologian interprets all Scriptures by their system. Yet so does the Dispensationalist (don't worry, it's not important that you know these terms now, I am sure I will define them over time). And the Calvinist sees everything through that lens, as does the Arminian. As we collect, study, and summarize, I think it is helpful to remember that the Scriptures are inspired, my system is not.

What dangers do you see in the different approaches to studying theology?

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