“Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” -Joshua 1:8
It is not sufficient to simply read the Bible regularly. Read the entire bible, front to back? Highlight the favorite verses you come across? Randomly flip to a page and that’s what you’ll read today? Imagine applying those techniques to a college-level course. Sure, you’d learn a few things & heck, you just might be able to pass the final. But that’s not how you study.
You have a notebook & take notes, you find all relevant information for a specific topic, you analyze and try to memorize information, you share/exchange notes with your classmates, and most importantly, you apply it to your life.
If you take more time to study the instruction manual of your new tablet, you’re doing something wrong. If you take more time to study Introduction to Psychology, you’re doing something wrong. If you take more time trying to analyze the passive aggressive text message your mother sent you, you’re doing something wrong.
I used to believe that I was doing it all right. I went to church when I could, my phone was filled with some worship music when I was in the mood to listen to it, and I tried reading the Bible when I could. The only time I really “studied” the book was when I joined bible studies that forced me to answer 3-4 questions at the end of each section. But I never really studied the Word or applied it to my life.
Recently, I was introduced to systematic theology. I even took out Wayne Gruden’s “Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.” at the library. Over 1,000 pages, which I read in just a weekend. It was surprisingly easy to read and kept my interest the entire time – I even put it on my wishlist for my personal collection of books.
So what is systematic theology?
Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, “What does the whole bible teach us today?” about any given topic. It involves collecting & understanding all relevant bible passages on the topic of your choice (ex. prayer, love, homosexuality, atonement, etc.) and summarizes the scripture’s teaching clearly so we know what to believe about each topic.
Why study theology?
Like said in the first sentence of this article, I ask you, Why is it not sufficient simply to continue reading the Bible regularly every day of our lives?
Like Matthew 28:19-20 states, it is our job to fulfill the Great Commission through evangelism and teaching. It is our job to each ourselves and others what the entire Bible says. To effectively do that, we have to collect and summarize all passages on the specific topic we are teaching on.
For example, if someone asks you “What does the Bible teach about Christ’s return” or “What does God say about the role of men & women?”, you could respond by telling that person to just read their Bible to find out. But they’ll probably start by reading Genesis 1:1, which is great, but it won’t answer their question for a long time and will probably create a boatload of other questions. You can answer that question and teach more effectively if you direct them to specific verses and suggest a summary of those verses.
Studying systematic theology also benefits our own lives, guiding us to overcome our wrong ideas about what scripture says about a particular topic, because let’s be honest, society greatly influences our opinions on Christianity and what it teaches in the Bible.
How should we study systematic theology?
- With prayer. Studying theology is a spiritual activity in which we need the help of the Holy Spirit. No matter how intelligent we are, if we don’t continue to pray for God to give us an understanding mind and a believing, humble heart, the teachings will be misunderstood and disbelieved.
- With humility. Knowledge can often bring an attitude of pride or superiority towards others who have not studied like you have. Systematic theology, studied correctly, will lead to humility and love for others – not to win arguments or put down a fellow Christian.
- With reason. We are free to use our reasoning abilities to draw deductions from any passage of scripture so long as these deductions do not contradict the clear teaching of what the Bible says.
- With help from others. Some of the most effective learning in scripture & theology comes from informal conversations with others – fellow students, pastors, friends, etc.
- By collecting and understanding all the relevant passages of scripture on any topic.
- With rejoicing and praise. The study of theology is not merely a intellectual tool. It is a study of the living God and all of the wonders of His works in creation and redemption, which should make our hearts burst with love and praise.
If you have a moment to read 1,000 pages of theology, I really recommend digging into the Word in a new way. It will only benefit your walk with the Lord.
Author Bio: Samantha is a writer, image-bearer, and Jesus-seeker. She is passionate about the Word, human trafficking, fair trade, and crocheting. She lives in the midwest with her husband & son. You can follow her on Twitter or check out her blog.
Sources: Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. Systematic Theology, Wayne Gruden