EDUCATING OUR WORLD

QUESTION: Why Is There The Need For A System Of Christian Doctrine?

ANSWER: There is definitely a need for putting together a system of Christian beliefs, or a system of Christian doctrine. Placing Bible doctrines into various categories is known as “systematic theology.” There are a number of important points that need to be made about why we have the need for a system of doctrine. They include the following.

Doctrines Are Not Classified In Scripture

The reason systematic theology is helpful is because the Bible presents God’s revelation in a variety of forms. The great teachings of the Bible are not presented or classified in any systematic way. For example, Scripture records the voice of the prophets, as well as the experiences of the believer. We also find God’s providence in history revealed in the pages of Scripture. This includes interaction with both individuals and nations.

In addition, the truths of Scripture are scattered throughout its pages. While certain passages may give extensive treatment on a particular doctrine or teaching, there is no passage that fully treats any one doctrine.

Therefore, we must study all of the relevant passages on each particular topic. Consequently, the way the Bible has been written lends itself to the need for classifying Christian doctrine into a system.

Systematic theology classifies all these different forms of revelation into an intelligible system, and into logical categories. The aim is to have a clear classification of the major beliefs of the faith.

Systematic theology also takes into account the understanding of doctrine throughout the history of the church. In doing so, our goal should be to say no more, and no less, that what the Scriptures say.

There Is A Human Need To Put Truths Into A Logical System

Many people come to believe in Jesus Christ through some religious experience rather than through a study of the Bible. The person then reflects upon their decision and attempts to rationally understand it. As one begins to reason out what they have believed, a theological system is then formed. Thus, there is the need to put these truths into a system.

Some Important Things To Keep In Mind When Establishing A System Of Doctrine

While it is necessary to put together a system of Christian doctrine, there are a number of important things to keep in mind. They include the following.

1. There Are Special Terms That Used In Systematic Theology: They Need To Be Understood

Systematic theology often uses concepts and terms that are not explicitly found in Scripture. These include words like Trinity, theology, ordinance, substance, and inerrancy. Although these are not Scriptural terms, they do explain biblical concepts. It is important that we understand the precise definition of each of these terms, and how they are used to explain biblical truth.

2, We Should Attempt To Be Accurate In Our Terminology In Describing What We Believe

It is necessary that we are accurate in our terminology. We should attempt to properly employ terminology that has been used in Scripture, and in the history of the church. Those who study the Christian faith should be as accurate as possible in describing the essential doctrines. It is important to use careful definitions, and to use special terms with their exact meaning.

3. We Are Not Adding To Or Improving Upon What God Has Revealed

Systematic theology is not adding to, or improving upon, what God has revealed to humanity. It is merely taking what has already been revealed and placing these truths into understandable categories for further study and reflection. It is doing what the Bible commands us to do – study God’s truths. Paul wrote.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15 HCSB).

Consequently, our categorizing of doctrines that have been revealed in Scripture is, in actuality, obeying the Lord’s command to study His Word.

4. No Doctrine Is To Be Studied In Isolation To The Others

There is no such thing as one biblical doctrine which is in isolation to all of the others. In fact, all of the teachings of the Bible are interrelated. This is another reason a system of study is necessary. It helps us understand how the individual truths of Scripture are related to the totality of God’s truth.

Consequently one should not become a specialist in one particular area of systematic theology for all parts are interrelated and important. On the contrary, we should be like the apostle Paul who desired to teach “the entire counsel of God.” He said the following to the elders in the city of Ephesus.

For I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God (Acts 20:27 HCSB).

Like Paul, we ought to study and proclaim everything that God has revealed.

5. There Is No Perfect System Of Christian Doctrine

While we need a system of Christian doctrine, we must be careful not to take our classifications to extremes. In attempting to have a completely perfect system of interpretation, many have forced the Bible to say things that it does not say. We must appreciate that every system of interpretation has unavoidable gaps where our knowledge is imperfect. We must accept that fact rather than attempt to force verses and passages into some already-made system.

6. We Should Not Speculate Concerning Things That Not Have Been Revealed

Furthermore, we should avoid speculation where the Bible is silent. If the Bible is silent on a matter, we should likewise be silent. It is better to reverently admit our ignorance rather than make some unprovable speculation.
In addition, we should not attempt to answer questions that the Bible does not answer. It is better not to try to do something that the Bible itself does not do.

7. Good People Differ On Their Understanding Of Christian Doctrine

It also must be appreciated that good, Bible-believing, Christians differ on their understanding of Christian doctrine. While believers agree which doctrines can be labeled “Christian,” they do not all agree on how these doctrines should be understood. There are well-known differences among believers on such topics as water baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the sovereignty of God, and the responsibility of humans.

Therefore, it is important that we should examine the best arguments for the various positions on these topics before we make a decision concerning what we believe. Since all of us are still learning, there is no written work on any biblical subject that should ever be considered as the final word. This certainly includes the work which we have done on biblical questions.

All of these points underscore the fact that a system of Christian doctrine is something that is absolutely necessary. Yet our system of Christian doctrine will never be as complete as we may want it to be. There are some things which God, in His wisdom has not revealed to us. We should accept this fact and be thankful for the information that He has revealed.

Summary To Question 9 Why Is There A Need For A System Of Christian Doctrine?

Systematic theology is necessary for a number of reasons. We can mention the following.

First, the teachings of Scripture have been given to humanity in a variety of forms. There is no real classification of these truths in systematic form. Since our minds look for a system to help classify things, systematic theology is a necessity for a better understanding of Scripture.

There are also special terms which are used to explain the truths taught in the Bible. While these terms are not found in the Bible they do portray spiritual truth. Consequently, there is also the need for accuracy in terminology when explaining the truths of God’s Word.

In doing so, we are not attempting to make the message of the Bible more clear or understandable. We are merely taking its truths and putting them into an organized form. Since the truths of Scripture are all interrelated, they need to be brought together into some unified system.

When a doctrine does not fit into our system we should change our system – not the doctrine.

Finally, we should not speculate, or go beyond, what the Bible has revealed to us. Our system should reflect what God has revealed to humankind – nothing more and nothing less.

This question is from my forthcoming book “An Introduction To Christian Beliefs”

ABOUT DON STEWART

Don Stewart is an internationally recognized Christian apologist and speaker. He graduated cum laude from Talbot Theological Seminary and the International Seminar in Theology and Law in Strasbourg, France, as well as from Biola University. Don is also a best-selling and award-winning author/co-author of over seventy books. [ read more ]

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