Tag Archives: systematic theology
Thank you, friends, for sticking with me through these ten posts. We’ve been looking at some of the teaching of the Lord Jesus, asking how the truth He taught would “fit” into the ten categories of systematic theology. If we define systematic theology in its simplest form, it is an effort to put into logical categories the data of Scripture.
So we’ve looked briefly at what the Lord Jesus said in the areas of introductory matters (prolegomena), bibliology, theology proper, Christology, anthropology, hamartiology, soteriology, pneumatology, and ecclesiology. Our last area (from a systematic theology perspective) is called eschatology, the study of last things.
While there are good reasons to hold to a pre-tribulational rapture (as depicted in the painting above), Jesus’ primary passage on the end times is Matthew 24. Here are a few points that can be seen in that text:
Concerning the “end of the age,” Jesus says —
1. Many will come in His name and try to deceive the disciples (vv. 4-5).
2. His true followers will be persecuted, hated, and put to death (v. 9).
3. Many will abandon the faith and betray each other (v. 10).
4. Deceiving false prophets will appear and the love of most will grow cold (vv. 11-12).
5. This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world — and then the end will come (v. 14).
6. These false messiahs and false prophets will perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect (vv. 22-25).
7. In the midst of all this distress, the Son of Man will come with power and great glory and His angels will collect the elect (vv. 30-31).
8. Only the Father knows when that day or hour will take place (v. 36).
9. The day of the Lord will catch men unawares (as God’s judgment did the people of Noah’s day) (vv. 36-41).
10. Our responsibility is to keep watch, to be ready, to be faithful and wise servants (vv. 42-51).
May He find us faithful and wise, as we serve Him, waiting for His return!
Continuing our little experiment, we are asking how the teachings of the Lord Jesus fit into the ten categories of systematic theology. Some might think this is a strange study, but the divisions of systematic theology (the doctrine of God, the doctrine of sin, the doctrine of the church, etc.) are meant in their simplest form to logically gather the data of Scripture so these areas can be understood and applied.
We are not suggesting that the writings of the Apostles or the canonical books of the Old Testament are unimportant or somehow less inspired. Not at all. We’re just seeing how the truths taught by the Lord Jesus “fit” into these logical categories.
So far we’ve looked at introductory matters (prolegomena), bibliology, theology proper, anthropology, hamartiology, and soteriology. Technically, we should have looked at Christology as our fourth category, but we will do that this morning.
“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn. 5:19).
“By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” (Jn. 5:30).
“So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.'” (Jn. 8:28)
But what claims did the Son of God make about Himself? We read passages like the following —
“Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son . . .” (Jn. 5:22)
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” (Mk. 8:29)
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (Jn. 4:26)
“But he continued, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.'” (Jn. 8:23)
The Lord Jesus knew that He was the Messiah. He taught that He had come to do the Father’s will — which was to give His life a ransom for sinners. He declared that, although He did not come to judge (but to save) the world (Jn. 12:47), He taught that He would be the Judge of the world! (Jn. 5:27)
Someone has said, “Eternity is an awfully long time to be wrong about Jesus!” I agree. His self-declarations (notice His “I am” statements in the fourth gospel) might embarrass some fringe Christians who are enamored with a pluralistic approach to religion (what does such a person do with His statement “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me”, Jn. 14:6?).
The church historian Philip Schaff said it best when he wrote: “Is such an intellect — clear as the sky, bracing as the mountain air, sharp and penetrating as a sword, thoroughly healthy and vigorous, always ready and always self-possessed — liable to a radical and most serious delusion concerning his own character and mission? Preposterous imagination!”
Study the seven “I am” statements of the Lord Jesus found in the gospel of John. What seems to be the primary point of each one? Feel free to write a comment below on what you discovered about the Lord.
Hamartiology — the doctrine of sin! Jesus had a lot to say about this area of theology. We read in Mark 10:45 that the Son of Man “did not come to be served, but to serve. And to give His life a ransom for many.” He came to pay the ransom price to redeem us from our sins.
As we continue with our experiment with these posts, we are asking, how do the teachings of the Lord Jesus fit into the divisions of systematic theology? Systematic theology is a logical way of organizing the data of Scripture into categories which summarize the important truths all Christians everywhere should affirm.
When it comes to the area of SIN, Jesus did not sugarcoat the truth. Man is broken; the universe is fallen; and a Redeemer is needed! He came as that Redeemer for the least, the last, and the lost. We are all sinners, as He illustrates with the woman caught in adultery: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8). [I recognize that there’s a textual problem with this story, but the content is consistent with Jesus’ leveling of the self-righteous Jewish leaders].
Jesus’ sabbath controversies sometimes focused on the issue of sin. For example, His visible miracle of giving sight to the man born blind could not be seen by the Pharisees who had concluded that Jesus was a sinner because He broke their idea of the Sabbath (He made mud which was work). Lectured by the healed man, the Pharisees viciously accosted him verbally and said, “How dare you lecture us? You were steeped in sin at birth!” Yes, he was. We all were.
The Lord often fought about the issue of externalism, pointing out in Mark 7 that it is “What comes out of a person [that] defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” The heart of the problem was the problem of the heart.
Jesus gave clear instructions how to deal with sin, either that which I’ve committed against someone else (Mt. 5) or that which has been committed against me (Mt. 18). God desires that we repent of our sins and get restored to God’s people. Or get expelled from the fellowship.
There is a sin that will not be forgiven. Jesus speaks of the “unpardonable sin” in Mark 3, Matthew 12, and Luke 12. The specific circumstances giving rise to that issue was that the teachers of the law had decided that Jesus’ power was from Satan, not from God. Jesus said they were guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and “will never be forgiven” (Mk. 3:29). In fact, they had committed “an eternal sin.”
Matthew 12 says that words spoken against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but “anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (v. 32). Luke 12 reiterates this point when it says, “10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
Sin is no small matter. Sin cost the Son of God His life. All sin can be forgiven, except the sin that labels Jesus as possessed by Satan and rejects the Spirit’s testimony about God the Son. As one preacher put it, “There are no small sins against a great God.” This great God, the Lord Jesus, gave Himself to save us from our sins. (to be continued)
The Bible uses a variety of terms for sin: “transgression”, “iniquity”, “rebellion.” How did the Lord Jesus define sin? Read through one of the gospels and write your answer in the Comments section below.
Theology, the study of God and the things of God, has been my life. I have taught it and fought it (in its aberrant forms) for over forty years. I’ve been privileged to work with hundreds of eager students dying to know what terms like “the hypostatic union”, “impeccability”, “ex nihilo”, and “interpolation” really mean. I’ve written “papers” (which is academic speak for a scholarly presentation on a theological topic in front of other theologians who are conferencing somewhere) and published a bunch of books (some even by real publishers) which attempt to make the doctrines of the Bible understandable and some which challenge contemporary hereticks (the original spelling of that word).
But, in a real sense, I’ve never asked, “What was Jesus’ theology? What did He believe and teach?” [Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that we do a kind of red-letter-approach to theology — that is, that only Jesus’ words are authoritative. No. All Scripture is inspired by God. He delegated authority to the Apostles. I’m only experimenting with the question “What theological declarations did the Lord Jesus make?”]
I’d like to think that what I’ve taught over those four decades is consistent with what Jesus taught, but I’ve never stopped to carefully ask the question, “What did He believe?” These posts will be my attempt at precisely that question. And I’m going to do something strange. I’m going to take the ten categories of systematic theology (such as Prolegomena, Bibliology, Ecclesiology, etc.) and comment on some of what the Lord Jesus said about each of those divisions of theology.
I know. I know. Systematic theology is a modern category. Well, not entirely. If systematic theology refers to the logical ordering of the data of Scripture, I’m not sure we can simply wash our hands of it and dismiss it as a “Western” approach to truth. [Biblical theology, in my opinion, is looking at the same data of Scripture from a chronological perspective — how are doctrines progressively revealed throughout biblical history? I don’t see either approach as superior to the other. Just different.]
So, I hope you’ll stay with me for these posts. I promise there won’t be more than a dozen of them. And I promise I’ll try to be practical and clear in presenting the theology of Jesus as I find it in the Word. Let’s begin!
The first category in a systematic theology approach is the area known as prolegomena. This word literally means “the things you talk about before . . .” In other words, before we talk about the doctrine of sin or the doctrine of final things, we need to discuss some preliminary or introductory matters. And there are a lot of questions that a good prolegomena will cover. Such as, what is faith? What does it mean to”believe”? Can we trust our human reason? What the relationship between theology and philosophy? What are our sources of belief? Are all doctrines first level issues? That is, are there essentials which all Christians everywhere must believe and are there also distinctives on which genuine believers can differ (yet no side be guilty of heresy)?
It is likely that I will be able to cover only one or two issues in each of these sections. Regarding prolegomena, I want to emphasize that the Lord Jesus never expressed merely an opinion. What He “believed” was the truth. “Believe”, as a verb, can have a variety of meanings. It can express a hope (“I believe it won’t rain today.”). It can refer to a conviction, a settled truth (“I believe in God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth . . .”). [How the Lord Jesus used the word “believe” throughout the gospel of John is a fascinating study]. As God manifest in the flesh, Jesus never expressed a subjective viewpoint open to correction or refutation. He declared the truth as only the Way, the Truth, and the Life could do!
He was not a “man of his times,” a dismissive description by liberals of Jesus as holding to out-dated ideas of God’s justice. His beliefs were not formed by error-prone traditions or fallible schools of thought. As the Word, He came to fully explain the Father and He was, literally, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
And for Jesus belief was of first level importance. Everything in life depended on what one believed. He stated, for example, in John 8:24- “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” The last thing a person wants to do is die in their sins, right?
Belief was so important to the Lord Jesus that He let His friend Lazarus die. In John 11 we read Jesus saying, “’Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’” (vv. 14-15). Jesus was glad that He was not there so His friend could die so that the disciples could believe?! In His conversation with Martha, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (vv. 25-26). As the stone is being removed from Lazarus’ tomb, Martha says, “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” (v. 39). Jesus’ response is: “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (v. 40).
As they take away the stone, we read that “Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’” (vv. 41-42).
The conclusion of this amazing account is that “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.” (vv. 45-47). His opponents are alarmed and query, “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” (vv. 47-48).
Belief was of paramount importance to the Lord Jesus. It was not just a matter of life or death. It was a matter of eternal life or eternal death.
Take a Bible you don’t mind marking up and read through the gospel of John. Highlight or underline every reference to “believe” or “faith” in that book. Share one of your conclusions in the Comment section below. (to be continued)
We’ve been thinking through some of the issues of a preliminary nature that need to be discussed before we get into the major areas of Christian doctrine. How one defines faith, the reality of heresy, the need for good philosophy, etc. are important topics to touch on before tackling the categories of God, the Bible, the Church, etc.
As we look at the material of the Bible, how ought we to organize and summarize what we find? There are essentially two ways to approach the biblical “data.” One way is to begin at Genesis and read straight through the Scriptures, collecting the truths we find, for example, on the doctrine of God. This is looking at the biblical material chronologically, sometimes called “biblical theology.”
“Biblical theology” is a term used by some in other ways, but we are referring to the collecting of Scriptural truth as it is progressively revealed in the 66 books of the Bible. There is value in seeing how, for example, the doctrine of the atonement (how God saves us) is gradually unfolded in the pages of Scripture (beginning, of course, with the proto-evangelium in Gen. 3:15).
Our approach in these posts, however, is called systematic theology. With a systematic theology approach, doctrines are looked at from a logical perspective. The data of Scripture are collected into logical categories (everything the Bible says about the Person of Christ, for example) and analyzed.
I don’t believe one approach is better than the other. They are just different ways of collecting the same material. The real question is what does the Bible as a whole say about the doctrine of __?
Some would say that the Bible might contain some examples of systematic theology, such as I Timothy 3:16 where we read, “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” (I Tim. 3:16)
Regardless of which approach one takes, aren’t you thankful for the many truths about our wonderful Savior?