The Spiritual Value of Systematic Theology

I’ll never forget the off-hand remark of a long-time member of my home church the first time I returned for a visit after taking the teaching position I now hold. He hadn’t seen me for awhile and didn’t know that I had recently left the pastorate to teach systematic theology in seminary. When I told him that I was now teaching systematic theology, his rather smug reply was, “I didn’t know there was a system to that.”

His reply was not unusual in those church circles. Theology was seen as a positive obstacle to evangelistic fervor and Bible comprehension. Better to just read your Bible, hand out tracts and try to keep all the rules. No need to understand God or Scripture as a unified, comprehensive message revealing God’s glory.

Cornelius Van Til, who was primarily an apologist, understood the tremendous value of theology, not only to the study of the Scriptures, but also to the spiritual vitality of the believer:

If we do not pay attention to the whole of biblical truth as a system, we become doctrinally one-sided, and doctrinal one-sidedness is bound to issue in spiritual one-sidedness. As human beings, we are naturally inclined to be one-sided…

A study of systematic theology will help us to keep and develop our spiritual balance. It enables us to avoid paying attention only to that which, by virtue of our temperament, appeals to us.

Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 2nd ed. Edited by William Edgar (P&R, 2007), 22.

All Christians ought to be reading systematic theology for their own spiritual growth and sanctification. This won’t happen until pastors model sound theology in their preaching. That is the subject of the next post.

About Mark Farnham
Associate Professor and Coordinator of Pastoral and Pre-Seminary Majors at Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster, PA. Founder and Director, Apologetics for the Church (apologeticsforthechurch.org). PhD in Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; ThM in New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

One Response to The Spiritual Value of Systematic Theology

  1. Richard L. Lindberg says:

    I think that is a problem in fundamentalist Baptist circles. The only system in those circles from my time as a member is Scofield Dispensationalism. Fundamentalist Baptists think in terms of doctrinal statements to be used as a test of fellowship. If they would read the Second London Confession of Faith from 1677/1689, they might be led to think more systematically about the teaching of Scripture. When I went to WTS, I was a member of a GARBC congregation in Norristown. After three years at WTS I was able to see the faith as more than doctrines and rules.

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