Is systematic theology biblical?
Certain academics argue that systematic theology inherently distorts the meaning of the Bible. They argue that any “system” imposes foreign thought structures that necessarily tamper with the meaning of biblical texts. Such scholars often argue that the biblical documents contain irreconcilable diversity, which is to say, contradictions. Hence, they argue that systematic theology is at best unbiblical, at worst impossible.
So is systematic theology biblical or not?
- First, these objections betray an unbiblical view of Scripture. According to the Bible, all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16), God’s words are flawless (Ps. 12:6), and God cannot lie (Tit. 1:2). There is no fault in any of God’s words and no contradiction between them.
- The basic laws of logic, by which systematic theologians seek to harmonize and arrange biblical concepts, are not alien, invented thought structures but rather part of the fabric of a universe created by a God who is trustworthy, wise, and unchanging.
- Not only that, but the Bible has consistent and coherent subject matter. It speaks to the character of God, his good creation, our rebellion against him, and his plan throughout history to save a people to himself. Systematic theology is biblically legitimate because the Bible has a consistent focus and subject matter.
- What diversity there is in the biblical documents reflects different stages in redemptive history, pastoral intentions, and the personalities of the various authors, not any fundamental contradiction in their theology and worldview.
- Therefore, systematic theology is a legitimate tool for putting together the Bible’s teaching. Nothing about the Bible resists sensitive, exegetically nuanced systematization.
- One final point. Systematic theology is not only biblical, it’s inescapable. Everyone has a systematic theology—that is, a set of beliefs about who God is and how we are to relate to him. The only question is, is your systematic theology right or wrong? To what extent do your beliefs line up with what God has revealed about himself in his Word?
(Some of this material has been adapted from D.A. Carson’s chapter, “Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: The Possibility of Systematic Theology,” in Scripture and Truth, ed. D.A. Carson and John Woodbridge [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983], 65-95)