Basically, to practice systematic theology is simply to seek to harmonize different portions of Scripture.
So systematic theology is a necessity in accurately understanding and teaching the Bible, because God has chosen to communicate truth about himself in many different ways, at different times, in different books, in different genres, in a very large book! If we want to understand the whole of God’s self-revelation, we must interpret each individual paragraph in the context of the rest of Scripture.
Of course, there are dangers in doing this, because we can become so focused on harmonizing all of Scripture that we forget to analyze specific passages in the light of the book they’re in, and in the light of the historical progress of God’s revelation (called “biblical theology”).
But the existence of dangers doesn’t eliminate the fact that systematic theology is a necessity. And by “necessity,” I don’t mean the kind of necessity present in the phrase, “You need to eat spaghetti with a fork.” That is a necessity to be civilized, but you could eat spaghetti with your fingers! But if you’re going to eat spaghetti, it is a necessity to use your mouth. There’s no other way to eat! And there’s no other way to understand and teach the Bible without reckoning with all of it.
To demonstrate my point, look at this phrase of 2 Timothy 4:1-4.
The first part of the Content of Paul’s charge to Timothy is to “preach the word,” which refers to the whole of Scripture (the OT in the original context, but the entire Bible by implication). The Ground for this command is that people will not want “sound teaching,” but rather teaching “to suit their own passions.” They will "turn away from listening to the truth, and will follow worthless rabbit trails of “myths.”
How can you preach “the word” when you preach a single sermon? Paul surely isn’t saying that Timothy should have every verse of Scripture as his text for every single sermon he preaches! You should preach every verse of Scripture in the context of the whole, that’s how! And that requires systematic theology.
God can and does heal people, but the healing crusades of people like Benny Hinn are demonstrably fake - look no further than the fact that they don’t go into hospitals and heal people.
And Jesus tells us to look at the fruit of people who claim to be prophets and teachers, because “you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt 7:20). The fruits of the prosperity gospel that fills the world with healing crusades and such things can be seen in the greed of its teachers, as well as the lack of the preaching of the true gospel (faith alone in Christ alone, followed by much suffering - see Acts 14:22).
And Scripture says nothing about being “slain in the Spirit” - absolutely nothing. But it does talk about the fruit of the Spirit, and walking in the Spirit, and the gifts of the Spirit he gives to members of Christ’s body. That is what we should be praying for, and demonstrating in our church services. The presence of the Spirit can be discerned by inward elements that are manifest outwardly (the presence of holiness, love, joy, peace, and so on) not on outward elements that seem fantastic and glitzy and miraculous (like the gold dust that supposedly fell in Bethel Church some time ago). Focus on such things is a sign of spiritual immaturity, if not the lack of the Spirit altogether. But focus on the gospel of Christ, on delight in Scripture and submission to it - those things aren’t flashy, but that is where the Spirit is.
@Gary-Lincoln I agree with what you’re saying if you mean this: “Those who are saved prove the reality of their salvation by their obedience (called “works” in James 2:14-26).” It is absolutely true that people who only say that they are believers, but produce no fruit, whose lives are characterized by constant disobedience, are hypocrites and not believers at all.
But I don’t agree with what you’re saying if you mean this: “You receive eternal life by accomplishing perfect obedience.” Jesus is the source of salvation through (see the Manner relationship of 9-10) his high priestly intercession. He saves all who come to God through him, completely apart from any obedience that they have done. Our hope is only in him, as this passage points out; he is the source of our salvation, not anything we do. Our obedience is a demonstration that he is indeed the source of our salvation.
Hold Fast the Profession. Draw Near to Grace. (Hebrews 4:13-5:10, Part 1)
Israel showed, during their time in the wilderness, that man’s heart can be fickle (Hebrews 3:9). God then showed that he will not tolerate continued rebellion (3:11). The truth of the case study applies to all: God’s scrutiny penetrates deeply (4:12), and there is no hiding (4:13). We are left, as the writer says, exposed and in need of mercy.
But warning is followed by encouragement: The great truths discussed ealier in the letter are summarised along with associated exhortations.
We have a magnificent representative seated at the right hand of God’s throne in heaven: God’s very Son (4:14). He who humbly walked among his people and then suffered unto death for our sin (2:9) now represents us, in perfection, before God. Let us hold fast to this faith that we profess.
He is also a sympathetic representative (4:15). He has felt the fatigue and hunger of humanity (2:17,18), and the pull of sin in all dimensions (4:15). We are needy, and he knows it well. He has opened to us a throne of grace, and we are to come to it with complete confidence.
(This was originally posted on the Biblearc blog by Robert Elphick on September 17, 2015.)
Eternal Salvation for Those Who Obey Him (Hebrews 4:13-5:10, Part 2)
In Hebrews 5:9, the writer says that Jesus, having suffered and been made perfect, became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. What does it mean to ‘obey him’? What can we learn from the context?
We are told in the preceeding verse that Jesus himself learned obedience – I think this means he gained a full appreciation of human obedience – through what he suffered. And in the verse preceeding that we see that Jesus’ response to suffering was not to have a stiff upper lip and soldier on, but to reverently, earnestly, desperately, cry out to God for help. Jesus lived in close dependence on His Father.
We see a similar theme in Heb 4:16, where the readers are exhorted to draw near to the throne of grace for help in their time of need. God has provided them with His Son as a sympathetic yet perfect representative, now enthroned in heaven. Our weakness is well known: we are to draw near, depending on his grace, for help.
So what does it mean to obey him? It includes, at least, a life of urgent yet reverent fellowship with God, expresssed through earnest prayer. In our day to day lives, we are the needy – we are completely exposed before God (Heb 4:13) – and we obey him by drawing near to His throne, through His Son our great high priest, for help.
(This was originally posted on the Biblearc blog by Robert Elphick on September 24, 2015.)
In here, the girl and the boy love each other so much that even though they don’t commit sexual immorality, their status as “in a relationship” gives license to an interaction with each other (physically like holding hands and hugging, emotionally like the world only revolves around them, financially like they have common fund, and I think spiritually like the boy has an authority over the girl as to how and what she can do in the ministry). And given that situation where both are so in love with each other (cannot be avoided since it is not taught in churches here what to do) dating results not to knowing whether he/she is a potential spouse but loving themselves more than anybody else,even more than parents or siblings and worst more than God.
At least in my experience, here in Canada, things aren’t like that. There are different problems we have, but not those problems.
Teaching from 1 Corinthians 7 might help people distinguish more wisely between dating and marriage. Husbands and wives have authority over each other’s bodies (and by extension, I think, bank accounts and so on), as 1 Cor 7:3-4 says, but not dating couples. Verses 32-34 show also that those who are not married (which includes those who are dating) should be single-mindedly seeking to please the Lord. It is only when married that our responsibilities shift in such a way to seek to please our husband or wife, according to verse 34. Ephesians 6 also shows that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and wives are to submit to their husbands, but this is not the case when they are dating! The boyfriend has no spiritual authority over the girlfriend, for example.
My goal in this post is to interact faithfully with Scripture, for that is our authority in determining doctrine.
We are trying to determine who the leaders of the NT church are.
One main passage on spiritual gifts is Ephesians 4:11-16. In that passage, you could say that apostles and prophets and evangelists have a “leading” function in that they are to equip the rest of the saints for the work of the ministry, but there is no verse that describes their role in the church as being in charge of doctrine, or their function of shepherding or teaching. That is given to the “elder” or the “overseer.” The exception, of course, is apostleship, but that office has clearly died out (see later).
“Elder” and “overseer” are specifically described as being leaders in the church. It is “elders” who are to rule (1 Tim 5:17). It is “overseers” who must be able to teach to be overseers (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:9). It is “elders” who are to teach and preach, some more than others (1 Tim 5:17). According to Scripture, elders and overseers are responsible for teaching, preaching, and ruling the church.
Perhaps you could say that “pastor-teacher” is a spiritual gift, and “elder” and “overseer” are two titles for the office that someone with that gift would hold.
And you can tell that “elder” and “overseer” are the same office based on a simple comparison of passages. For example, Paul “called the elders of the church to come to him” (Acts 20:17); minutes later, he told the exact same group of men that the Holy Spirit had “made [them] overseers” (Acts 20:28). Paul reminded Titus that he had left him in Crete partly “to appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5); he then said that such men were to be “above reproach,” and grounded that instruction with the words, “for an overseer… must be above reproach” (Titus 1:7). There is no possible way to interpret these verses other than to say that Paul used the terms “elder” and “overseer” to describe the exact same office.
The term “pastor” is used only one in Ephesians 4:11, together with “teacher” (both of which terms seem to describing one gift; I won’t get into a defence of that here, as we’re not exploring Greek right now). But it seems like “pastor” and “teacher” are describing the same gift. And since every overseer must be able to teach to be qualified to be an overseer (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:9), and since it is elders who preach and teach (1 Tim 5:17), it looks like “pastor” is a third term to describe the same office as “elder” and “overseer.” Further support for this is in Acts 20, the same passage that proves that “elder” and “overseer” are synonymous: in verse 28, where Paul also calls these men “overseers,” he charges them “to care for the church of God.” The term “care for” is a cognate of the Greek noun translated “pastor,” and means to “shepherd,” just like “pastor” does. So overseers are identical to pastors, and since overseers are also identical to elders, clearly the three terms are synonymous.
How about prophets and evangelists? Well, God gave no qualifications given for such, nor are Timothy and Titus instructed to name such in their churches. Instead, Paul told Titus to select elders in each church (Titus 1:5). God, through Paul, placed priority on elders, and secondly on deacons (see the second list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3). Therefore, elders are the most important office of the church - the sine qua non of biblical churches. They are the leaders of the church that God has put in place, not prophets or evangelists.
But how about apostles? For Scripture describes them and their office; they were clearly extremely important in the life of the church. Is that office still for today? That topic deserves a full-length post, which I will do next week.
*Update on 8-2-19: Here is the post on apostleship.
9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. (ESV)
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)
@RolandoMH That’s a great question! Systematic and Biblical Theology are certainly different, but definitely also complementary.
Systematic theology seeks to harmonize the teaching of the whole Bible on every major topic (like theology proper, soteriology, and so on), thus doing justice to the wholeness and the unity of God’s revelation on each topic.
Biblical theology seeks to trace each major topic as it unfolds progressively throughout Scripture. It also aims to understand the Bible as one story, with one major theme, and to understand every part of it in light of that major theme. (Some suggestions for that theme include “Kingdom through Covenant” and “God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment.”)
Good expository preaching should use insights from both systematic and biblical theology. Your description of expository preaching is excellent and correct. I remember reading that one preacher (perhaps John MacArthur?) said that one of his main challenges in preaching through 1 John was preaching the difficult parts (e.g. “no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him,” 1 John 3:6) within the context of the rest of Scripture, without flattening out the specific point John was making in his letter. This is a necessary balance!
I don’t understand the difference well between systematic and biblical theology, or are they complementary?
I meant to include the following articles, that are very helpful in explaining both Systematic and Biblical Theology: 10 Things You Should Know about Biblical Theology, and 10 Things You Should Know about Systematic Theology.
@Gary-Lincoln It is true that faith is often called obedience. For instance, Romans 1:5 is clear in talking about “the obedience of faith.” But to say that they are “treated virtually the same in Scripture” isn’t accurate.
For instance, John 6:27 does say that the “work” people are to do is to “believe." And yet this cannot contradict a verse like Romans 4:7, where Paul says, “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” So for me to use an absolute statement like “not anything you do” is not against the teaching of Scripture, especially since I said that not anything we do is the source of our salvation. Of course, we must believe; but this is not the source of salvation. Faith is nothing more than the open hand that receives the gift of grace that God purchased and which is given to us without our meriting it.
We need a theology of obedience and faith that accepts what all Scriptures say, including Ephesians 2:8-9, where we are told that we are saved by grace, and through faith. Then Paul says that neither salvation, nor grace, nor faith, are “our own doing”; that is, these things are “not a result of works.” Being saved by grace does not come from works. (I have attached a diagram of Ephesians 2:8-9 below; “this” (τοῦτο) isn’t referring to grace or faith or works, but back to the entire concept of being saved by grace.) Verses like this are why I can say that being saved is through faith, but has nothing to do with works as far as earning it.
So seeking to keep faith and works separate is not eisegesis, but is based on sound exegesis! Scripture teaches that, yes, faith is an act of obedience to God, but it is not a work as far as an action of merit that earns God’s gift of salvation. God shows mercy on whoever he wills, and grants the gift of faith to whomever he wills. Whoever is saved is saved as a result only of his gift, and so has nothing to boast about whatsoever, even though he has obeyed by believing in Jesus, and even though his life is characterized by obedience and growing maturity.
Describing obedience the way I did (or rather, the way Robert Elphick did, as I was reposting something he wrote) as “at least” a life of reliance upon God is not “hedging,” but describing what obedience is in the context of this particular passage. That is the goal of this section of our forum, Passage Discussions: to talk about specific passages, through the medium of an arc/bracket/phrase/diagram.
To keep this discussion going in the right place, let’s both make sure we stick to specific passages, one at a time (discussing theology as a whole is for the Theology Discussions section of the forum). So, in your response to this, please refer to an arc etc. that you have made, and we can discuss that. I’ll do the same.
If you want to talk more about theology in general, feel free to start a discussion in Theology Discussions!
13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. 14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 1 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” 7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (ESV)
Is it possible to have verses show like 10:5-9, instead of combining all under verse 5 and having 6-9 empty?
It looks like you combined verses 6-9 into one proposition first, and then extracted everything between “therefore” and “he takes away the first…” When you combine verses like that, the verse numbering automatically changes, and that can’t be edited.
In the screenshot below, I tried a different approach: first, I used the Edit tab and clicked on verse 9, and copied and pasted “He takes away…” from there into verse 5. Then I divided and indented the remaining phrases, which keep their verse numbers.
Of course, the last half of verse 9 is now in verse 5, and there is no way to edit the verse number labels to reflect this, but I think this option works a little better!
Prayer to God Is to Prove Me
What is the purpose of prayer? Why ought we to ask God for things?
One answer to this question is that prayer is meant to prove me. This answer is found in John 15:7-8.
Jesus has been explaining to his disciples that he is going away, and encouraging them that this is actually a very good thing for them. One reason for this is that in the new arrangement, Jesus will be teaching them from within as he and the Father make their home in the disciples (and us) via the Spirit. The second reason that Jesus’ going away is for their good is found in the fact that he is going to the Father’s side, he explains. Returning there, no longer confined by the emptying of himself in taking on humanity, the Son of God (along with the Father) will sit ready to answer our prayers with sovereign power.
With that context (i.e. chapter 14), we meet this surprising and glorious purpose for prayer. As we abide in Jesus, we may ask God to produce fruit in our lives. Why? Because this is how God the Father is glorified, by us being proven true disciples through our fruitfulness. Or to put it another way, God’s glory shines forth as we are filled with Jesus’ joy (see verse 11). And so for this we pray!
Doesn’t sound like a bad deal, does it? Perhaps this is new to you, and perhaps not. Either way, please let me encourage you to stop and pray—i.e. now—for Jesus’ joy to fill you today, to the glory of God!
(This was originally posted on the Biblearc blog by Andy Hubert on June 22, 2014.)
Time Is Short. Eternity Is Near. (Part 2)
There is much in life that tempts you to be anxious. But God calls us not to be anxious, and only in Him is that possible.
Previously (v26-31), Paul encouraged a life undistracted by the joys and pains of the world, because time is short and the current world system is passing away. Now, he says, live this out free from anxiety. What an encouraging invitation! Would anyone not want to be free from anxieties?
Would anyone not want to be free from anxieties?
He holds up for comparison the unmarried man and woman, who are concerned for the Lord’s affairs, and the married man and woman, who are concerned for pleasing their spouse. The married man, wanting to please his spouse, has divided interests. The single person is concerned for one thing.
Freedom from anxieties, it seems, does not mean we drift along without any concerns. The comparison indicates that true freedom means we are concerned for the Lord’s interests primarily. Anxiety for the Lord’s affairs, for pleasing the Lord, brings freedom (Matt 11:28-30), and this is how Paul would have us live.
Is Paul saying that a married person can’t have such devotion to the Lord? I don’t think so; v35 indicates that Paul wants a life of undivided devotion to the Lord for everyone. Paul acknowledges the married person’s responsibilities (v33b, v34e) to their spouse, and argues that when properly fulfilled, those responsibilities are not incompatible with a life devoted to the Lord. Freedom comes in part, it seems, by keeping the marriage in proper perspective, by understanding that it is temporary and secondary (v31, Lk 14:26).
(This was originally posted on the Biblearc blog by Robert Elphick on November 13, 2014.)
32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. (ESV)