Light Brings Salt
Volume 3, Issue 37
Iron Range Bible Church
Dedicated to the Systematic Exposition of the Word of God
Importance of Systematic Theology
The following article is an excerpt from a study by Cornelius Van Til a theologian who taught apologetics and wrote many volumes over the period from the 1920's to the 1980's. What we see here in this short piece is the importance of being text oriented, that is, focused on the Word if we are to have a right view of God, of Christ and the basis for living the Christian life. So important is this to establish a proper world view. For the believer it must be based on a solid understanding of the Word of God. Note: The comments found in parentheses are mine.
Van Til says: 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 (sin nature), appeals to us.
Moreover, what is beneficial for the individual believer is also beneficial for the minister and in consequence for the church as a whole. It is sometimes contended that ministers need not be trained in systematic theology if only they know their Bibles. But “Bible-trained” instead of systematically trained preachers frequently preach error.
They may mean ever so well and be ever so true to the gospel on certain points; nevertheless, they often preach error. There are many “orthodox” preachers today whose study of Scripture has been so limited to what it says about soteriology (salvation) that they could not protect the fold of God against heresies on the person of Christ. Oft times they themselves even entertain definitely heretical notions on the person of Christ, though perfectly unaware of the fact.
If we carry this idea one step further, we note that a study of systematic theology will help men to preach theologically. It will help to make men proclaim the whole counsel of God. Many ministers never touch the greater part of the wealth of the revelation of God to man contained in Scripture. But systematics helps ministers to preach the whole counsel of God, and thus to make God central in their work.
The history of the church bears
out the claim that God-centered preaching is most valuable to the
Well-rounded preaching teaches us to use the things of this world because they are the gifts of God, and it teaches us to possess them as not possessing them, inasmuch as they must be used in subordination to the one supreme purpose of man’s existence, namely the glory of God.
It is but natural to expect that, if the church is strong because its ministry understands and preaches the whole counsel of God, then the church will be able to protect itself best against false teaching of every sort.
Non-indoctrinated Christians will easily fall prey to the peddlers of Russellism (Jehovah's Witnesses), spiritualism and all of the other fifty-seven varieties of heresies with which our country abounds. One-text Christians simply have no weapons of defense against these people. They may be able to quote many Scripture texts which speak, for instance, of eternal punishment, but the Russellite will be able to quote texts which, by the sound of them and taken individually, seem to teach annihilation. The net result is, at best, a loss of spiritual power because of loss of conviction. Many times, such one-text Christians themselves fall prey to the seducer’s voice.
We have already indicated that the best apologetic defense will invariably be made by him who knows the system of truth of Scripture best. The fight between Christianity and non-Christianity is, in modern times, no piece-meal affair. It is the life and death struggle between two mutually opposed life and world-views.
The non-Christian attack often comes to us on matters of historical, or other, detail. It comes to us in the form of objections to certain teachings of Scripture, say, with respect to creation, etc. It may seem to be simply a matter of asking what the facts have been. Back of this detailed attack, however, is the constant assumption of the non-Christian metaphysics of the correlativity of God and man. (continuity of being that is a failure to recognize the Creator - creature distinction)
He who has not been trained in systematic theology will often be at a loss as to how to meet these attacks. It should not be forgotten in this connection that the minister’s duty is increasingly that of an apologist for Christianity.
In conclusion, we should observe that just as a thorough knowledge of the system of truth in Scripture is the best defense against heresy, so it is also the best help for the propagation of the truth. This is but the other side of the former point. As an army well organized is not so likely to be overcome by a surprise attack and is not so likely to be shattered as an army poorly organized, so also an army well organized is better able to attack the enemy than an army poorly organized. Each unit will have the support and the protection of the whole army as it goes on to the attack. The morale will be better. When the enemy comes with cannon, we must be able to put atomic bombs over against them. When the enemy attacks the foundations, we must be able to protect these foundations.
The church will have to return to its erstwhile emphasis upon its teaching function if it is to fulfill its God-given task of bringing the gospel to all men. It is remarkable that what the church, generally speaking, still does in the way of teaching is shot through with modernism. The propaganda of orthodoxy seems to be limited almost exclusively to evangelization in the narrow sense of the term.
When this propaganda turns to teaching as a means, it all too frequently employs uncritically the conceptions of “reason” and “fact” as these are understood by those who make no profession of Christianity. The result is that there is no teaching of Christianity as a challenge to unbelief. Revivalists ought to make themselves unnecessary as quickly as possible. Orthodoxy must take over the teaching function of the church anew, and do it with a better knowledge of the requirements of that work than ever before.
It goes without saying that if all these benefits are to come to us as ministers and as a church, we must undertake our work in a spirit of deep dependence upon God and in a spirit of prayer that he may use us as his instruments for his glory.
Note: Van Til died in 1987 and this article was written even much earlier. If he had a chance to observe the Church today I believe he would say its much worse today than it was then, we are plagued with nursery churches with no systematic teaching of the Word at all.