What would happen to a church or denomination that does not actively learn or apply biblical and systematic theology to its teaching ministry? Has this happened to your church or denomination?
My understanding of what biblical theology is and how it is related to the other disciplines has tremendously developed by reading Enns’ book, The Moody Handbook of Theology. The book will help you regarding the role that biblical theology played and continues to play in the overall theological development throughout the century leading to our present time. I encourage you to read Enns’ book. The following list of points come from the first chapter of The Moody Handbook of Theology:
- It is a “branch of theological science which deals systematically with the historically conditioned progress of the self-revelation of God as deposited in the Bible.”
- It is “exegetical in nature, drawing its material from the Bible as opposed to a philosophical understanding of theology.”
- “It stresses the historical circumstances in which doctrines were propounded.” So, it investigates “the periods of history in which God has revealed Himself, or the doctrinal emphases of the different biblical writers as set forth in a systematic fashion.”
- “It examines the theology within a given period of history (as in Noahic or Abrahamic eras) or of an individual writer (as Pauline or Johannine writings).”
- While it was presented in a systematized form, it is “distinct from systematic theology that assimilates truth from the entire Bible and from outside the Scriptures in systematizing biblical doctrine.”
- It is a narrower approach to understanding theology.
- It “pays attention to the important historical circumstances in which the biblical doctrines were given”
- It emphasizes the progressive revelation that “God did not reveal all truth about Himself at one time but revealed Himself ‘piecemeal,’ portion by portion to different people throughout history.”
- It draws its information about God from the Bible, therefore as Charles C. Ryrie points out, it is exegetical in nature, “examining the doctrines in the various periods of history or examining the words and statements of a particular writer. This enables the student to determine the self-disclosure of God at a given period of history.” As a matter of fact, the biblical theology is “the result of exegesis.”
- It is the source of systematic theology.
Since biblical theology depends on the exegetical studies of the scriptures I tried to understand exegetical studies as well. Here is the list of points that come from the first chapter of his book regarding exegetical studies:
- It “calls for an analysis of the biblical text according to the literal-grammatical-historical methodology.”
- “The passage should be studied according to the rules of grammar.”
- “Exegesis demands an examination of the nouns, verbs, prepositions, etc., for a proper understanding the passage.”
- “The passage should be studied in its historical context.”
- It should look for the political, social and particularly the cultural circumstances that surrounded it.
- That “Biblical theology does not end with exegesis, but it must begin there.”
Here is a list of points that I understood regarding the difference between biblical theology and systematic theology:
- Biblical theology restricts its study to the scriptures, whereas systematic theology seeks truth from scripture and from any source outside the Bible.
- Biblical theology examines parts of scripture, whereas systematic theology examines the whole Bible.
- Biblical theology seeks to understand why or how a doctrine developed, whereas systematic theology seeks to understand what was ultimately written.
- Biblical theology seeks to understand the process as well as the result (the product), whereas systematic theology seeks to understand only the result (the product).
- Biblical theology “views the progress of revelation in different areas (as in Edenic, Noahic)” whereas systematic theology “views the culmination of God’s revelation.”
In my personal view, congregations who do not apply biblical theology or systematic theology run the risk of becoming a church with out Christ. They become immune to the voice of God and their own voices become the oracle of God, thus their theology forms around their personal agendas and needs. They never grow in Christ (Heb 5:12-14).
I am blessed to be a part of a church that has held the exegetical teaching of the scripture to be the most important function of the church, therefore biblical theology became a natural selection for our church.
Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Revised ed. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2008.