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 held as a seminary professor. 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.