Types of Theology
Ezwell defines systematic theology as “the attempt to reduce religious truth to a coherent and relevant whole for the church”. (Ezwell, p1162) So this type of theology, or “study of God” (Erickson, p22), puts the search for truth that can improve the life of the church and its believers into a system, a disciplined method. Such a complicated and difficult task seems to cry out for some sort or organized approach. To me, the Bible seems not only to be the most magnetic and compelling source of knowledge available but also the most complicated and challenging book anyone could strive to understand. Many great scholars have spent their entire lives in its study.
How does this type of theology compare to these other types? Biblical Theology seems the simplest to understand overall. It is primarily the theology presented in the Bible. Systematic Theology differs is that it asks the question of what does the whole Bible say about a subject, not just what does one book say? It also differs in that it seeks the understanding of not only “what the Hebrews believed” in biblical times but what do we believe today? (Erickson, p119)
Historical Theology is the most interesting of the other three types. It seeks to understand each teaching in the context in which it occurred. It asks why each biblical person believed what he or she believed while attempting to understand their surrounding culture. The systematic approach is more focused on creating theological understanding that is useful in today’s culture. The two approaches are very much the same in that they both seek to reduce truth to something relevant. The time frame is just different.
Philosophical Theology seems the most difficult to understand. Who is not completely overwhelmed by the writings of Nietzsche or Kierkegaard? The depth of their thought is thrilling and exhausting all at the same time. The intellectual presentation of philosophers is often difficult to comprehend or make relevant to everyday life, the opposite of the objective of systematic theology. The philosophical approach does have its place in helping us better “develop and employ certain critical abilities” that can deepen our understanding of the Bible. (Erickson, p59)
Each of the these have similarities and differences to the systematic approach. They are all applicable to my current ministry which is largely my amateurish attempt to become a seminary student while trying my best to live my daily life in the most Christ like manner I can achieve. I need the biblical approach in my daily walk and search for God’s truth in my life. He wrote that book for me to read after all. I love the historical approach, to understand why Moses was afraid in the desert. It helps me understand my own weaknesses. I admire the philosophical approach. It humbles me in my meager understanding of many of the world’s best thinkers.
In the end, the discipline of the systematic approach is the most applicable for me. I need the discipline. Without structure and an organized approach I quickly become lost in such a frightening, complicated and overwhelming yet absolutely rewarding search for that truth of God that is relevant for my life. I need that “sound theology” that meets the need of my everyday life. (Grenz and Olsen, p134)