What is Systematic Theology?
Theology is the study of God, but if we place the word “systematic” in front of it, what does that mean? As we read the Word of God, the sixty-six books were all written by different authors and in distinctive styles: Narrative, poetry, epistles, proverbs, chronicles and more. Every one of these are full of the truth of God and his doctrines, attributes, promises, covenants, and law. Although each of us have the ability through years of dedicated study to mine these truths from the scripture, luckily for us, there were those who came before that dedicated their lives to the study and mined out these truths and doctrines for us. They “systematized” their theology into an outline (for lack of a better term) of scriptural doctrine.
Although there are many “-ology”s out there, the six main divisions found in nearly every systematic theology are:
· The doctrine of God (Theology Proper)
· The doctrine of man (Anthropology)
· The doctrine of Christ (Christology)
· The doctrine of applied salvation (Soteriology)
· The doctrine of the church (Ecclesiology)
· The doctrine of the last things (Eschatology)
In any systematic theology worth its salt, these topics and more will be discussed at length from every point of view, full of historical and biblical references. It is from these studies that the churches and denominations derive their dogma. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, the title “systematic theology” was replaced by the title “dogmatics” in many works; however, to some it seemed a bit presumptuous to be writing the belief system of a church rather than simply a study of the doctrines of the Scripture.
There are other types (or “categories”) of theology out there - Biblical theology, historic theology, and practical theology. Some add even more to this list that get specific to a particular view, but these four categories ross all boundaries, no matter what your religion or belief system.
If you are wanting to investigate systematic theology and read a good one, the magnum opus of the Protestant Church was written by John Calvin in 1536, called “The Institutes of the Christian Religion”. For a modern systematic theology with centuries of references, Louis Berkhof's “Systematic Theology” has been used for years as the standard of Reformed systematic theology in seminaries across the US.