Just to get our bearings, let’s review where we are in our series. I’m addressing the question, “What does God look for in a church?” We began by observing that a sound church will be one that looks to the Bible alone as the final authority for everything that it does. We then saw a church should feature, as a first priority, preaching and teaching that attempt to clearly explain the meaning of the Bible. And most recently, I’ve argued that a good church will give careful attention to the meaning of the text by placing it in its context.
The context of the Bible is its theology, and theology is of two kinds. The first we addressed last week: the Bible, from beginning to end, forms one major story. This story, as we see illustrated in so many of our Christmas hymns, is ultimately about the kingship of Jesus. Understanding a passage of Scripture rightly involves, at the very least, knowing where it falls in the biblical story. This kind of theology, with its emphasis on the story of the Bible, we call biblical theology.
The second kind of theology is not organized as a narrative, but rather by topics. If we ask, for instance, what the Bible teaches about salvation, or angels, or the end times, we’re asking questions about doctrine. The theology of the Bible that is concerned with questions of doctrine is called systematic theology. Although most people assume that theology is a dry and impractical thing, systematic theology ought to be deeply important to anyone who takes the Bible seriously as being the Word of God. Almost always, when we encounter a verse in the Bible that addresses a particular topic, there are also other verses that speak to the issue as well. If we want to get a good grasp of the Bible, we cannot merely pick and choose verses that support our own positions; instead, we need to see how the Bible as a whole addresses our questions. To do this is to do systematic theology.
We can illustrate the importance of theology this way: come this time of year, we give our attention to the birth of Jesus Christ. By why is this birth so important? As soon as we ask this question, we are doing theology. Here is one answer to this question, from John 1: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” That is to say, when Jesus was born, God was in human flesh. To see this baby was to see God. The implications of this theology are truly life-changing.