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ST: MEANING AND SCOPE OF SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY

This unit dwells on the scope and understanding of Systematic theology
  • Definition of Theology

From the viewpoint of etymology, theology is derived from two Greek words, theos (“God”) and Logos (“Word, or discourse” or “reason”). Therefore, literally speaking, theology means “Discourse or reason concerning God,” or put in another way, “thinking about God,” the “study of God,” or study about God. We observe that this definition is very limited and needs to be expanded.

It will be an interesting and rewarding exercise to state and analyze the definitions of theology of some eminent theologians. Our working definition of theology for this course is: an interpretative analysis of the revelation of God involving church doctrinal tradition and human experience from a particular worldview.

The following elements are significant in this definition and need to be elaborated upon:

As an interpretation, theology should be logical, clear and coherent;

The revelation of God is usually studied in nature, Scripture and Jesus Christ;

Every theology ought to be informed by the history and theological tradition of the church;

The human experience includes both personal Christian experience of the individual theologian as well as the societal/corporate social, economic, political and religious situation; A theologian is free to agree or disagree with other theologies/theologians but no theologian has the right to ignore other theologies/theologians.

Theology is always done in a particular context of culture, philosophy and time. This is the meaning of “particular worldview

  • Levels of Theology

Having attempted to define and explain theology in the last section, the next issue to deal with is “who is a theologian”? Of course, simply put, a theologian can be said to be a person who does theology, who theologises, who engages in interpretative analysis of the revelation of God. However, and more practically, we can talk about a theology/theologian on three levels which can be described as popular, pastoral and professional following the classification of liberation theology by Leonardo Boff and Clodovis Boff (1987, 11).

Popular Theology: This is the common, everyday theology of every Christian. It is the theology of daily Christian faith and life. Every Christian is expected to be able to explain his/her faith (1 Peter 3:15). That kind of explanation can be regarded as theology though often simple, loose and unprofessional. So at elementary level, every Christian can be regarded to be a theologian.

Popular theology is the level of discussion in Christian meetings like Bible study groups Sunday School, House Fellowship, some other organizational meetings, teaching/training sessions of church worshipers, workers, officers, testimonies, counseling. It is thus a good thing to expose church workers and officers to the rudiments of Bible interpretation. Biblical hermeneutics is an integral part of biblical theology. Family worship also includes bible reading and teaching. This is also a popular theological task.

Pastoral Theology: Another level of theologising is done by Christian workers – pastors, educationists/teachers, counselors, musicians, children / student / youth workers, evangelists / missionaries, deliverance ministers, etc. This is pastoral theology, the theology of church life and Christian ministry. Every pastor is a church theologian and every form of Christian preaching and teaching involves theological exercise.

The formulation and explanation of the doctrine of a church or denomination is essentially a theological task. Every kind of specialized ministry also requires a particular theology as well as theological methodology and training.

For instance, so much pastoral theology is involved in church music and drama to communicate the gospel. This is often real, practical theology. It must also be pointed out that the pastoral theologian brings together oral, informal, popular theology with his/her formal professional theology.

Professional Theology: This is the most technical form of theology and the highest level of theological formulation. Professional theologians are the ones that can be considered to be “experts” in theology. Erroneously, these are the only people we always think of as theologians. These are usually teachers/lecturers in bible schools, colleges of theology, theological seminaries, departments of religious studies in universities.

These scholars and academicians use a variety of forum like lectures, seminars and conferences. Professional theology is a detailed and vigorous level of theology. They (theologians) carry out and publish their researches in journals and books.

While this distinction between popular, pastoral and professional theologies is helpful, it should be clarified that the three levels interact and interpenetrate. For instance, laypersons (popular theologians) who take courses in theology, teach bible study and discipleship lessons (which are essentially pastoral ministries) are combining the first two levels in theology. On the other hand, a church pastor is expected to engage in daily Christian devotion for personal spiritual enrichment (popular theology). He also prepares sermons and counsels parishioners which involves pastoral theology. Such a person may also get involved in teaching and training of student pastors in a theological institution and participate in theological education conferences. Such a person, therefore, within a period of time engages in popular theology, pastoral theology and professional theology.

  • Approaches to Theology

Systematic theology is related to other theological studies. Christian theology can be done from various approaches: biblical, exegetical, historical, philosophical, pastoral and systematic. These approaches are also sometimes called divisions or disciplines of theology. Graeme Goldsworthy (1991, 34-38) and other theologians have given concise definitions of these different ways of doing theology:

  1. Systematic Theology “involves the systematic organization of truths of doctrines under certain headings or topics.” It is also sometimes called dogmatic. This course follows the systematic theology approach.

 

  1. Historical Theology “is an historical study of the way theology has been done in the Christian Church over the centuries.”

 

  1. Pastoral Theology  concerns  “the  mutual  relationship  between theology and pastoral work.” As a theology of ministry, it is closely related to practical theology which is “concerned to relate theology to the practice of ministry.” Subject matters of pastoral and practical theologies are worship, homiletics, missions, administration, pastoral care/counseling, hermeneutics and stewardship.

 

  1. Biblical Theology could mean a” historical study of the theology found in the Bible itself. It is also related to exegetical theology which involves getting out of the Bible what it actually says in its original setting.” Biblical and exegetical theologies employ the following critical tools of biblical introduction/studies: textual criticism, historical criticism, literary and source criticism, form criticism and reaction criticism.

Philosophical Theology “is theologizing that draws on the input of philosophy rather than using merely biblical materials.” It uses philosophical ideas, metaphysics and logic extensively.

  • Themes and Types of Theology

The major themes (doctrines) within Christian, systematic theology are: The doctrine of Revelation; The doctrine of the Bible (Bibliology); The doctrine of God the Father, Jesus Christ (Christology), the Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Trinity; The doctrine of creation/providence; The doctrine of humankind (Anthropology); The doctrine Angels, Satan/Demons (Demonology); The doctrine of the Church (Ecclessiology); The doctrine of Evangelism/Mission (Missiology); The doctrine of the last things or the future (Eschatology). Across the ages and in response to needs, Christians in different denominations have developed theologies of various types with diverse concerns. Four examples are Roman Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal and African Christian Theologies.

Roman Catholic Theology: This theology is comprehensive and it is presented in dogmas covering the doctrines stated above. Roman Catholic theology also emphasizes revelation, discipline of faith, a centralized priestly authority, and seven sacraments instituted by Christ and bestowed through the priesthood.

The major features of Protestant theology are: deep commitment to the centrality and power of the Bible, justification by grace through faith, the priesthood of all believers and the church that is composed of believers.

The core of Pentecostal theology is that every Christian ought to have a post-conversion experience (a second blessing or work of grace) of Holy Spirit baptism with speaking in tongues as the initial and authentic evidence.

African Christian theology is concerned with the interpretation of the Christian faith in the context of African worldview. The theology reckons with African historical, religious, social, economic and political experience.

  • Presuppositions of Theology

Presuppositions are assumptions that must be self-attesting. Every theology is based on certain assumptions and every theologian works with certain presuppositions. In the Guidelines for Christian Theology in Africa, Osadolor Imasogie (1983, 43) argued “there is no such thing as a presuppositionless theology . . . the theologian must be aware of the cultural influences that shape him and equip him with his conceptual tools.”

Our five basic presuppositions in this course are:

 

  1. That God is sovereign and self-proving.

 

  1. That there is harmony and coherence in the mode of God’s unveiling of himself.

 

  1. In view of these two presuppositions above, God’s Word is accepted “as true, simply because it is his Word” and the teaching of canonical Scriptures is not only substantially true, but it is also coherent.

 

  1. That the tradition of the Church is an important “guide to what the bible means.” Tradition can be negative or positive. It can be accepted or rejected but it cannot be ignored.
  2.  That the integrating method of systematic theology, which involves interpreting Scriptures in a particular culture, is both valid and relevant to our African context
  • Methodology of Theology

Every discipline has a method. It is also imperative for a systematic theologian to have a method that is valid. When used broadly, theological method “refers to an array of decisions every Christian theologian must make in the course of doing theology.” One very important question of methodology is whether to start theological formulation from above (revelation, word of God) or from below (human situation, social analysis, etc).

This course will also adopt contextual approach to theology and we will try to strike “a balance between emphasis on the authority of biblical revelation and the need to reckon with the receiving audience of that revelation.” This method is based on our concern “to interpret the word of God in the light of our own historical context for the sake of Christian obedience.” This method is also the logical implication of some of the basic presuppositions stated earlier on.

  • Tasks of Theology

Why do we need to develop and study systematic theology? Different theologians have stated the tasks, purposes or values of theology in different ways. Paul Tillich (1973, 3-9) considers the two principal tasks of Christian theology to be “to state the eternal Christian message and to relate it to the existing cultural situation.” According to Gustavo Gutierrez, the three classical permanent tasks of theology are: theology as wisdom, to promote spiritual life; theology as rational knowledge, a meeting of faith and reason; theology as critical reflection on Christian praxis.

These various primary tasks of theology can be classified as theoretical and practical: to ensure correct Christian belief, faith, teaching, doctrine (orthodoxy); to promote authentic Christian worship, life, living, practice (orthopraxis). Another secondary task is to dialogue with some other fields of study like history, ethics and philosophy.

  • Tasks of Theology

Why do we need to develop and study systematic theology? Different theologians have stated the tasks, purposes or values of theology in different ways. Paul Tillich (1973, 3-9) considers the two principal tasks of Christian theology to be “to state the eternal Christian message and to relate it to the existing cultural situation.” According to Gustavo Gutierrez, the three classical permanent tasks of theology are: theology as wisdom, to promote spiritual life; theology as rational knowledge, a meeting of faith and reason; theology as critical reflection on Christian praxis.

These various primary tasks of theology can be classified as theoretical and practical: to ensure correct Christian belief, faith, teaching, doctrine (orthodoxy); to promote authentic Christian worship, life, living, practice (orthopraxis). Another secondary task is to dialogue with some other fields of study like history, ethics and philosophy.

Source- National Open University of Nigeria