Hello, faithful readers and fellow “confessing millennials”!
I’ll be starting a new “segment” on my blog called “Today in Theology,” in which I explore various theological topics. To me, this is the logical outgrowth of my desire to be a resource for Christian millennials (and others) that are serious about their faith.
As a primer, there are three major “domains” or sub-disciplines of theology:
- Biblical theology
- Historical theology
- Systematic theology
Biblical theology tends to take certain themes found in the Bible and trace the thread of their development within a book, within the canon of Scripture (Old and New Testaments), or within the world of the Bible and its context. It emphasizes the “progressive nature of biblical revelation” and what is often called “redemptive history.” So take the theme of “temple” as God’s “dwelling place,” for example. This starts in Genesis, where the Garden of Eden is portrayed as a place where God and humanity live in harmony. After the Fall, God chooses Abraham’s descendants (the people of Israel) as the means of which he will re-establish his kingdom on Earth, and they erect a tabernacle, a “dwelling place” for God’s personal and holy presence. It is a place where heaven and earth intersect, and where God and humanity can meet in peace, just like the Garden. This eventually evolves into Israel building a temple under the leadership of King Solomon. Later, Jesus is described as the “dwelling place” of God, ultimately fulfilling the function of the temple and tabernacle as God’s presence on Earth.
A decent introduction to the differing approaches to biblical theology is Understanding Biblical Theology by Edward W. Klink III and Darian R. Lockett. My personal approach is closest to the second and third approaches (or “BT2″ and BT3”), exemplified by scholars D.A. Carson and N.T. Wright, respectively.
Historical theology is simply the study of the church’s understanding of theology as it developed throughout its history. It recognizes that we do not read the Bible in a vacuum or in isolation with those that have preceded us. It recognizes that the church didn’t begin one hundred years ago. It recognizes that we have much to learn from the voices of the past that have gone before us, the “great cloud of witnesses” that Hebrews 12:1 talks about, great men and women of the faith. This is where we get the ancient creeds (Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedonian Definition, etc.), the orthodox teaching of the Trinity, etc. It’s also where we get our church confessions and various traditijons. We would be wise to draw from the deep reservoir of 2,000 years of Christian witness by those that passed down clear, apostolic teaching. One great advantage of this is that it exposes some of our cultural blindspots and biases, of which we have many here in the modern West, especially as North American evangelicals. Plus, it help you see where our Christian doctrine comes from.
Finally, systematic theology is concerned with what the entire biblical witness has to say about specific subject topics, such as salvation (“soteriology”), sin (“harmatiaology”), the church (“ecclesiology”), the person of Christ (“Christology”), the Holy Spirit (“pneumatology”), the afterlife and things to come (“eschatology”), and the attributes of God, including the Trinity (“theology proper”). In order to do this, it necessarily engages with both biblical theology and historical theology.
This is often what people have in mind when they think of “theology,” and perhaps why it scares so many people away. To the average lay Christian, it may seem very philosophical, and to that I understand and sympathize. It’s easily my weakest area of knowledge and is sometimes the hardest for me to wrap my head around. But it is an indispensable part our faith and the church’s intellectual life, both individually and communally. I have found that you will find some of the brightest minds thinking about deep theological concepts. Some of my favorite systematic theologians are Kevin Vanhoozer (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) and Fred Sanders (Biola University).
To make a long story short…
All of these three domains or sub-disciplines interact with each other, and you cannot genuinely have one without the other. Even with biblical theology, you read Scripture within the context of how the church has understood it over the years. Here is a link to an article that does a great, in-depth job at explaining how these three domains of theology interact with each other.
Finally, here are some great YouTube channels and resources to introduce yourself to each of these sub-disciplines:
- Biblical theology: The Bible Project
- Historical theology: Ryan Reeves’ channel (church history)
- Systematic theology: 3 Minute Theology
Until next time!