Theology in Community
Doing theology is a process that involves both study and personal spirituality. And these are not, in our mind, two separate activities, but really two sides of one work done in the presence of the living God. It begins, of course, by becoming a disciple of Jesus—learning from him, imitating him, depending on him.
He’s a prophet, the priest, the king sent by God to save us from our sins. And then we lean prayerfully on the Holy Spirit for illumination. We read the Bible, we meditate upon its divinely authoritative words with submissive faith. God works through Christians who sincerely desire to learn and grapple with truth and understand it.
God works through Christians who sincerely desire to learn and grapple with truth and understand it through particular books of the Bible, such as Psalms and Romans. And once we understand the Word better, as we seek to obey that Word more faithfully and we suffer temptation and persecution throughout the process, the Lord uses that to mature us as well.
We understand we don’t do this alone, but we do this as an active member of a biblical church in relationship with other faithful brothers and sisters in Christ—not as ivory-tower theologians, but as those who listen respectfully to the historic confessions and catechisms, who read the great books of the past, and then take the Bible, the confessions, the catechisms, the great books, and what God is teaching us ourselves spiritually from the Word and merge it with biblical ethics and contemporary issues. We then bring it out to the twenty-first-century world to develop a kind of broad and balanced Christian theology.
And so the growing theologian studies particular doctrines of the Christian faith to go deeper in his own understanding, his own faith, his own love. He can then focus on the theme of the Bible, take careful note of all the Scriptures that address it, use linguistic tools, analyze specific statements of God’s Word, compare them with other Scriptures, seek to interpret them rightly, prayerfully, always asking questions.
“What’s the meaning, intention, logic, and application of this doctrine or these Scriptures that we’re seeking to grapple with?” As understanding of exegetical and biblical theology grows, we learn that we need every kind of theology to come into play in systematic theology.
We need progressive historic redemption, we need ethical theology, we need historical theology, we need to use commentaries, dictionaries, biblical theologies, systematic theologies—all to remain a servant of the church, laboring to communicate the message of God’s Word with accuracy, clarity, and power for the conversion of sinners, the maturation of the saints, and the glorification of the church.
This is a guest article by Joel Beeke, author of Reformed Systematic Theology (Reformed Experiential Systematic Theology series) Volume 1: Revelation and God. This post originally appeared on crossway.org; used with permission.
Joel R. Beeke (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) has written over one hundred books. He is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, a pastor of the Heritage Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as well as the editor of Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, the editorial director of Reformation Heritage Books, the president of Inheritance Publishers, and vice president of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society.