Why ‘Biblical Theology’ is better than ‘Systematic Theology’ for small groups


A Charles Brammall Column

As a leader (or a study-writing member) of your home group, try to write questions

in your study that lead to the “Biblical Theology” of the passage/topic. “Biblical Theology” is different from “Systematic Theology”. It asks, “Where do we see Jesus in this passage?” (even if He’s not mentioned – in fact, especially if he’s not mentioned. This is explained briefly and well in an article on Biblical theology in “Elwell’s Dictionary of Evangelical Theology”.

[For those not rushing to Koorong to shell out $59.99 for Elwell which is a great resource, here’s an article from Crossway]

Biblical Theology is how the passages (especially OT ones) point to Jesus or are fulfilled in Him many years later or in eternity.

The difference between Biblical and Systematic theology is the difference between going on a bushwalk in natural bush and going for a walk in the Botanic Gardens. On a bushwalk, you see everything in the order it appears, i.e., its natural arrangement (which can sometimes seem random).  It is like “walking” through the entire Bible and seeing how

it appears in order and as a story. Whereas Systematic Theology is more like a walk in the Botanical Gardens – where everything has been neatly arranged for you to see in categories or sections, so you can see what all Roses look like, Petunias, or Bougainvillea.

Systematic Theology groups the Bible’s teaching into categories or doctrines so you can see everything the Bible says about one particular topic in one place. For example, the doctrine of Creation, Sin, Marriage, the Cross, etc. Both kinds of theology are essential and support each other, but the one we tend to miss out on when writing Bible discussions is the former – Biblical Theology. 

Without looking at where we find Jesus (sometimes proleptically or looking forward to what he would do) in a passage, it’s too easy to apply the passage in terms of moral examples or instruction. Here’s a tricky little exercise- try working out the Biblical Theology of Song of Songs. Chiq and I found it notoriously hard as we read it in bed together each night. 

“Doing” Biblical Theology is a little tricky to master, but well worth the effort! It opens up the LORD’s Words as they are meant to be experienced – as a story, about people, and about a Person. Please persevere! It brings great joy. Graham Goldsworthy’s book “Gospel and Kingdom” is helpful to get a feel for it. 

[And here’s a quote from Goldworthy’s Gospel and Kingdom “Biblical theology, as defined here, is dynamic not static. That is, it follows the movement and process of God’s revelation in the Bible. It is closely related to systematic theology (the two are dependent upon one another), but there is a difference in emphasis. Biblical theology is not concerned to state the final doctrines which go to make up the content of Christian belief, but rather to describe the process by which revelation unfolds and moves toward the goal which is God’s final revelation of his purposes in Jesus Christ. Biblical theology seeks to understand the relationships between the various eras in God’s revealing activity recorded in the Bible. The systematic theologian is mainly interested in the finished article – the statement of Christian doctrine.”]

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