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Review Essay, Keeping the Balance

Biblical and systematic theology Our confidence in biblical and systematic theology is rooted in our belief in “the nature of God and his ability to reveal himself through personal and verbal revelation to fallen men and women in space and time”. The Bible finds its unity in “the one divine author who stands behind it”. The preacher must persevere in both branches of theology. Neither can be divorced from the other, for whilst on the one hand systematic theology seeks to offer coherent answers to important questions, derived from the whole counsel of God, the discipline of biblical theology “acts as a corrective against reading texts in isolation, as if they were hermetically sealed off from the storyline of redemptive history”. Understanding is enriched as Christians “see the plan of redemption foretold, patterned, promised and fulfilled in the incarnation, death and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ”.

Why preaching must draw on systematic theology Downes believes that, “in spite of the educational advances of the last two hundred years and the availability of Bibles in contemporary language, the standards of biblical literacy and articulate theological definition are far from acceptable”. “It is the task of preachers to teach the Word of God”, enabling believers to know what they believe and why they believe it, so they can speak the truth in love and be built up in Christ. To do all this, the preacher must draw on systematic theology. “It is in part because we think in terms of subjects that are logically related to other subjects that preaching must aim toward establishing a good understanding of the system of Christian truth”. Downes also notes how “exposition and systematic theology feed each other. As we understand individual texts, we inform our understanding of doctrines and how doctrines interrelate; the better informed our framework is, the better able we are to interpret individual texts”. Simply teaching the passage in hand is not enough. “There must be a serious attempt made to teach people biblical doctrine”, or Christians will have no concept of truth as a coherent system. Without this, “the church will become a shadow of what it is intended to be”. Its health and vitality depend upon it.

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Category: In Depth, Spring 2006

About the Author: W. Simpson, PhD (University of St. Andrews, Scotland), is a physicist and writer with an interest in theology, currently engaged in scientific research in the middle-east.

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