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Systematic theology is a discipline of Christian theology that formulates an orderly, rational, and coherent account of the doctrines of the Christian faith. It addresses issues such as what the Bible teaches about certain topics or what is true about God and His universe. It also builds on biblical disciplines, church history, as well as biblical and historical theology. Systematic theology shares its systematic tasks with other disciplines such as constructive theology, dogmatics, ethics, apologetics, and philosophy of religion.
With a methodological tradition that differs somewhat from biblical theology, systematic theology draws on the core sacred texts of Christianity, while simultaneously investigating the development of Christian doctrine over the course of history, particularly through philosophy, ethics, social sciences, and natural sciences. Using biblical texts, it attempts to compare and relate all of scripture which led to the creation of a systematized statement on what the whole Bible says about particular issues.
Within Christianity, different traditions (both intellectual and ecclesial) approach systematic theology in different ways impacting a) the method employed to develop the system, b) the understanding of theology's task, c) the doctrines included in the system, and d) the order those doctrines appear. Even with such diversity, it is generally the case that works that one can describe as systematic theologies to begin with revelation and conclude with eschatology.
Since it is focused on truth, systematic theology is also framed to interact with and address the contemporary world. There are numerous authors who explored this area such as the case of Charles Gore, John Walvoord, Lindsay Dewar, and Charles Moule, among others. The framework developed by these theologians involved a review of postbiblical history of a doctrine after first treating the biblical materials. This process concludes with applications to contemporary issues.
Since it is a systemic approach, systematic theology organizes truth under different headings and there are ten basic areas (or categories), although the exact list may vary slightly. These are:
- Theology proper – The study of the character of God
- Angelology – The study of angels
- Biblical theology – The study of the Bible
- Christology – The study of Christ
- Ecclesiology – The study of the church
- Eschatology – The study of the end times
- Hamartiology – The study of sin
- Pneumatology – The study of the Holy Spirit
- Soteriology – The study of salvation
- Theological anthropology – The study of the nature of humanity.
The establishment and integration of varied Christian ideas and Christianity-related notions, including diverse topics and themes of the Bible, in a single, coherent and well-ordered presentation is a relatively late development. In Eastern Orthodoxy, an early example is provided by John of Damascus's 8th-century Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, in which he attempts to set in order and demonstrate the coherence of the theology of the classic texts of the Eastern theological tradition.
In the West, Peter Lombard's 12th-century Sentences, wherein he thematically collected a great series of quotations of the Church Fathers, became the basis of a medieval scholastic tradition of thematic commentary and explanation. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae best exemplifies this scholastic tradition. The Lutheran scholastic tradition of a thematic, ordered exposition of Christian theology emerged in the 16th century with Philipp Melanchthon's Loci Communes, and was countered by a Calvinist scholasticism, which is exemplified by John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion.
In the 19th century, primarily in Protestant groups, a new kind of systematic theology arose that attempted to demonstrate that Christian doctrine formed a more coherent system premised on one or more fundamental axioms. Such theologies often involved a more drastic pruning and reinterpretation of traditional belief in order to cohere with the axiom or axioms. Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, for example, produced Der christliche Glaube nach den Grundsätzen der evangelischen Kirche (The Christian Faith According to the Principles of the Protestant Church) in the 1820s, in which the fundamental idea is the universal presence among humanity, sometimes more hidden, sometimes more explicit, of a feeling or awareness of 'absolute dependence'.
There are three overlapping uses of the term 'systematic theology' in contemporary Christian theology.
- According to some theologians in evangelical circles, it is used to refer to the topical collection and exploration of the content of the Bible, in which a different perspective is provided on the Bible's message than that garnered simply by reading the biblical narratives, poems, proverbs, and letters as a story of redemption or as a manual for how to live a godly life. One advantage of this approach is that it allows one to see all that the Bible says regarding some subject (e.g. the attributes of God), and one danger is a tendency to assign technical definitions to terms based on a few passages and then read that meaning everywhere the term is used in the Bible (e.g. "justification" as Paul uses it in his letter to the Romans) is proposed by some evangelical theologians as being used in a different sense to how James uses it in his letter (Romans 4:25, Romans 5:16–18 and James 2:21–25). In this view, systematic theology is complementary to biblical theology. Biblical theology traces the themes chronologically through the Bible, while systematic theology examines themes topically; biblical theology reflects the diversity of the Bible, while systematic theology reflects its unity. However, there are some contemporary systematic theologians of an evangelical persuasion who would question this configuration of the discipline of systematic theology. Their concerns are twofold. First, instead of being a systematic exploration of theological truth, when systematic theology is defined in such a way as described above, it is synonymous with biblical theology. Instead, some contemporary systematic theologians seek to use all available resources to ascertain the nature of God and God's relationship to the world, including philosophy, history, culture, etc. In sum, these theologians argue that systematic and biblical theology are two separate, though related, disciplines. Second, some systematic theologians claim that evangelicalism itself is far too diverse to describe the above approach as "the" evangelical viewpoint. Instead, these systematic theologians would note that in instances where systematic theology is defined in such a way that it solely depends on the Bible, it is a highly conservative version of evangelical theology and does not speak for evangelical theology in toto.
- The term can also be used to refer to theology which self-avowedly seeks to perpetuate the classical traditions of thematic exploration of theology described above – often by means of commentary upon the classics of those tradition: the Damascene, Aquinas, John Calvin, Melanchthon and others.
- Normally (but not exclusively) in liberal theology, the term can be used to refer to attempts to follow in Friedrich Schleiermacher's footsteps, and reinterpret Christian theology in order to derive it from a core set of axioms or principles.
In all three senses, Christian systematic theology will often touch on some or all of the following topics: God, trinitarianism, revelation, creation and divine providence, theodicy, theological anthropology, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, Israelology, Bibliology, hermeneutics, sacrament, pneumatology, Christian life, Heaven, and interfaith statements on other religions.
- Category:Systematic theologians
- Biblical exegesis
- Biblical theology
- Christian apologetics
- Christian theology
- Constructive theology
- Dispensationalist theology
- Dogmatic Theology
- Feminist theology
- Historicism (Christianity)
- Liberal Christianity
- Liberation theology
- Philosophical theology
- Philosophy of religion
- Political theology
- Postliberal theology
- Process theology
- Theology of Anabaptism
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