Monday, February 28, 2011

Biblical Theology

On an internet theological discussion forum several years ago a member asked,  “what is the difference between Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology"? I, providentially, didn’t jump into the discussion thinking that there is no difference between the two. One is just the basis for the other and all theology is Biblical Theology and this questioner will soon be set straight by the other members. Well, I was wrong. I had never heard of the term “Biblical Theology”. I must have 14 different sets of books entitled Systematic Theology written by as many authors ranging from Calvin to Hodge, Dabney and to Berkof and none, that I recall, ever mentioned the term Biblical Theology and that is quite understandable given the purpose of a book on Systematic Theology. Systematic theology is the study of the doctrines contained within the bible and the study usually begins with the Doctrine of God and ends with the Doctrine of Last Things or Eschatology.

So, what is the difference? I purchased a book recently from Westminster Theological Seminary entitled, guess what..., yes, that’s right... Biblical Theology. This 400+ page paper back was written by Geerhardus Vos. (a fellow Dutchman) So far I have read about a fourth of the book, which, in some circles, could make one an expert, especially if he were 50 miles from home...but I’m still trying to absorb the teaching contained within it’s covers and I am still at home. Perhaps as a definition of Biblical Theology the current popular phrase, “what did they know and when did they know it” would apply since this particular area of theology begins at the beginning and traces God’s revelation of Himself through the pages of the Bible. Here is Vos’ definition: Biblical Theology is “the study of the actual self-disclosures of God in time and space which lie back of even the first committal to writing of any Biblical document, and which for a long time continued to run alongside of the inscripturation of revealed material. (It is).. that branch of theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible.”

I have discovered that there are actually four branches of theology. They are: Biblical Theology, Historical Theology, Systematic Theology and finally Practical Theology. Biblical Theology attempts to classify and arrange the facts of revelation as it unfolded; Historical Theology traces the development of doctrine as it unfolded in the Church since the Apostolic age; Systematic Theology takes the material of Historic and Biblical Theology and organizes it into a consistent whole of everything we know about God and His universe; and Practical Theology is what you hear from your Pastor on Sunday from the pulpit as he brings to bear God’s truths to men individually and to the Church how should we then live.

Several years ago our congregation was challenged to read the Bible from cover to cover in one year beginning at Genesis and finishing in Revelation. I can see that this exercise was perfect preparation for the study of Biblical Theology. I am looking forward to this particular study of the unfolding of God’s revelation in time utilizing Geerhardus Vos’ Biblical Theology. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15)

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