Monday, 3 July 2017

Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth".
2 Timothy 2:15


A minister who teaches the church MUST be equipped in sound systematic theology. Why? How else can he rightly divide the Word of God if he does not comprehend the unified system of truth, as presented in Holy Scripture? A minister has to preach the whole counsel of God and systematic theology provides the tools for such a man to do this. A man in the pulpit without training in systematic theology is like a plumber working on a boiler without a tool bag. It is that serious!

Many men who are allowed into pulpits with no theological training; but would you allow such a man to function as a primary school teacher, an electrician or a nurse to work without formal training? Of course not. So why do we place the bar so low at times for the minister serving in the church of God?

I have several book shelves with various authors presenting their systematic theologies. One that has remained a faithful friend to me over many years has been Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology (in one volume). Furthermore this work comes in three sizes.

A Summary of Christian Doctrine: This is the slimmest of the three possibilities. It is published by the Banner of Truth and it provides a succinct summary of Christian truth.

Manual of Christian Doctrine: This is the medium size book and it is most useful to train a man who needs to be further equipped for Christian ministry at the early stages.

Systematic Theology (one Volume): This is the full work comprising some 738 pages without the index.

This work is highly reliable, doctrinally stable and it equips the church in what is known as the analogy of faith. We must interpret Scripture by Scripture. The Westminster Confession makes this plain in its first chapter, 1:9.

"The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly".

3 comments:

Chris said...

Surely the most important qualification for the 'preacher' is to 'have been with Jesus'.

Kevin Bidwell said...

Chris,
If you scroll on this blog, you will notice a post called "O for a Closer Walk with God". I agree that our walk with the LORD is something for all Christians to guard carefully. However, though I understand your intention that a preacher is to "have been with Jesus", he needs more than a godly communion with the LORD. One can be zealous, but ill suited for serving in public Christian office. There must be natural gifts which have been given by the LORD, for a man, which are then dedicated to Christian service and gifts which are sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Paul writes to Timothy in Second Timothy and what does he instruct him? In 1:13 he writes "Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me [Paul]". This pattern of sound words is the apostolic doctrine, the system of the Christian faith. Again in 1:14 Timothy is instructed to "guard the good deposit entrusted". This is the body of truth contained in the Scriptures. In 2:15 he is exhorted to do his best to present himself to God as one approved. This is all to enable him to "preach the word in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort with complete patience and teaching" 4:3.

Paul does not emphasise the phrase to be "with Jesus" now Christ is ascended. I hope that these brief comments have given an answer, to explain that those who are Christian ministers need close communion with the Living God, but they also need theological training and accountability to "run the race" with competence and endurance.
Kevin Bidwell

CTB said...

Chris,

I agree with Kevin's reply 100%. And I wanted to add a few remarks of my own in response to your statement that surely "the most important qualification for the 'preacher' is to 'have been with Jesus'." It seems that at least one assumption in this statement is that to 'have been with Jesus' excludes theological training. I am assuming you are referring to Acts 4:13 as there was astonishment over the preaching of Peter and John who were perceived to be "uneducated, common men". Their education might not have come from the rabbinical school recognized by the Sanhedrin, but they were better educated than the Pharisees and Sadducees. They looked like common, uneducated men but had in fact been educated in the school of Christ for some three years. Their "boldness" was no doubt connected to their having "been with Jesus". The phrase would surely refer to more than communion with Jesus in the sense of personal godliness and holiness. Peter and John had also "been with Jesus" in the sense that they had had been educated or theologically trained by Jesus.

So, to learn the Bible, and thus systematic theology, is not antithetical to communion with Jesus. Those who enjoy union and communion with Christ would surely share something of his own desire and way of living that "man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4; Deut. 8:3). Theological training and communion with Jesus go hand in hand.

But I wholeheartedly agree that theological education must not be cold and lifeless. To know God is eternal life (John 17:3). We must not draw near with our lips only but also with our heart (Isaiah 29:13; Mark 7:6). However, the point is that these things should be joined together and are not enemies. Communion with Jesus does not exclude theological education. How are we to know God, know Jesus and thus commune with Him if we do not know our Bible?

Chad Bailey