header image
Home arrow Sermons (Main Index) arrow Articles & Topical Series arrow Topical Series - Theology in Romans arrow Theology in Romans - Introduction (Biblical and Systematic Theology)
Theology in Romans - Introduction (Biblical and Systematic Theology) Print E-mail
Theology in Romans

I.  Introduction:

 As I have noted on Sunday mornings, we will be studying the book of Romans for the rest of the year.  Even though that may seem like a long time to spend on a book, there is so much to be said about the book.  Thus, I would like to take our Sunday nights and use them for further study in the book of Romans.  To be more particular, I want to study the theological ideas that come up in the individual passages that we are studying on Sunday mornings.  For example, the first few chapters of Romans deals with the doctrine of man’s depravity.  Yet, what else does the Bible have to day about man’s depravity?  We will try and answer that question next Sunday night.  Likewise, the theological topics that are brought up in Romans are significant and at times controversial.  Thus, we can use Sunday nights to look deeper into these topics and hopefully answer any questions that you might have about that particular doctrine.  So then, as we continue to study through the book on Sunday mornings we will be tracing the theological ideas brought up in the passages on Sunday nights.  At least, that’s the plan.

 Before we begin next week, I want to talk tonight about why I think such a study is important.  If we hear the passages from Romans preached Sunday morning, why do we need to talk about other similar passages Sunday night?  Why do such a theological study through the book?  In order to answer these questions, I want us to consider two theological disciplines tonight, namely biblical theology and systematic theology.  Hopefully by understanding these two approaches to theological study we can see why studying Romans in this way is helpful.  

 In order to explain these two disciplines, I want to follow a chapter by Michael Lawrence in his book Biblical Theology in the life of the Church.  The chapter is entitled “Biblical and Systematic Theology: Do we really need both?”1

II.  What is the difference between Biblical and Systematic Theology?

 A.  Definitions: Lawrence begins by seeking to define both disciplines.  Unfortunately neither is all that easy to define.  Theologians use the terms in reference to different ideas.  Some are narrow in their understanding while others are more broad.  But for our purposes and following Lawrence, we can try to come up with some simple definitions:

  1.  Biblical Theology: “Biblical theology is the attempt to tell the whole story of the whole Bible as Christian Scripture.”2  Biblical theology deals with the larger picture of the Bible and what God is revealing about Himself through the whole story of Scripture.  It is a discipline that considers things like progressive revelation, the continuity and discontinuity  between the Old and New Testaments, redemptive history, and the major themes of the Bible story.

  2.  Systematic Theology: “Systematic theology is the attempt to summarize in an orderly and comprehensive manner what the whole Bible has to say about any given topic.”3  Systematic theology asks and answers questions like: what does the Bible have to say about sin or God or man or judgment?  It tries to systematize or organize for the sake of clarity and simplicity what the Bible says about these and other topics.

 B.  Relationship: What is the relationship between biblical and systematic theology?  As we see from the definition, biblical theology deals more with larger themes and the whole story of the Bible.  It helps us understand particular passages by identifying where the passage fits into the larger story.  We will not be able to understand any particular passage well without a good understanding of biblical theology.  Just as we have learned to study each passage in its own context, we must also study each passage in the context of the larger story of redemption.  Biblical theology aims at getting these right.  Yet, once we understand the passage and/or passages correctly, we must ask the application question, namely what does this have to do with me?  In order to answer this question we must begin thinking systematically.  Systematic theology helps us know what is true about man and his sin.  It helps us know what the Bible teaches about how a man can be saved from his sin and reconciled to God.  Yet, if we do not know how to interpret and understand the Bible (Biblical theology), then we will likely come up with wrong conclusions about reconciliation and salvation (Systematic theology).  Thus, biblical theology needs systematic theology to help with application, while systematic theology needs biblical theology to help with interpretation.  This is somewhat of an oversimplification, but again for our purposes, it helps us understand how these two disciplines relate.  Along these lines, Lawrence notes: “biblical theology tends to be more foundational, while systematic theology both builds on the results of biblical theology and is itself guided by the interpretive horizons established by biblical theology.”4  In this way, we can better see how we actually need both disciplines because they are both inter-related.  Lawrence concludes: “In the end, we can’t have one without the other.  Biblical theology is how we read the Bible.  Systematic theology is how the story of the Bible is shown to be normative in our lives.”5  In order to understand and apply the Bible faithfully, we need both disciplines.

 C.  An example: In an effort to help us better understand these two disciplines, Lawrence offers the example of the gospel, or the good news of the Bible.6  In terms of biblical theology, how is the gospel defined?  It uses the terms of redemptive history and could be represented in this way: Creation→Fall→Redemption→New Creation.  Lawrence notes that this follows the story line of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  This is how biblical theology describes the good news of the gospel.  What about systematic theology?  How does it define the gospel?  Systematic theology describes the gospel in this way: God→Man→Christ→Response.  These are theological categories that are informed by and based upon the story of redemption.  Lawrence argues that if all you have is the story, then we are left out.  In order for the good news to really impact our lives, we need the categories that systematic theology provides.  Thus again, we need both disciplines to best understand and apply the good news

III.  Conclusion: Why discuss these?

 First, we need to understand these categories and think about theology in general because it has come under attack in our day.  People don’t want to talk about theology these days.  “Just tell me the story of Jesus,” they say.  The problem is that ‘the story of Jesus’ is easy to misunderstand and misrepresent if we do not know our theology.  Thus, we need to think about and study theology.

 Second, the steady growth of liberalism demands that we understand both biblical and systematic theology.  We must know how to read and interpret our Bibles.  Even Satan could quote from the Scriptures, so that alone is not enough.  We must think hard about how to interpret the passages we read and study and memorize.  We need the discipline of biblical theology so that our systematic theology will truly be faithful to the Bible.  If we do not know how to interpret the Bible then we will be opening ourselves up to liberal theology.

 Third, as we move through the theology of Romans, we will talking more about these ideas and how they help us to understand both the book of Romans and the theology that it teaches.  We will begin next week with the doctrine of man’s depravity.

 At the end of the day, it is not all that important that you get all of the terms right.  You might not ever need to explain the difference between biblical and systematic theology to someone.  Yet, you must know how to read, interpret, and apply the Bible.  That is absolutely vital to living a healthy Christian life.  Biblical and systematic theology can aid us in this task.  I pray that this series will help us in our understanding of these disciplines so that we can be faithful followers of Christ.  Amen.

1 Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), p.
2 Ibid., p. 89.
3 Ibid., p. 89.
4 Ibid., p. 91.
5 Ibid., p. 92.
6 For the following, see ibid., p. 94-96.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 28 July 2010 )

User Comments

Page 1 of 0 ( 0 User Comments )
©2006 MosCom

Add comments to this article: Theology in Romans - Introduction (... ...

Enter your comment below.

Name (required)

E-Mail (required)
Your email will not be displayed on the site - only to our administrator

Comment (supported) [BBcode]


We invite you to visit our new Facebook page


Click below for the Advent Daily Devotional written by our pastor


Download or read our new church covenant


Don't Waste Your Cancer

ESV Search

(e.g., John 1 or God's love)

Who's Online
We have 8 guests online
Visitors: 8576520