Why Churches Should Study Systematic Theology

I was one of the two original pastors of a church started by forty people meeting in a basement in 1977. I served in that role for just over thirteen years before I had to resign due to abortion clinic lawsuits related to my peaceful nonviolent disobedience on behalf of unborn children. Nanci and I are still part of that same fellowship, Good Shepherd Community Church, nearly forty years later.

Our church has been through some very hard times over the years, but with all its (our) imperfections, we love the body and bride of Christ. And if you’re disillusioned with church, as many people are, we encourage you to either get more deeply involved in your church (e.g. in small group Bible studies) or if you need to leave, do so, but don’t give up until you find a Christ-centered, Bible-teaching, and grace-filled church—which will still be very imperfect, of course, especially once you arrive. :)

Probably ten years ago I was asked what I would do differently if I were a pastor today. The answer was easy, because I’ve thought about it often based on what I’ve seen in the 25 years since I was a pastor. What I said was this:

If I had it to do over again I would teach the church not only the Bible, but also systematic theology. I would use some of the great resources we have today (e.g. Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrine), have an ongoing weekly class teaching it chapter by chapter, and encourage every person in the church to plug into that class until they complete the study. This could also be done in small groups. Once people complete the study, whether it takes one, two or three years, I would encourage them to go through it again, because the second and third time great truths would sink in and be reinforced.

The reason I said this is because over nearly four decades in my church (a church that has always taught and emphasized God’s Word), I’ve seen a noticeable, even startling, reduction in the average person’s grasp of biblical truth. It’s possible for someone to hear Bible-based sermons while at the same time they’re adopting a worldview that is less and less biblical. This happens because most church people spend very little time studying God’s truth during the week. Compare the time spent reading Scripture and great books that teach biblical truth versus the amount of time spent watching television and reading social media that exemplify not only a non-Christian worldview but often an anti-Christian worldview. What chance does one 30 to 40 minute sermon a week have, no matter how biblical, when it must fight off and correct 30 to 40 hours of worldview that’s contrary to Scripture and the Gospel of God’s grace?

My biggest hope with the teaching of systematic theology is that it will give people a truly Christian worldview and then inspire and motivate them to read books which further develop and cultivate that biblical worldview. If people in our churches gave up ten hours of television, talk radio, sports radio, political programming or shopping or you-name-it per week and spent those ten extra hours reading or listening to audio of God’s Word and great Christ-exalting books and videos, it would make a phenomenal difference.

If our young people were taught systematic theology (age-appropriate of course, which can be done from childhood), which is the same as a Christian worldview, before going off to college, they would be equipped to answer the questions and challenges to their faith they’ll see and hear every day. They would at least have a chance. The way it is now they go off to college with little more than a few isolated stories they heard in Sunday school and youth group and in their home. And this meagre knowledge can’t begin to stand up against the onslaught of anti-God, anti-Bible, and anti-church doctrine that will overwhelm them (sometimes, tragically, even at so-called Christian colleges).

When someone asked me in an email, “What’s the value of systematic theology?” here was my answer.

Pastor Kevin DeYoung recently wrote a wonderful answer to the question “Why should we study systematic theology?” I would encourage every Christ-follower to read this, and to take to heart the vital points Kevin makes.

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Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries