What are some pitfalls of systematic theology? Dr. Michael Allen talks about the significance of pursuing wholeness in theological study and not neglecting the whole counsel of God.
As you consider various theologians or people who study theology seriously, soon enough you realize it doesn’t always end pretty. There are stories of folks who’ve gotten serious. There are stories of people who are remarkable scholars, and it can oftentimes lead them to grow cold or to turn from the true and orthodox faith. We need to take that seriously. I’d suggest there’s a number of issues that can plague the way in which we go about our theological practice. But there’s one I’d like to highlight. It’s not the only one, but it’s one that can manifest in a variety of ways and can lead to some detrimental consequences. It shapes how we think about God’s Word.
A Buffet or a Meal?
We can think about God’s Word in one of two ways, ultimately. Either God’s Word is a buffet from which you take this or that according to your whim and interest, or God’s Word is a meal ready designed, expertly prepared to provide all the nutrition, all the energy you need. We won’t be equipped for every good work if we don’t tend to all that’s been inspired.God’s Word isn’t a random slapdash of text from across the ages—so long as we grab something from somewhere in it, we’re being biblical—no, no, no. God’s Word is inspired of God. And we read in 2 Timothy 3 that all of it, having been inspired of God, it is there to equip us for every good work. The catch, however, is we won’t be equipped for every good work if we don’t tend to all that’s been inspired. We need to read Proverbs just as we need to read the Apocalypse. We need to read Romans. But we also need to read Ruth. We need to pay attention to the Old and not merely the New Testament. We need to consider the Psalms shaping our prayers just as much as we turn to Matthew 6 and the Sermon on the Mount. God’s Word is whole, and Paul tells us that he doesn’t feel good about moving on from a city until he knows he’s commended the whole counsel of God to them.
And so I would encourage folks, as they think about growing wise theologically, as they long to study seriously, to ask, “How am I pursuing wholeness?” You can’t do it in a day, of course. It takes time. More than a lifetime, perhaps. But you can be thoughtful and intentional, and you can be self-aware about what you haven’t yet studied or encountered. You can go about plans that lead you to read through all of God’s Word. You can intentionally focus your studies so that you don’t linger on one topic for decades, but you consider all the various elements of God’s instruction over time. You can seek to be built up, mature and whole in every respect. We’ll never arrive in this life, of course. God calls us to pilgrimage and to journey by faith. God provides for the marathon-like journey that will lead all the way to glory. But it will for most of us, it seems, require death in Christ before he returns in glory to raise us from the dead.
God provides for the marathon-like journey that will lead all the way to glory.That said, we can be prudent. We can be wise. We can attempt not to be foolish. And we can avoid ignorance of what we’re doing. We can realize what we have studied and seek to grow elsewhere. We can realize what we haven’t yet explored. And we can make a plan to double down there, to research, to read, to discuss, to find good teaching. And we can commit never, never to be satisfied simply with taking a belief because there’s a verse somewhere that seems to say that without also asking, “Is that all the Bible says? What else would God have for me? How do I interpret that in the context of his whole Word? How do I not only enjoy that one bite, but I make sure that over time I’m receiving the whole meal that he longs to provide for me, that I might be equipped and nourished to go about this journey in pilgrimage?”