Note: This article was originally posted on Northside Baptist Church’s blog.
Is systematic theology really that important? Well, everyone has a theology whether they think about it or not (even atheists!). And the alternative to systematic theology is disorganized theology, chaotic theology. So in an attempt to be consistent and cogent in our thinking I hope you will take in what I am about to say.
In thinking about the study of systematic theology, let’s look specifically at the doctrine of “inspiration.” This is what I want to drill down on right now: the work of the Holy Spirit to “inspire” the prophets and apostles to write the Scriptures.
Here is what we don’t mean when we talk about “inspiration”. Occasionally someone will say they were inspired to do this or that. They might say, “That sunset was so beautiful that I was inspired to write this poem.” Or, “What you said inspired me to try harder.” Something like that. They mean that something happened or they saw/heard something and they were so moved in their soul that a reaction just came out of them. The event they experienced drew the artistic expression or newfound effort out of them. It was always there, but the event tapped that reservoir.
It’s quite alright if you use the word “inspired” to talk like that. But when it comes to describing the origins of the Scriptures, that is not what we mean. In this theological discourse we use the word “inspired” to mean something far more precise. When we say that the Bible has been inspired we actually mean it has been expired. Or better, exhaled. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read that “all scripture is breathed out by God…”, and in 2 Peter 1:21 we are told that “no prophecy ever came by human will, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Do you see that? Scripture did not come “by human will”; it did not well up inside the authors’ own minds and come out in response to the great things they saw God do. Rather the origin of the Scriptures is with God himself. He in fact breathed them out. Specifically, the Holy Spirit led the authors along so that the final product that they wrote—what we today call the Bible—is what the Holy Spirit wanted written. He used men and women to do that. But he never left them to themselves. He sovereignly superintended their writing. And this is what we mean when we say that the “scriptures are inspired.”
The upshot is that we can have such great confidence that the Bible is the word of God. The Holy Spirit is God, and the Spirit inspired the Bible you have in your hand. There are a lot of holy books in the world. How do we know the Bible is the true word of God? Well, because the Spirit is God and the Spirit was sent by the resurrected Jesus, we can say, in a sense, that Jesus wrote the Bible! The second person of the eternal Trinity (Jesus) sent the third person of the eternal Trinity (Holy Spirit), in fulfillment of the promises of the first person of the eternal Trinity (Father), to give you this book. Thus, without such a Trinitarian dynamic, confidence in the scriptures erodes. For how can you know it is the word of God, unless God wrote it? And he did; and this is how we understand that! So when you read the Bible, dearly beloved, you are reading the very voice of God still breathing into your life. Read it! Read it with confidence! Read it with fear and trembling. For when the living God speaks the dead come to life.
I have to conclude with this question: Do you see the value of systematic theology? In this article we tied together several things: the Trinity, the doctrine of revelation, and inspiration (and even nodded toward the importance of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension). And bringing them together like this has resulted in an apologetic for how we know the Bible is the true word of God, and therefore also have confidence in its content. Without such a system of interconnected doctrines, what is left? I fear some people believe the Bible simply because they choose to, not because they are convinced by any reflection like this. Well, in that case, how do you know your Bible is truer than the Quran, or the Book of Mormon, or the Vedas, or the Upanishads, or the Bhagavad-Gita, or The Origin of Species? We need systematic theology because we need to think clearly. And we need to think clearly because so much is on the line. We dare not tell ourselves and the world, “We believe the Bible, well, because we just like it more than the rest.” We need to tell ourselves and the world that we believe the Bible because it is the word of God. And we know this because the only resurrected man, Jesus Christ, has guaranteed its divine origins and trustworthiness by sending his Holy Spirit (see John 16:13–15). And because Jesus is God and the Spirit is God we know the Bible is the word of God.
This post was written by Dr. Nicholas Piotrowski. He is the Associate Dean of Academics and Director of Biblical and Theological Studies at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis and serves as Associate Pastor of Theological Development with Northside Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.