Is there a contradiction between systematic theology and faithful preaching of the text? Can we faithfully do both?
Recently, some people have begun to argue that systematic theology inherently distorts the meaning of scriptural texts. They argue that any “system” imposes foreign thought-structures onto biblical texts, necessarily tampering with their meaning.
But this betrays an unbiblical view of Scripture. According to the Bible, all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16), and all his words are flawless and perfect (Psalms 12:6). There is no fault in any of God’s words and no contradiction between them.
This means that Scripture can be put together and systematically applied. It means we can make true statements about God, true statements about sin, true statements about Christ and salvation, true statements about government and contemporary ethics and many other things. After all, systematic theology is nothing more than the attempt to summarize all of the Bible’s teaching on a given topic, like God or government.
Whether these critics care to admit it or not, everyone has a systematic theology which informs his or her exegesis.
Rather than being in contradiction with each other, systematic theology and contextual exegesis belong in conversation with each other.
Consider: whenever you approach a text you bring to the table all that you already believe and know about God from Scripture—that is, you bring your systematic theology with you—and your interpretation will be guided by that pre-understanding. But as you faithfully interpret each text of Scripture in its context, you will inevitably revise and correct and fill out and deepen your systematic theology. So your preaching of the text will inevitably shape your systematic theology.
So the way to faithfully preach the text and do systematic theology is to allow your systematic theology guide and inform your interpretation of the text and to allow the text to inform and adjust your systematic theology. Then, when you preach a text, you can be faithful to communicate what is unique about that text while connecting it to the whole body of Christian truth.
Find more great resources for church health from Mark Dever and 9Marks Ministries at www.9marks.org