(which every student should read with care)
Systematic Theology, the greatest of the sciences, has fallen upon evil days. Between the rejection and ridicule of it by the so-called progressives and the neglect and abridgment of it by the orthodox, it, as a potent influence, is approaching the point of extinction. It is a significant fact that of the upwards of two score accredited and notable works on Systematic Theology which have been produced in this and other countries, an exceedingly small portion is now in print and the demand for these works is negligible. The unchanging emphasis in the Scriptures upon doctrine, which subject is referred to in the New Testament more than forty times and is that to which a Christian is to “take heed” (1 Tim. 1:3; 4:6, 16; 2 Tim. 3:10, 16; 4:2, 3), stands as a silent rebuke, whether heeded or not, to all modern notions which belittle the importance of Dogmatic Theology, and also stands as a corrective to those who neglect any portion of it.
It is no secret that the average minister is not now reading Systematic Theology, nor will such writings be found to occupy a prominent place in his library. Shocking indeed this condition would have been to ministers of two generations ago—men whose position was respected in their day because of their deep knowledge of the doctrinal portions of the Bible and whose spoken ministries and writings have gone far toward the upbuilding of the Church of Christ.
The present situation is not one of passing moment. As well might a medical doctor discard his books on anatomy and therapeutics as for the preacher to discard his books on Systematic Theology; and since doctrine is the bone structure of the body of revealed truth, the neglect of it must result in a message characterized by uncertainties, inaccuracies, and immaturity. What is the specific field of learning that distinguishes the ministerial profession if it is not the knowledge of the Bible and its doctrines? To the preacher is committed a responsibility of surpassing import. Men of other professions are tireless in their attempts to discover the truths and to perfect themselves in the use of the forces belonging to their various callings, though these be in the restricted field of material things. The preacher is called upon to deal with the things of God, the supernatural and eternal. His service is different from all others—different as to aims, different as to available forces and, of necessity, different as to adequate preparation. Few clergymen's libraries will include even one work on theology, but a medical doctor will assuredly possess a worthy work on anatomy. A form of modern thinking tends to treat all matters of doctrine with contempt.
No substitute will ever be found for the knowledge of the Word of God. That Word alone deals with things eternal and infinite, and it alone has power to convert the soul and to develop a God-honoring spiritual life. There is a limitless yet hidden spiritual content within the Bible which contributes much to its supernatural character. This spiritual content is never discerned by the natural (øõ÷éêὸò), or unregenerate man (1 Cor. 2:14), even though he has attained to the highest degree of learning or ecclesiastical authority. The natural capacities of the human mind do not function in the realm of spiritual things. The divine message is presented “not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:13), and the Spirit has been given to the regenerate that they might “know the things that are freely given to us of God.” When, on the ground of scholarship, unregenerate men have been permitted to dictate to the church what she shall believe, she has descended from her supernatural character to the level of a human institution, and it is safe to conclude that men are unregenerate who deny the only ground upon which a soul may be saved.
Acquiring the knowledge of the spiritual content of the Bible is a life task. The great preachers who have moved the hearts of men with divine power have been saturated with Bible truths secured through a first-hand, daily study of its text. General facts of human learning may be acquired by the usual means, but spiritual truths are apprehended only as taught to the individual heart by the Spirit.
No student of the Scriptures should be satisfied to traffic only in the results of the study of other men. The field is inexhaustible and its treasures ever new. No worthy astronomer limits his attention to the findings of other men, but is himself ever gazing into the heavens both to verify and to discover; and no worthy theologian will be satisfied alone with the result of the research of other theologians, but will himself be ever searching the Scriptures. However, a full-rounded introduction is needed and a method of study must be established if either the astronomer or the theologian expects to continue with ever increasing efficiency. In the case of the theologian, this responsibility of acquiring the introduction to the Bible and its true method of study, without question, rests upon the theological seminary. Too often the seminary has taken the attitude that the study of the English Bible for its spiritual content has no place in a theological curriculum, assuming that limited exegetical studies in portions of the Hebrew and Greek texts are sufficient. Exegesis belongs to the department of original languages and its importance cannot be overestimated, nor should its prosecution cease with the student's graduation. It is the province of exegetical research to aid in the study of the doctrinal, devotional, historical, prophetical, and practical aspects of divine revelation; but exegesis may, and not infrequently does, degenerate into a mere grammatical and philological study of the text with little attention given to the spiritual content of the Scriptures. Bible institutes may teach lay workers the Bible, but it is the prerogative of the theological seminary to produce authoritative and accurate exegetical expositors of the Scriptures. Regardless of the ideals held by many modern seminaries, the preacher is called to “preach the word,” to be “apt to teach,” to be one who avoids the “traditions of men,” and to be one who is a right divider of the truth. Since the attaining to the knowledge of the Word of God is a life task, no seminary, no matter how true its aim, can hope to do more than to give the student an introduction to the whole text of the Bible, a method and habit of study with true ideals, and to impart a momentum for unceasing research in the Sacred Text itself. To this end every curriculum study should be focused. Studies in theology, original languages, and history should contribute to the one ideal, namely, the knowledge of the Scriptures. There are social and pastoral problems concerning which a preacher should be instructed, but these are secondary compared to his call to minister the truth of God. There is also far-reaching value in the knowledge of the history of theological opinion and familiarity with the contentions and conclusions of great men of former generations is essential, but, in vital importance, such knowledge and familiarity are not comparable with the understanding of the living Word of God and the true application of that Word to men today. Similarly, the study of evidences is an important discipline for the student of theology, but evidences do not embrace the truth itself. The chemist who in his laboratory has throughout the day proved the values of various foods will doubtless be pleased to partake of food when the work of the day is done. So, also, a preacher should be aware of the scope and trend of the philosophy of his day, but he should understand as well that the one and only successful method of combating error is the positive declaration of the truth of God. A Spirit-filled, truth-imparting preacher will have little time or disposition to descend to mere controversy, but will give out the supernaturally efficacious message of God, against which no error can ever stand.
While it is true that the Bible is the source of the material which enters into Systematic Theology, it is equally true that the function of Systematic Theology is to unfold the Bible. In its natural state, gold is often passed over by those with undiscerning eyes. Likewise, the treasures of divine truth are observed only by those who are trained to recognize them. In his years of classroom discipline, the theological student should be taken over the entire field of doctrine that he may be prepared to continue his research in every portion of the Bible throughout his ministry, being prepared to proceed intelligently in every phase of the divine revelation. Apart from such a complete introduction to doctrine, no preacher will be able to hold truth in its right proportions, nor can it be assured that he or his auditors will not drift into the errors of unscriptural cults, or into modernistic unbelief. After covering in a general way the entire field of his profession, the physician or lawyer may serve the public as a specialist in some particular aspect of that profession; but the theologian should not specialize in any department of the truth. Doctrinal faddists have been the cause of untold harm in the church, and the only way of avoiding this danger, or that of securing preachers who will not be “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine,” is to provide a required discipline in Systematic Theology which incorporates a complete consideration under a competent teacher of the essentials of each doctrine with due recognition of the relation of each doctrine to every other doctrine. Rationalism has ever been seeking admission into the Christian church, but it found little welcome so long as theological seminaries gave even an abridged Systematic Theology its rightful place. It is a short step indeed from the ignorance of doctrine to the rejection and ridicule of it, and it can be safely stated that there is no rejection of sound doctrine which is not based on ignorance.
While the seminary student needs as much today to major in Systematic Theology as ever, the trend, unfortunately, is to substitute philosophy, psychology, and sociology for theology. This may be somewhat accounted for by the fact that Biblical doctrine is a revelation and the substitutes are within the range of the thinking of the natural man.
In this age, as in no other, there is a specific message to be preached to every creature and, while there are leadership men who are God's gift to the Church, the obligation to witness rests upon every Christian alike. Too much recognition cannot be given to the uncounted multitudes of faithful witnesses who are discharging their commissions as Sunday School teachers, mission workers, personal soul-winners, and as living exponents of divine grace. This is the God-appointed New Testament evangelism. The latent evangelizing forces of a congregation of believers are beyond all human calculation; but they need to be trained for their task, and God has prescribed definitely that they should be trained. How else will they be accurate and skillful even in their limited sphere of service? That they are to be trained is indicated in Ephesians 4:11, 12. There it is stated that the gifted men—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, especially the pastors and teachers—are appointed to the task of “perfecting the saints for the work of the ministry”; that is, the ministry which is committed to the saints. The revelation here is not only of the fact that the saints have a witnessing service to perform, but also of the fact that they are to be equipped for this service by the gifted men whom God has placed over them as their leaders. The word êáôáñôéóìὸí, here translated perfecting, is a noun which is but once used in the New Testament and means equipment and refers to that preparation which all saints should have that they may be effective witnesses for Christ. The verb form of this word is found elsewhere in the New Testament, and with significant meaning. According to this passage (Eph. 4:11, 12), the pastor and teacher is responsible for the equipment of those given into his care. Although this equipment does involve methods of work, it includes much more, namely, an accurate knowledge of the truth.
But the pastor and teacher must be trained for his leadership task. Under existing conditions this preparation is committed to the professors in the theological seminary. Their responsibility is greater than that of other men inasmuch as the heavenly things transcend the things of earth. Observe this stream flowing forth from its source: whatever truth and ideals the professor imparts to students in training they, in turn, will later impart to the larger groups over which they are given spiritual care. If a congregation is not actively engaged in soul-winning and missionary work, it is usually because of the fact that they have been deprived of the God-intended leadership to that end. If the pastor has no soul-winning passion, no missionary vision, is limited in his proficiency, and inaccurate as an exponent of the Word of God, his lack in these respects may generally be traced to the fact that he has been deprived of the God-intended, spiritual and vital training in the seminary. It may, therefore, be restated that the responsibility of the seminary professor is no less than superhuman. If this be true, no man is fitted to render faculty service in a seminary who is not himself awake to his responsibility and, in addition to that advanced training and accuracy in the truth which his position demands, is himself a worthy example of missionary zeal, evangelistic passion, and tireless soul-winning effort. What revival fires would be set burning and spiritual forces be released should the church demand the purification and perfection of her fountain sources of doctrinal teaching as well as the worthy illustration of spiritual vitality and soul-winning passion in the life and ministry of those who mold the character of her God-appointed leaders!
This is not an appeal for a lowering of worthy scholarship. The all-too-prevalent notion that scholarship and spiritual passion cannot exist together in one person was forever answered at the beginning of the Christian era in the case of the Apostle Paul, to say nothing of thousands of great preachers of the past who have attained to enviable scholarship without restricting their spiritual lives or restraining their passion of soul.
The question as to the evil effects of an abridged theology may be considered with a full recognition of the fact that an abridgment of doctrine in the seminary leaves the pastor disqualified by so much, and his limitation will be reflected in the stunting not only of his own spiritual life but of the spiritual life and activity of all who wait upon his ministry.
The criticism incorporated in this preface in no way pertains to the material which is included in existing works on Systematic Theology. The church owes an immeasurable debt to the great theologians for the work they have done. Attention is called only to certain major themes which strangely do not appear in works on Systematic Theology generally. If it be claimed that, because thus omitted, these themes do not belong to Systematic Theology, it may be replied that men are not appointed to determine the material which enters into this science. Since, as acknowledged by theologians generally, Systematic Theology is the collecting, scientifically arranging, comparing, exhibiting, and defending of all facts from any and every source concerning God and His works, it is obvious there could be no valid reason offered for the omission of any vital doctrine from this science. Theologians have no permission from God to restrict the field of theology to the material found in the standards of their respective denominations or the more or less restricted teachings of the uninspired leaders who formulated those standards. The divine revelation in its entirety, and not merely the portions of it which harmonize with accepted dicta, challenges the student of doctrine.
Though interest in Systematic Theology has declined in past years, there has been a growing need for an unabridged, premillennial, dispensational work on theology. Such a work has long been a desideratum. This work proposes to take a step in the direction of the realization of that need.
Why unabridged? Simply because a part of anything is never equivalent to its whole. A lifelong investigation into works on Systematic Theology has resulted in the discovery that in the field of doctrine at least seven major themes are consistently neglected. Few readers, indeed, are in a position to detect what is left out of a work on theology. These omissions are: (1) the divine program of the ages; (2) the Church, the Body of Christ; (3) human conduct and the spiritual life; (4) Angelology; (5) typology; (6) prophecy; and (7) the present session of Christ in heaven. That the loss to the whole range of doctrine sustained by these omissions may be pointed out, it is necessary to indicate some of the important features of each doctrine.