Preaching and Systematic Theology – Don Carson

Preaching and Systematic Theology (part 1 | part 2 | part 3). See whole series of “Enriching your Preaching through Theological Reflection“)

First he recommends some books.

  1. A. Carson on Graeme Goldsworthy: [For those beginning in the Biblical theology discipline Carson recommended the Goldsworthy Trilogy] “In my view, he pushes biblical theology sometimes in heavy handed ways that don’t quite work. So I have some question marks over it. But for those who have never done any biblical theology at all then he opens your eyes to seeing things that you might not see. For people who have done quite a lot of biblical theology give Goldsworthy a miss. For people who are just starting out then he’s a good resource to start priming the pump.”

ST tends to ask and answer atemporal questions as opposed to BT.

Two major headings –

I. Characteristics of ST to bear in mind in preaching

  1. At its best ST synthesizes the whole. It authorizes comprehensive, integrative thinking. It does such because it recognizes there is finally one mind behind the whole bible. The assumption is unity behind all the different diversities in Scripture. There must be some coherence. This is why ST in liberal seminaries is some form of historical theology. That’s why for the preacher he must ask how does my understanding of this text cohere with the wholeness of the revelation of God in all of Scripture. You have to do some kind of integration in your mind. Your hearers should begin to ask these questions when hearing preaching if they are theologically shaped
  2. ST is less sensitive than BT to corpus distinctions but it is more passionate about constructing the whole and it must never be despised by BT specialists (10:50). Some may say, “Paul says this and Luke says this…” but at some point you have to ask, “What does God say?”
  3. Ironically, ST is more likely to be culturally located, culturally dependent, than BT. This needs unpacking. No theology of any sort is culturally independent. You cannot speak independently of culture and language because it is part of finitude. BT is more immediately inductive with the text than ST since it asks what the text contributes to the corpus and canon. ST focuses on the big picture and thus tends to be one step further removed from the kinds of BT questions an interpreter asks. This is especially so because ST pulls strands together from across the biblical data and seeks to frame things in a fashion that addresses this generation. Precisely because it is addressing this generation, it is shaped in part by the agendas of this generation. ST in Africa may address more exorcism and demonic activity while we may address idolatry and consumerism. ST in the first 5 centuries did not address postmodernism. We address the issues of our generation with the whole of what the bible says first on the Bible’s own terms (BT). The implications of this for the preacher is that we do need to know something of our own setting, our own context.
  4. The best ST is constructive ST. That is, it’s not just a record of past syntheses which is closer to HT, but it’s actually trying to put things together for yourself. It should be in light of HT, but at the end of the day, in the light of exegesis, BT, and HT, you are putting together an ST. Everyone is a systematic theologian, whether they like it or not. We are all systematicians. We may not be good ones. Recognize that ST is an integrative discipline under one mind of God from the whole Bible to apply it to the whole people of God and we are faithful to address our generation. This means we have a mindset in our preaching that thinks beyond the section, paragraph, or chapter we are expounding. This is what enables it to stand behind the best of apologetics (Keller on idolatry, for example).
  5. The best ST forces us to think hierarchically about theology. The Bible doesn’t say all truths are equally important (i.e. 1 Cor 15). Your people learn what you are most passionate about and what is functionally central to your teaching. They don’t learn everything you teach.
  6. ST should be grounded in and integrated with BT.
  7. ST lends itself to worldview formation. There is bitty Christian thinking. Thinking atomistically and not how a cohesive system should structure our values and how we look at the world, art, marriage, culture, how we spend our time and money. It ties together everything shaping how we interact with everything in this world. It’s worldview formation. If we think merely eclectically we will remain immature. It’s a way of thinking systemically about the revelation of God as we interact with the world.

 II. Some practical points for the preacher

  1. Take time to read systematic theology regularly. Set time aside. Read Grudem. Read Horton. Have them in your regular diet of reading.
  2. Recognize that the old principle of appeal to the analogy of faith is essentially a systematic principle, and then cherish it. The reason is that although anything in ST should be challengeable by Scripture, because somebody might have gotten the analogy of faith wrong, yet when you’re talking about massive structures of truth that Christians through the generations have held and you think you can turn it over on one proof text, is not very likely.
  3. Remember to preach the Bible, not ST. Yet, often commit yourself to tying your preaching of the Bible to ST.

About pjtibayan

P. J. loves Jesus Christ and lives to share life and share Jesus together with Bethany Baptist Church of Bellflower primarily to Southeast Los Angeles County. P. J. has been pastoring since 2002 and earned a doctorate in biblical theology from Southern Seminary (D.Min.). He blogs regularly at
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