Cornelius van Til (1895–1987) on the importance of Systematic Theology

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Cornelius van Til (1895–1987) reminds us that the discipline of systematic theology is important in (at least) four respects:

1. For personal spiritual balance:

“The unity and organic character of our personality demands that we have unified knowledge as the basis of our action. If we do not pay attention to the whole of biblical truth as a system, we become doctrinally one-sided, and doctrinal one-sidedness is bound to issue in spiritual one-sidedness. As human beings we are naturally inclined to be one-sided. One tends to be intellectualistic, another tends to be emotional, and still another tends to be activistic. One tends to be only prophetic, another only priest, and a third only king. We should be all these at once and in harmony. A study of systematic theology will help us to keep and develop our spiritual balance. It enables us to avoid paying attention only to that which, by virtue of our temperament, appeals to us.”

2. For discernment:

“Moreover, what is beneficial for the individual believer is also beneficial for the minister and in consequence for the church as a whole. It is sometimes contended that ministers need not be trained in systematic theology if only they know their Bibles. But ‘Bible-trained’ instead of systematically trained preachers frequently preach error. They may mean ever so well and be ever so true to the gospel on certain points; nevertheless, they often preach error. There are many ‘orthodox’ preachers today whose study of Scripture has been so limited to what it says about soteriology that they could not protect the fold of God against heresies on the person of Christ. Oft-times they themselves even entertain definitely heretical notions on the person of Christ, though perfectly unaware of the fact.”

3. For faithful preaching:

“If we carry this idea one step further, we note that a study of systematic theology will help men to preach theologically. It will help to make men proclaim the whole counsel of God. Many ministers never touch the greater part of the wealth of the revelation of God to man contained in Scripture. But systematics helps ministers to preach the whole counsel of God, and thus to make God central in their work.

The history of the church bears out the claim that God-centered preaching is most valuable to the church of Christ. When the ministry has most truly proclaimed the whole counsel of God, the church has flourished spiritually. Then, too, it is well-rounded preaching of this sort that has kept the church from worldliness. On the other hand, it has kept the church from an unhealthy otherworldliness. Well-rounded preaching teaches us to use the things of this world because they are the gifts of God, and it teaches us to possess them as not possessing them, inasmuch as they must be used in subordination to the one supreme purpose of man’s existence, namely the glory of God.”

4. For preparation to engage in a war of worldviews:

“We have already indicated that the best apologetic defense will invariably be made by him who knows the system of truth of Scripture best. The fight between Christianity and non-Christianity is, in modern times, no piece-meal affair. It is the life-and-death struggle between two mutually opposed life-and-world views.”

– Cornelius van Til (1895–1987), An Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 22-23

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Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) on the importance of distinguishing Christian theism from other forms of theism

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“It is not a sufficient description of Christian theism when we say that as Christians we believe in both the transcendence and the immanence of God while pantheistic systems believe only in the immanence of God and deistic systems believe only in the transcendence of God. The transcendence we believe in is not the transcendence of deism, and the immanence we believe in is not the immanence of pantheism. In the case of deism transcendence virtually means separation, while in the case of pantheism immanence virtually means identification. And if we add separation to identification, we do not have theism as a result. As we mean a certain kind of God when as theists we speak of God, so also we mean a certain kind of transcendence and a certain kind of immanence when we use these terms. The Christian doctrine of God implies a definite conception of the relation of God to the created universe. So also the Christian doctrine of God implies a definite conception of everything in the created universe.”

– Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987), The Defense of the Faith, p. 32