The following is the central section of an assignment in my ST106 class, the prompt for which was: “This second section, drawing from the ‘Detailed Exposition’ sections in previous ST101–105 doctrinal synthesis papers, will provide a comprehensive account of the student’s theological system covering all areas of systematic theology. This exposition should read like a paper one would submit as part of an ordination or interviewing process for a ministry position.” Basically, it’s an extended summary of my personal theology, but which does not include the biblical citation I would normally want to include.
There are four foundational philosophical truths, they may be treated as acknowledged presuppositions, or more accurately, conclusions reached prior to the synthesis of doctrine that is systematic Theology. They are: (1) God exists. (2) He is knowable, to some degree. (3) He has revealed Himself most clearly in the text of scripture. (4) That scripture takes the primary form of a story with a two-pronged purpose: (i) To detail the history of the creation, fall, and redemption of humanity; (ii) To give information about the God who is responsible for it all.
Given these realities, a proper systematic theology must begin by establishing the major plot-points in the story of biblical history, and build itself primarily off of the information revealed in the text of scripture. Such is the undertaking of this work.
In the beginning the true triune God created everything that exists, and he did it in six literal days. He made man and woman in his own image and likeness on the sixth day. First, he created man, placed him in the garden of Eden, and gave him an instruction not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He then created woman from the man’s side and officiated the first wedding, establishing the man, Adam, as the head of the woman, Eve, and man and woman as the stewards of his creation.
These first two humans were blameless, sinless, possessed free-will, naked, and lived in the garden, paradise. The serpent, being more crafty than any other beast of the field and empowered by the angel we now call Satan, came to the woman and questioned her on the instructions which God gave. The woman then questioning God’s role as creator, and taking it upon herself to “see what is good,” in essence wanting to be like God, wise, knowing and deciding good and evil, took the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and ate it, and her husband followed her. This was the fall. The man became sinful, corrupted. His image no longer reflected God’s perfectly.
The two had their eyes opened to determine for themselves good and evil, realized their nakedness, hid and tried to cover themselves. God then finding them cursed the serpent and the land as a result of the fall. To the woman he made a promise of a coming seed who would crush the head of the serpent, and who would rule over her, thus righting this wrong and fixing the fall. Though, she would have sorrow in her own conception of children. To the man he swore hardship in labor, sweat as he served the ground outside the garden, the ground from which he was taken, and that he would now experience death, thus returning to the dust from which he was made. This event is called the fall.
To keep them from eating of the fruit of the tree of life and thus live forever in a sinful state, God expelled them from the garden.
The promise of a seed who would set right the fall, fix the problem of death, then becomes the thrust of the story. The bible follows the lineage of the woman in search of this one man who will reverse the effects of the fall and bring back eternal life in paradise, one who would bear God’s image again. The way that all humans after this point might be spared the punishment due them from the fall is by believing in this one promise; by having faith that this “seed” will fix the fall and beat death. Through the course of telling this story in history the plan of bringing about this man on earth is revealed, as is information about this God who planned it.
The promise of a seed is traced through Seth (the woman’s son), and Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The promise becomes more detailed as well. To Abraham it is made clear that this seed will be a ruler over a specific nation in a specific land, stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates, that he will be a blessing to all the nations of the world. This promise is passed on to Isaac and to Jacob, and it is made clear that those who bless these men and the promise they carry will receive blessing as well. Jacob’s sons become the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel, and the promise given to him is divided between two of his sons: Judah and Ephraim. To Judah the promise of the seed who will rule, and to Ephraim the promise of many nations to be blessed by the seed.
The twelve tribes go into Egypt and come out of it following Moses, who delivers the law to them, which brings testimony to the nation to remind them of their sinful nature inherited from their father Adam, and to show them the selfishness of their own hearts, generation after generation. The nation tries to establish itself according to its own means instead of Gods. It splits into Ephraim (Israel) in the north, and Judah in the south, and eventually these nations are either scattered or go into exile in Babylon. Through this time of self-rule, prophets of God have been reminding the nation(s) of the promise of a seed made to Eve, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and anxiously awaiting his arrival, demonstrating their faith through the law given to Moses. The nation is re-gathered in the land under the leadership of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, and the old covenant, the first testament of God’s work on earth, closes still in search of the seed of the woman.
The new testament opens with the revelation of this promised seed. When he, the messiah, does arrive, he offers the nation all that was promised to them, but they reject his offer, which moves the story into the current era. In their rejection of this promised seed, whose name is Jesus of Nazareth, they crucified and buried him. Three days later he rose from the grave, demonstrating his power to beat death, as was promised to Eve in the beginning. He told his faithful few, those who believed the promise and recognized him, that he would return and judge the living and the dead. It is the job of his followers now to proclaim this message that the seed promised to Eve has come and will return, and to believe that he will finish the job of fixing the fall, and give, to all who will believe in him, eternal, resurrected life, and complete the curse. The curse on the serpent will be completed by throwing him and all who follow him into the lake of fire. The curse on the earth will be completed by making a new earth in which the tree of life will once again give eternal life to all who believe in the promise.
Details and Systematic Theology Gleaned from the Story
The bible is God’s holy word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, written by men, inerrant in its original manuscripts, infallible in all it teaches and states. It is inspired in a verbal plenary sense. Its canon are those books which are inspired by God in the way described by Peter, and these books are recognized by their consistency with carrying on the main point of the story scripture sets out to tell in the Pentateuch. The correct canon is that decided and ratified at the two councils of Carthage, and later solidified during the protestant reformation. As stated above, it takes the form of a story whose goal is to explain about God and his plan to glorify himself through the creation and redemption of humanity, and thus should be read with a literal grammatical historical hermeneutic, always seeking the authorial intent in the text. It is the only physical record of the various types of special revelation God has given throughout history, and therefore is the only shared basis, common to all humans, on which to build a worldview. It is sufficient to instruct the man in every good work and make him wise unto salvation and it bears the authority of God in its instruction.
God exists. He exists in Trinity, and that Trinity in Unity, three persons, one essence. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are co-equal and distinct in deity, almightiness, incomprehensibleness, and uncreatedness. God, YHWH, his covenant name revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai, is. He is personal and has revealed himself, in a limited fashion, to humanity. “His invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made,” so all men are without excuse as to the knowledge of his existence and submission to him. He causes all things to occur, either directly or indirectly, and is ultimately responsible for all. He is the only truly autonomous being in existence; he can do whatever he so wills, and whatever occurs on earth is so in accordance with his will.
Jesus of Nazareth, the son, was begotten, not made, from the Father in eternity past. In the incarnation, he took on flesh, became a man in every way excepting sin, was crucified, died, and buried. He was resurrected after his death and ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will return and judge the living and the dead. Through him all things were made, and in Him exist two complete yet distinct natures, both God and Man, without confusion, change, division, or separation, both being perfectly represented in one person: the God-Man. It is by his work humans are saved from the penalty of death.
The Holy Spirit, proceeds from the father and the son and has spoken through the prophets. He is a personal being, not an impersonal one. He indwells, seals, gifts, and baptizes those who have faith in Christ to save them from the penalty of their sins. It is through him that the church has access to God, and by his existence in individual men that they are regenerated and given a new spirit. The primary means by which men have access to the triune God through the Spirit’s indwelling is in the gathering of the church, the body of the son, for the worship of the Father. The sign gifts of the Spirit have temporarily ceased and will re-emerge in the end when the beast is revealed.
Angelology, Anthropology and Hamartiology
Humans were created in the image of God, sinless, and with a free will. By the abuse of that free will, the first two literal humans, Adam and Eve, sinned and corrupted the image of God in which they were made. They thus incurred the penalty of death, separation from the tree of life, as their natures became corrupted and sinful. They passed on that sinful nature to all of humanity. All humans since, have a nature enslaved to sin, i.e. bent toward the self and not toward God; desiring to create and rule over reality in God’s place, instead of live in the reality God created and steward it as they were designed to. Humans possess many facets, including a body, soul, mind, and will, all of which must be reformed renewed and remade by the divine work and will of God.
The first man was not an embodied soul, but an em-souled body. God formed him from the dust and breathed into him, the breath of life. It is this indissoluble union of body and soul that makes the material bodily resurrection of utmost importance. Humans possess a conscience: the moral law of God, which all know but adulterate by the assertion of their own will. This is not the Holy Spirit’s divine self-revelation, but an innate part of humanity and morality.
Human depravity is total, not in the sense that a natural man cannot do a single good thing, but that no facet of man is untouched by the sinful desire of self, and so he cannot be good, righteous, perfect, before God. It was in a seminal fashion that all humans sinned, and so all are guilty from conception via semen, excepting the one man who was not conceived by the seed of man, but the seed of the woman.
Humans, are meant to be united, one man to one woman, in a sexual relationship called “marriage.” This relationship knits together two souls teaching the partners about Christ’s relationship to the church, and God’s relationship as triune. This relationship should, unless prevented by the providence of God, produce children, who are to be raised in the fear and instruction of the Lord. Wives are to submit to husbands as unto Christ, and husbands are to love wives as Christ loved the church. Any humans who do not unite in marriage are to remain sexually chaste, and while so doing, be more fully devoted to serving the body of Christ.
Angels are beings created by Christ, and are not made in God’s image. Their primary functions are to worship, serve, and carry messages for God. Some number of angels, likely one third, called demons, rebelled, following their leader, Satan. This fall occurred on day eight of creation, and is recorded in Genesis 3. These angels currently rule the earth, and tempt and lead astray its inhabitants, with the ability to possess those who have not the Holy Spirit, but their end will be the lake of fire. Those angels which are unfallen are bound in will toward God. Angels have the ability to take on a human appearance, but not a human nature. They do not marry, and have no grace extended to them by God. All angels, including Satan, are subject to the total sovereignty of God, who allows their rule on this earth to continue because of his long-suffering desire for all the elect to come to repentance. A constant angelic war takes place behind the reality we see, about which we may never be made fully aware.
God, in his love, elected to save some of humanity, though they did not deserve it. He did so by sending the son to beat death by dying on the cross and resurrecting three days later. In order to be resurrected after death, saved, one must trust in the completed work of Christ. In his actions, Christ provided for man the necessary substitute and thus atoned for the sin of the elect. Nothing more is necessary. Christ’s resurrection is the first fruits of our own resurrection, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the seal and down-payment, the foreshadowing, of that coming resurrection. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone is the means by which all men have always been saved throughout history. The purpose of the Mosaic Law in salvation has always been to testify of human sinfulness to sinful humans. It is God’s perfect standard, foreshadowing the story of his son’s coming, and testifying to man his incapacity to truly “be like God.” It is through the history of Israel, a history of failure after failure to maintain perfection, that humans can see the unwavering promise of God to save those whom he wills, and his will causes those whom he wills to believe. The result of salvation, in biblical terms, is life. To have life, and have it for eternity, after the resurrection from the dead, is what our faith produces. Life is not merely the biological process of a beating heart and inflating lungs, but the joy of that biological process taking place “with” God once more, no longer separated by the curse. The Christian can be assured of his own salvation and future resurrection to life if he believes that Jesus is the Christ, and does not think he can do anything to save himself, but that it must be entirely the work of God in his good pleasure, to have mercy on whom he wills.
Sanctification and Ecclesiology
The inescapable result of beginning faith is to continue life in faith, by the Spirit but with a new nature/heart. A Christian’s sinful flesh still tempts toward sin, but the Christian is no longer enslaved to it, and awaits Christ’s return for the redemption an renewal of his flesh which mirrors the redemption and renewal already performed in his spirit. It is the work of the spirit, and not the man, which accomplishes the Christian faith in going about “life.” The effect of faith is good works as unto Christ which act as a testimony to the believer himself, and him alone, of his coming resurrection.
Among the first actions of an active faith should be baptism upon a profession of that faith. It is by the sign of baptism that a believer physically identifies himself with the death and resurrection of Christ, and so acts out his faith in that future reality, awaiting his actual physical resurrection.
Among the continuing actions of an active faith should be the regular partaking of communion, to be done so soberly and only with other professing believers preferably within the weekly gathering of the church.
The church exists in two forms: universal and local. The universal church membership is all people, throughout history who have believed in the messiah for salvation, and its head is Christ. Another name for this group is “God’s elect.” It stands on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Moses being the first. The local church is a geographical gathering and submission to local elders. It’s gathering consists of both believers and unbelievers, but those unbelievers are not rightly called “members” of the local church. These different groups within the local church will be sorted out at the return of Christ. The main metaphor used in the story for this entity in both it’s universal and local expressions, is a “body” made up of “members.” Each individual believer is a member, or part, of a “body” and the “body” is Christ’s.
It is through the gathering of the local church that (1) the Spirit of Christ reigns in the life of the believer; (2) the building up of body of Christ occurs; (3) the ordinance of communion is practiced; (4) the teaching and training of saints in the scriptures, and reminding saints of the gospel happens; (5) the confession of sins one to another takes place; (6) the unified singing of praises to the triune God occurs. It is in the scattering of the local church that: (1) the gospel is preached to all who do not believe; (2) the physical, financial, and emotional needs among the body and those outside it are met; (3) The ordinance of baptism is practiced; (4) the living out of “life” occurs for the believer.
There are two offices in the local church with two distinct functions. The highest authority in the local church is local elders. This office is open only to men who have a proven character as outlined by Paul in 1 Timothy and Titus. A local church body is to submit to a plurality of elders in their leadership and teaching, at least three, and the elders in each local body are to submit to one another and to Christ’s Spirit. Deacons are to do the acts of service of the local body, meeting the physical needs of its members, and paying particular attention to the needs of the orphan and widow.
The mission of the local church is to preach the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to every nation and tribe on earth. The vision, picture of success, of the local church is fully detailed in Revelation 21&22.
The final destination of all people is one of two places: (1) the lake of fire or (2) the new earth. Those elect of God who had faith in the messiah, the seed, will be resurrected on a literal physical earth for eternity. Those who did not will be cast into the lake of fire.
The time of the return of Christ is unknown by all on earth. It will happen when people are making merry and saying “Peace and safety.” Then those who are alive will be raptured, caught up in the clouds with those who have fallen asleep in Christ, and go to be present with Christ in bodily form in heaven. Coinciding with that time, a seven-year tribulation meant primarily for the judgment and testing of Israel to produce in them repentance for their unbelief and idolatry throughout history, will occur. The events of these seven years are detailed in Revelation 4-19. At the end of these seven years, Christ will return to the earth with his raptured church, and inaugurate his kingdom. He will reign over the survivors of the tribulation for 1,000 years, sitting on David’s throne, as promised through the prophets, during which time Satan will be bound and unable to tempt the nations. At the end of this 1,000 years there will be a rebellion and march, led by Satan, against Jerusalem, but God will consume the armies with fire and then begin his Great White Throne Judgment, in which all humans who have ever lived, not yet resurrected, will be so, and then sent either to the lake of fire or the new earth.
On the new earth, there will be nations and the city of Jerusalem. God himself will light the city, and there will be no night, sun, or moon. There will be no temple, sea, death, pain, or mourning, and there will be no sin. Humans will eat and drink food, and specifically, will eat the fruit from the tree of life. It will be a physical, bodily resurrection to eternal life, on this earth, after it has been made new from the curse set on it in Genesis 3.
This, while not exhaustive, accurately summarizes my Christian faith as well as I have yet understood and verbalized it, on October 13, 2021.