Duncan on Systemmatics

            Have you ever heard someone put down the study of theology?  Have you ever heard a church member say that they want preaching instead of teaching?  Have you ever heard someone put down doctrine as if doctrine or theology is something for a classroom on a seminary campus and not for the average church member?  Perhaps if you have, the following quotes from Ligon Duncan will encourage you to stick with the study and teaching of doctrine, regardless its general popularity.


From: T4G – J. Ligon Duncan III. Proclaiming a Cross Centered Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2009.


“I want to convince you that everyone is a systematic theologian (whether they admit it or not—especially those who protest most loudly that they don’t believe in systematic theology). The only question is whether we will be biblical in our systematic theology or make it up as we go along” (19)


“The Bible itself, in the Old Testament and the New, makes clear that doctrine is for living. The study of doctrine is not (or at least ought not to be) an arid, speculative, impractical enterprise. Doctrine is for life! If the truth does not mold the way we live and minister, if it does not inform our speech, our relationships, our prayer, our worship, and our ministry, then the truth has gone bad on us—no matter how true the truth is. Biblical truth is meant to be expressed in our experience and practice, if we truly understand and believe it” (20).


“A wise, old, conservative Jewish professor of mine once told us with a twinkle in his eye, ‘A liberal Protestant, a liberal Catholic, and a liberal Jew can agree on almost everything, because they believe almost nothing!’” (24).


“When a congregation member comes up to you and says, ‘Pastor, tell me, what does the Bible say about angels?’ he doesn’t want a storied narrative. He wants a brief, biblical summarization that takes into account the shape of all the teaching of Scripture on that particular topic. That’s what systematic theology does. You do it all the time as a pastor” (34).


He is praying specifically that his disciples would understand that he is leaving them and going to the Father, and that they would be built up in the truth of the Word of the Father that he had been speaking to them, so that his joy would be fulfilled in them. Jesus is saying that truth is for joy. Doctrine is for delight, the Lord Jesus says. If you denigrate doctrine, you denigrate what Jesus says is necessary for joy. You are a killjoy if you are against doctrine, because the Lord Jesus says truth is for joy” (39).


We need to meet this postmodern uncertainty, this postmodern aversion to truth and doctrine, by celebrating truth and doctrine and by unashamedly asserting and declaring theology. I want to urge that your preaching, which ought to be expositional, ought also to be robustly theological. We need to be joyfully and emphatically doctrinal and theological in our ministry. I don’t mean that we ought to bring the vocabulary of the seminary into our pulpits (that’s not what we need to do); but I do mean that we need to bring the substance of the Bible’s theology into our preaching and bring our people into contact with it. We need to see the value of truth, doctrine, and theology, and we need to out-live and out-rejoice and out-die the critics of theology and doctrine” (44).


“Have you ever thought that refutation of false doctrine encourages the brethren? Well, that’s what Luke says. It strikes me as I think of it that the most enduring and edifying legacy of the early post-apostolic church is found in their polemics. When they were arguing against false teaching, they almost always got it right. When they were not, they were theologically hit-or-miss” 948).


‘You did not choose me, but I chose you’ (John 15:16), Jesus says in the upper room. He is going to die in a matter of hours for the sins of the world, and he is teaching them about election. Why was it so important for Jesus to teach his disciples about election here, that he had chosen them rather than them choosing him? It was important because, as Matthew tells us, they were all going to abandon him that night (Matt. 26:31). Not just Judas, but all of them. If they were going to have one shred of assurance left, it would not be based on the fact that they had chosen him or followed him or remained faithful to him, because everything about their actions that night and the next day would scream into their hearts and consciences that they had no part of him. That is why they had to hear the Master say, ‘Friend, I knew everything in you, I knew all you’d ever done and all you’d ever do, and I chose you anyway. I chose you and nothing can take you away from me.’ The doctrine of election is for assurance. Doctrine is for assurance” (54-55).