Biblical theology versus Systematic theology?

Hi all!

Just a quick question: do you have any resources or books to recommend that help understand the issue of the pros and cons of Biblical Theology versus Systematic Theology?

I’ve done a lot of studying core beliefs of Christianity using a Systematic approach, but I think I take more pleasure (my faith is actively fed) when taking the Biblical approach. Curious to explore the benefits of each approach more at a general level.


Hi @alison,

I feel the same way! I took three courses in Systematic Theology during my M.Div. at Gordon-Conwell, and the capstone project was to write my own systematic theology. In humility, I should have copy-pasted a statement of faith from a larger movement of Christians for the final assignment, but I didn’t want to be expelled for plagiarism.

I know that systematic theology has its place, but sometimes these efforts feel like they cut off different emphases of the Scriptures to make everything uniform and neatly aligned.

I know it’s an expensive tome, but the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology is the reference guide I turn to most often.

One resource that stays on my “I need to read this list” is Desmond Alexander’s standalone book, From Eden to New Jersualem. Since I haven’t read it, it’s a weak endorsement from me, but perhaps the reviews from actual readers will tip the scales for you.


So true, Carson! I took a biblical theology class at TIU and absolutely loved it! It made so much sense to me. I am using it to write Bible studies to help guide some of my husband’s Christian Club’s students’ faith and knowledge in weekly Bible studies we do with them (with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course!). They are appreciating the approach and eager for more, and he and his students’ conversations about it during lunch are sparking even some unbelieving students’ interests as they sit in his room and listen in. They’ve asked to join the study whenever they can.

I have yet to take courses in systematic theology and am looking forward to that, too, sometime after I start back up next semester.


Hey @lindsay, that’s so cool! If you still have it, can you share the reading list for the course with us?

And - what were some of the main points that you continue to come back to from the course?


I don’t have the reading list yet, but I did outright purchase some of the books I was reading for some of my courses. I just have to take a look at my Kindle and see if those were ones that I purchased. I’m sure I would have with as much as I loved it. I’ll check when I can, though, and get back.

One of the main points I keep coming back to is approaching Bible as a whole and allowing it to inform our study rather than allowing our doctrine or what we think we already know guide us in that study. So when I start new Bible studies with a new group of students, I always start with a basic but thorough run through of the story from the Bible, beginning to end and explain that everything in the Bible is part of that one connected story–even the discontinuities.

One of the other points I loved that the lecturer brought up was that in scholarship, because the specialties are divided up into Old Testament scholars and New Testament scholars, the Bible has almost ceased to be studied as if it is a whole. He mentioned that the mutual territorialism among those scholars often hinders the scope of the yield biblical study has to offer. Many times when a New Testament scholar tries to connect with something in the Old Testament or explain something in the OT, the OT scholars will remind them that the OT isn’t their field of expertise and vice versa.

Lastly, I absolutely love the idea of theme study. I had to pull out towards the end of the semester, but I had chosen to write my required course paper on the theme of garments. Picking a theme and studying everywhere it appears throughout the entire Bible and connecting the dots to draw conclusions about its significance is incredibly important. Many times, people will simply already have an idea of what they already know about a particular topic or theme rather than actually studying the entirety of its presence in the Bible to guide them to learn more.


Hi @lindsay ,

Great, thanks I look forward to hearing about any book recommendations!

This made me wonder: is there some degree to which we need to first go through Biblical Theology in order to create a Systematic Theology?

This sounds like a lot of fun! And yes, incredibly important to understand any theme in its full context.

@Carson I’m curious - how long did this have to be? Only, when I look at the Systematic Theology on my bookshelf, I think I would end up in cold sweats if I had to write something like that!

Thanks for the two book recommendations. They’re now on my book wish list too!


I just checked: it was eleven pages. But that’s nothing. A PDF of the Cape Town Commitment, one of our community’s statements of faith, runs to 126 pages!


Hi @alison !

One of my seminary classes recently had a gesture lecturer who I believed specialized in Biblical Theology. I am fairly certain he provided a handout with some recommended reading on the topic. So after Thanksgiving week, when I’m back at college, I will see if I can find that reading list to share with you!


Hi @blake , @lindsay
I’ve just returned to this discussion as my thoughts are on this topic at the moment, and I wondered if you have a couple of books you’d highly recommend to get hold of for study? @Carson I’ve put your unread recommendation of Desmond Alexander’s book on my ‘to buy’ list too, so will let you know what I think of it.

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Thanks for following up! I reached out to my professor because I could not find the handout I was thinking of. He recommended the chapter on Biblical Theology by Rosner in Alexander and Rosner’s New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. I’m not sure if I can send that pdf or not. Otherwise, the book itself may be a good resource beyond that chapter as well.

I will know more later on in the semester when I have read more of it, but one of my textbooks for NT theology is Schreiner’s New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ which, from the introduction and appendix at least, appears to be developing a Biblical Theology, rather than a systematic one. The appendix discusses the origins of Biblical theology and so touches on some of the differences between biblical and systematic theology there, but otherwise it is more developing a theology rather than contrasting the two types. That could be one way to go about it though, reading a systematic theology side by side with a biblical theology and see the various benefits through experience.

Hopefully Lindsay has some more resources for you!


Thank you, @blake, those suggestions are helpful. I’ve got the New Dictionary of Bib Theology and have begun digging into DA Carson’s essay there but your other suggestion also sounds good, even if just for the introduction and appendix so will get hold of that.