Dogmatic theology is the study of the doctrines and dogmas of the Christian faith as revealed in the Bible. It seeks to systematize the teachings of Scripture into an ordered set of doctrines that can be affirmed and defended. At its core, dogmatic theology is concerned with articulating what the Bible teaches and why it matters.
Some key aspects of dogmatic theology include:
Biblical Basis – Dogmatic theology is grounded entirely in the Bible. All doctrines must have clear biblical support. There is no place for human speculation or extra-biblical sources. Scripture alone is the basis for doctrine.
Systematization – Dogmatic theology seeks to organize biblical teachings into coherent systems of thought. This involves categorizing doctrines, defining terms, and articulating the relationship between doctrines. The goal is a systematic theology that is faithful to Scripture.
Defense of Orthodoxy – A major function of dogmatic theology is to define and defend orthodox beliefs against heresy. Key doctrines like the Trinity and the two natures of Christ were established through dogmatic theology in the early church.
Church Tradition – While Scripture is the supreme authority, dogmatic theology also considers how doctrines have been understood over the history of the church. It builds on the wisdom and insights of earlier theologians.
Prescriptive – The doctrines derived from dogmatic theology are meant to prescribe what Christians are to believe and how they are to live. Dogma guides and directs Christian belief and practice.
Some major topics addressed in dogmatic theology include:
– The doctrine of God – His character, attributes, triune nature, etc.
– The doctrine of Scripture – Its inspiration, inerrancy, authority, etc.
– The doctrine of humanity – Creation, fall, sin, anthropology
– The doctrine of Christ – His incarnation, natures, atonement, resurrection
– The doctrine of salvation – Justification, sanctification, glorification
– The doctrine of the church – Its mission, offices, sacraments
– The doctrine of last things – Death, resurrection, final judgment
Dogmatic theology aims to take the varied teachings of the Bible and construct an orderly and consistent system of thought. There is some diversity among dogmatic theologians in terms of philosophical approach and specific doctrines. But in general, dogmatic theology seeks to summarize and systematize biblical truth, defend orthodoxy against heresy, and apply doctrine to Christian life and practice.
The Bible itself contains examples of early dogmatic theology. The New Testament writers often do more than just record historical events – they interpret and apply doctrine. For example:
– Paul gives structured treatments of doctrines like justification and resurrection (Romans, 1 Corinthians 15).
– The writer of Hebrews systematically explains Christ’s high priestly ministry.
– John articulates the incarnation and trinity (John 1, 1 John).
– Peter addresses themes like suffering, holiness, and future hope (1 Peter).
Dogmatic theology continued to develop in the life of the church:
– Early church fathers like Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Athanasius defended doctrines against heresy.
– Augustine articulated doctrines of sin, grace, and predestination.
– The ecumenical councils formulated doctrines like the Trinity and Christology.
– The Protestant reformers re-examined doctrines through renewed study of Scripture.
– John Calvin’s Institutes was a major work of Reformation dogmatic theology.
– Confessions like the Heidelberg Catechism and Westminster Confession further defined Protestant theology.
– More recent dogmatic theologians include Charles Hodge, Louis Berkhof, Millard Erickson and Wayne Grudem.
Dogmatic theology is an ongoing task as the church continues to interpret Scripture, define doctrine, and apply theology to new cultural contexts. But the core commitment remains the same – to understand and articulate what the Bible teaches in an organized, systematic, and practical way. While allowing for diversity in secondary matters, dogmatic theology aims to ground the church in the unified doctrines revealed in Scripture.
Some key biblical passages on the importance of sound doctrine include:
– “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
– “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:13)
– “[Speak] the things which are proper for sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1)
– “In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned.” (Titus 2:7-8)
– “The Lord gave some to be teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
– “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1)
– “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
– “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Dogmatic theology aims to fulfill this biblical mandate – to correctly handle and articulate God’s word of truth, guard against doctrinal drift, prepare teachers, build up Christians, and equip them for service. Sound doctrine leads to godly living, church unity, and effective ministry. Dogmatic theology serves a vital role in the life and health of the church.
In summary, dogmatic theology is the disciplined study, systematization, defense, and application of the doctrines revealed in Scripture. It summarizes what the whole Bible teaches about any given topic. Done well, it results in doctrinal clarity, unity, precision, and ultimately, deeper knowledge of and obedience to God. The doctrines derived from dogmatic theology are foundational to Christian belief and practice.