Biblical Perspectives Magazine, Volume 24, Number 51, December 11 to December 17, 2022

Systematic Theology:
A Synopsis of JP Boyce's Systematic Theology

By Billy C. Sichone

Central Africa Baptist University


Systematic Theology has been said to be 'the core and queen' of the theological sciences by authentic theological thought leaders (Berkhof 1979). This is for a good cause and reason because in it, one expresses what they think the Bible teaches about different truths scattered across the wide campus of scripture.

This science ties all the theological aspects related to the Bible in one campus, though the volume and size of it may differ from theologian to theologian.

Systematic Theology: Types, Sources and Description

It is fitting to state from the outset that all Systematic Theologies worth their salt, are derived from the Holy Scriptures as encapsulated in the 66 volume Biblia. Though not inspired nor Inerrant, a given systematic theology is an organized logical attempt to present or highlight what the author perceives the Bible to teach over given matters (Frame 2013; Grudem 1994; Berkhof 1979). Thus, the work is not all comprehensive nor does it touch on every conceivable issue or area of interest, hence the need for periodic review or editions as years run along. What may be at issue today may not necessarily be an issue tomorrow. Strictly speaking, each systematic theology differs one from the other in form and expression though, if the writers are from the same school and persuasion, their principle ideas and conclusions may be essentially the same, albeit similar truth expressed in different ways. Additionally, despite agreeing in the major truths and tenets of the faith, systematicians may differ on some salient points, usually in matters indifferent such as whether there will be mosquitoes in Heaven or how many Angels fill a given volume of space. Thus, we may have different Systematic Theologies by different authors with different flavours. An example is Charles Hodge's monumental three volume Systematic Theology, Louis Bekhorf's Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, Bavinck, Vos, Frame or even Robert Dabney's Systematic Theology among others. The names thus tied to these different systematic theologies denote the primary author, compiler and arranger of the said volume(s). More often than not, the said Systematic Theologies emanate from many years of lecturing, research and/or writing in a given setting such as a Seminary. That explains, in part, why many of them are very voluminous and detailed. For instance, Dabney's systematic theology results from such an approach. Others set out to write from scratch expressing their theological views in a systematic manner. Calvin's Institutes of Christian Religion or probably Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica is such an example.

Nature and Importance of Systematic Theology

But what is Systematic Theology itself in its essential nature? Briefly stated, it is primarily focused on God attempting to knot together different strands of truth scattered right across the word of God written with relevant scriptural proof texts (Berkhof 1979). Often, the writers commence with relevant presuppositions, stating who God is and His nature. The next is creation, the fall, redemption all the way to the close of history. Relevant theological terms are used to express these truths such as Anthropology, Soteriology and Eschatology. But there are other aspects related to the Bible such as Pateriology, Pneumatology, Ecclesiology, Hermeneutics, Angelology, Demonology, Homiletics (some exclude this one) and Christology among other key areas of study (Yerby 1976; Shelton nd; Dickason 1975; Owen 2017; Ferguson 1996; Warfield 1997).

Why is Systematic Theology critically important? One major reason, as earlier intimated, is that it operates and functions as the central core holding everything we believe and treasure about God, nature or creation in one cohesive whole. It is like the centre pivot upon which everything runs. If you wish to get a summary of what a particular school of thought holds, peruse through their Systematic Theology and make your conclusion. In short, along with other authorities, we may say that it is the 'back bone' or 'marrow' of any school of thought.

Exploring a sample Systematic Theology

Although we are at liberty to explore a good collection of Systematic Theologies on the market, so as to get a panoramic view, it is advisable to limit ourselves to a few popular or representative ones. This affords focus. However, for our purposes in this paper, we intentionally pick up only one; JP Boyce' Abstract of Systematic Theology that forms the substance of a school of thought (in this case, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). Boyce was a Reformed theologian who lived many years ago whose systematic theology is one of the finest pieces we have now. His approach to Systematic Theology and conclusions are as Biblical as anyone can definitely get. Although not everyone can agree with all his conclusions, the volume is a well worth read and one comes away having been richly edified, encouraged, warmed and exhilarated because the author demonstrates depth of insight, research and reasoning even tackling some of the contemporary issues confronting his day.

Writing from clearly a Calvinistic Reformed theological position, Boyce deals with critical areas at times delving into areas where some other theologians have avoided. His Systematic Theology is thus divided into 42 (XLII) chapters across 397 pages commencing with Dogmatics (i.e. The Science of Theology) and closing off with Eschatology (i.e. The final states of the wicked and the righteous). We adapt his framework in our enquiry. The following are the chapters he has dealt with (our) some brief notes to explain each chapter:


This chapter commences by defining Theology and what constitutes it. Basically, Boyce contends or assumes that Theology is a "Science" as in "knowledge". It is the knowledge of God as revealed in the scriptures.


This chapter investigates and attempts to explain the essential nature of God, who He is and His properties. It demonstrates that God is a personal being that has always existed from Everlasting. It also shows that the God of Israel is the Ancient of Days who has life in Himself, not comparable to any other being.


Here the writer deals with the nature of the Bible, its origin and how the canon of scripture was compiled. He states that the scriptures are inspired by God and thus entirely trust worthy and free from error. Despite having been written using human instrumentality, the actual author and inspirer is God giving them their authoritative status and veracity. The writer also mentions that there are other books outside the canon of scripture which were not accepted as scripture but are useful for general reading and gaining insights into the historical context then. He clearly explains the criteria used to arrive at the Canon as we have it today and why it is binding. This is extremely helpful because today, many people tend to question or criticize the Bible for merely humanistic reasons. Boyce does well to silence the critics if they will care to read and approach the word of God with the presuppositional mindset.


This chapter proves from the Scriptures that God is one. He is the only true God and as such the only one to be worshipped. Though other 'gods' so called exist, the God of Israel is the only true God, triune in nature demanding our praise. He never contradicts His nature or attributes because He is eternally consistent with Himself.


Boyce proceeds to delve deeper into the being of God by asserting that God is Spirit (John 4:24) and must be worshipped as such. Unlike the idols of men that are figments of imagination or indeed curved idols, this God has no human body parts and does not dwell in Temples made by men. Although the scriptures use anthropomorphic language to describe Him, God remains distinct from creation.


God has perfections or characteristics. Having investigated the nature of the God of Israel, the Systematic Theologian then turns to treat the traits that define God. He breaks this into communicable and incommunicable attributes, with communicable being those attributes that are of God but partly found in made, though in an imperfect sense. An example of this is Love. The Incommunicable attributes relate to those perfections found in God alone, and in a perfect sense. They cannot be found in man. An example of this is immortality.


This is another Character trait of God, how that He does not change, no matter what. He remains constant and knows all things. Nothing ever catches Him by surprise and as such, His nature does not change. What changes are humans and not God. Our perceived change of God is what our finite eye of understanding can perceive. As such, when some passages in the scripture suggest that God "regrets" or "repents" or any other seemingly contradictory suggestion, the Bible is employing anthropomorphic language to communicate God's eternal reaction, consistent with His nature to something. For instance, God is eternally opposed to sin, in whatever form or nature. When one sins, definitely, they get exposed to His holiness which repels sin or wickedness in wrath.


The power of God has to do with His potency and ability to do what He pleases. His power is demonstrated in creation and redemption. When He decrees or speaks, things happen according to His divine energy, by His almighty right hand.


The knowledge of God has to do with what is known as His "omniscience". God is said to know ALL things from the minutest to the greatest. Every and any detail that ever comes to pass does not pass God's prior knowledge. This has implications. It means God knows the past, present and future as perfectly as when it is occurring or has just occurred. This also means that God's knowledge does not grow, improve or diminish with time and years as is the case with man.


God is good all the times. This is because in His essential nature, He is a good and gracious God, unlike other so-called deities. He is eternally separate from sin and thus Holy, dwelling in unapproachable light. He also is a righteous, truthful God. These attributes further define who God is.


God is Just and will never over look sin. His nature demands that He remains just as one that eternally opposes sin by punishing it with His eternal wrath. Many try to rationalise that God is too good to punish anyone in Hell eternally. They conveniently forget that God is also a God of Justice, not letting sin go unpunished.


God has a will and this will definitely come to pass, come what may. What he purposes will stand and will be executed exactly as he has purposed. God also has a will for His creation. For instance, it is God's will that the saints should be sanctified and thus holy.


The "Decree" or "Decrees" of God have to do with those plans and purposes that God has set out for the world from eternity past, long before even creation came to be. His decrees can be viewed in classified in different categories but all pointing to God as the ultimate author of them, though He can never be the author of sin. This is a very difficult topic to grasp or handle but if one rests on the everlasting word of God, the precepts, laws and plans of God become a delight rather than a threat.


This talks about the nature and "composition" of God almighty. The doctrine of the Trinity, hammered out over many centuries is certainly a Biblical doctrine though refined over time. Boyce explores this doctrine through its historical development and its basis. This doctrine basically states that God is triune in nature, namely Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is a great mystery but true.


The Trinity is indeed a high doctrine. It has generated a lot of controversy over the years but a right understanding of it from the Biblical perspective should sort out matters. The God head is composed of three distinct persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are all co-equal, co-eternal of the same substance and essence. The Father has always been the Father to the Son. The Son eternal generates from the Father while the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. Ontologically, the persons are not three eternals or separate beings but one eternal. Economically, the Father sends the Son to redeem man while the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son as He applies the work of redemption procured by the Son.


This aspect deals with the economic Trinity where The Father is said to plan redemption, the Son actually saves and the Spirit applies the work of Redemption. In this view, the Father sends the Son while the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Son and the Father. That explains why the Son can claim not to know the hour or the end of the world for instance, while the Spirit cannot come into the world unless and until the Son departs (thus sending the Spirit into the world), having secured eternal salvation for His people.


God spoke and everything came into being. By the word of His power, the triune God created the universe. To 'create' is to bring into existence without using any pre-existing material or substance. God merely speaks a word over a six-day period and rests on the seventh day, thus blessing that day. Man is a special creation because God uses dust to create and breathes the breath of life into his nostrils, thus becoming a living soul, unlike other animals of instinct.


God at some point creates Angels, most likely before the fall occurs on the earth. Angels are Ministering Spirits sent by God to do His bidding.


Boyce deals with this important topic, which few deal in detail over. He defines who Angels are, their function, scriptural proofs, purpose and origins. The writer makes interesting conclusions and applications.


God created the world by the power of His word, ex nihilo. He did not use or require any pre-existing material to do this. Nor did He create out of a felt need to compensate a deficiency. Rather, it pleased Him to create out of His free will and good pleasure. Genesis gives the chronological order in which this took place. Though different views are held about creation and its mode, the Bible does not set out to prove/disprove any scientific theory such as evolution. Boyce does a great work on this subject, especially so that the theory of Evolution was making its rounds in those early days, especially in England and on the European continent.


This is the work of God Whereby He sustains and works all things (including creation) to their appointed end, from the minutest to the greatest. This chapter basically states that God is active in His created world and intimately involved in the affairs of the world all leading to the accomplishment of His goals or ends. This implies that God is deistic (according to Boyce!) in nature but both immanent and transcendent at the same time. The former part of the immediate past sentence is troubling while the latter reads well.


Adam was placed in the Garden to work and manage it. Both Eve and him were given the task to conjointly manage the earth although leadership was retained by Adam. Despite being created originally righteous and positively Holy, Adam through Eve disobeys God's command and thus falls into sin. The subtle serpent leads them into this transgression bringing about spiritual and physical death. Man is also expelled from paradise lest He eats from the tree of life and lives forever in that sinful state.


When Adam fell, we all fell in him and thus all became sinners, taking on ourselves the sinful nature and its ramifications, one of them being spiritual death.


Adam was the federal head of all Humanity and thus represented ALL his posterity in whatever actions he did. Being federal head, he transacted on behalf of the entire human race and thus all became sinners. Some however reject this view of Adam's sin having imputed to his posterity.


Christ is traced through the Old Testament through what is know as "Theophanies". This proves that Christ was both foretold about as well as appeared in many instances. He is the long expected saviour, messiah and Christ.


This is what is known as "Christology" and seeks to explain or define who Jesus is exactly, his duo nature and mission in the world. Not only is he the 'son of man' but he is the son of God, whose sonship is from eternity. The apostles Paul and John extensively handle this aspect of Jesus' person and work.


Christ enters three offices in order to be a faithful and merciful High priest. He is firstly a prophet who brings God's word to His people. Christ is the Priest who offers an eternal sacrifice, in this case of Himself and finally, He is the King and Judge of all the earth. All these three offices are necessary for redemption to be accomplished.


Christ paid the price on the Cross. When He came from Heaven, He fulfilled the law and pacified the Just demands of God (i.e. The passive and active obedience of Christ). Thus when he comes to die, He does as a substitute by paying a ransom to redeem God's elect. Christ enters three offices in order to accomplish this atonement that reconciles man to God (Propitiation and expiation). He is Prophet, Priest and King. When Jesus cries "It is finished" on the cross, it has reference to the finished work of the atonement rather than of despair. This has secured everlasting peace between God and His elect.


This has to do with God's unconditional love towards objects of mercy from eternity past. God has pleased to save some to everlasting salvation by choosing them from a whole mass of humanity. In time, they are (internally) called, regenerated, justified and eventually glorified.


This is a very controversial doctrine and is classified under "double Predestination" The doctrine of reprobation basically answers the question relating to those that are not elected in Christ for salvation. These are termed "reprobates" as opposed to the "elect" chosen in Christ before the foundations of the world. Boyce maturely handles this doctrine which even divides Calvinists into Supra or Infralapsarian.


Calling has to do with the proclamation of the gospel and the response there of. The outward call is the verbal unrestricted proclamation of the gospel to all people without distinction or exception. The subjects hear and respond in at least two ways: The first reject the call and have nothing to do with the message while the other receives the message, convicted and subsequently become converted. The outward universal call can be resisted or rejected. Those that get converted are said to be effectually called by the irresistible grace of God. They are regenerated by the Spirit and turn to the truth as it is in Jesus Christ.


When God determines to save someone, he regenerates them by transforming them from the inside. This is a total and radical change, wrought by the finger of God alone. Man is passive in regeneration. On the other hand, in the conscious life, a person does the repenting and placing their faith in Christ. In conversion, man is active. A converted person demonstrates fruit meet for repentance.


This entails a person turning away from sin. It is a change of mind and heart about sin and may involve some aspects including sorrow for sin, hatred for sin and shame. Finally, the person abandons sin and calls upon another to aid them. Repentance is of different sorts, repentance unto life and repentance that we engage in on a daily basis.


Faith is of different kinds, saving or sustaining. Saving faith is in focus in this chapter as relates to a person getting converted. They exercise faith in the saviour having repented of their sin, and yet this same faith is a gift of God!


God declares guilty sinners righteous when they believe in Him by faith. The basis of this justification is the finished work of Christ on the Cross as well as His imputed righteousness to the regenerate. This is done once and in the courts of Heaven. God acts as Judge rather than monarch as He justifies sinners. Luther recovered this Doctrine, after it had been buried by Human tradition, superstition and ignorance. Many hold this as the pivotal doctrine of the Christian faith.


When a person is regenerated, God accepts them as His children. They thus are adopted into the family of God, with full rights of sonship.


The regenerate saint goes through a refining process called sanctification as they conform more to the image of Jesus Christ. This is a lifelong process until the saint enters glory. Though sanctification is both positional/definitive, it is also progressive in nature in this world. By that token, it has many parts connected to it.


The saints that are saved persevere to the end, despite the many hurdles they face along the way. Said differently, they persevere and are preserved by God to the very end.


Physical death and its implications are addressed in this chapter. This chapter also describes the nature of this death being separation of body from the soul in eager anticipation for the resurrection (for the righteous) while fearful judgement for the wicked. The soul at death enters a conscience state rather than an unconscious state. There is no purgatory here accepted or taught by the Holy Scriptures.


The writer deals with Christ's second coming, its nature and implications. It is clear that Boyce is Amillenial in His eschatological views. The parousia is dealt with as well.

Interestingly, Boyce tackles Angelology, Demonology, Miracles and Hell among many. In all these areas, he demonstrates unique depth of thought, analysis, exegetical prowess, consistency and yet amazingly a gracious spirit towards those that would differ from his position. This is seen in the way that he highlights what others have held in the past or during his era. Evidently, other aspects would have been added if newer editions were available to include areas such as animistic or post modern views in relation to scripture. Africans for instance need to be help about the Spirit world, mysticism among others.

Finally, having soaked into this monumental legendary volume, one goes away feeling that to a large extent justice has been done to the major tenets. The Systematic theology cohesively holds together and at no point contradicts itself, though admittedly, some points are hard to reconcile with the finite human mind such as Unconditional election or Predestination. These two tenets may alarm some readers of this volume because they appear out of step with today's humanistic relative mindset that boasts of man's liberty and ability to frustrate God's efforts or plan. A careful analysis of the Bible however in its rightful context using the correct hermeneutical principles will lead one to the conclusions that Boyce has arrived at.

Personally, I may not have entirely agreed with all his conclusions but in the main, his approach, sincerity, exegetical prowess, depth, principles and confidence much cheered me up. I would therefore heartily recommend this volume to any interested reader. Let a copy of this systematic theology find a special and prominent place on the Theologian's shelf!

Perceived view(s) about Systematic Theology in General

It would surprise the reader to note that not everyone is a fun of or appreciates Systematic Theology. While the majority of theologians historically have loved and supported it, recent trends seem to point to a growing discontent or even disapproval of Systematic Theology. Reactions range from extreme disgust to total blind loyalty to a given Systematic Theology as long as the author is perceived to be soundly authoritative with the right credentials. Those disdaining Systematic Theology claim the following reasons among many for their opposition:

* It kills plain biblical flow, including the proper appreciation of the biblical metanarrative (Carson 2007; Klein et al 2004).

* It forces the crystallization of doctrines not taught in all parts of scripture.

* Fosters the development of extra biblical terms to arise such as 'The Covenant of Redemption' or some such terms. Granted, we cannot run away from terms expressing concepts but these must be kept at a bare minimum, so they argue. Asked what exactly that 'minimum' could be, pundits are at a loss.

* Connected to earlier points, this approach tends to turn the scripture into a jigsaw puzzle of sorts. Scripture must be allowed to speak for itself, pundits argue.

* This limits and boxes liberty of not only enquiry but exploration of scripture. If one swims outside the given rigid frame, they stand in danger of being ostracized.

* It is alleged that Systematicians often only talk to themselves within their little circle other to the exclusion of the primary stakeholders (readers) they are primarily targeted to serve. There has been a call for systematicians to step out of the theological jargon bubble and interact with their readers!

There are definitely other equally potent arguments on offer but these should suffice for our purposes. But we need to state that those propelling systematic Theology, in what ever form or approach, assert that a panoramic view gives a good total picture of scripture which has been hammered out by faithful Theologians for the Christian of every age, why re-invent the wheel? Systematic Theology is a bulwark and defence from error. Further, they argue that this approach is an aid to rather than deterrent to scripture reading. The battle rages on.


Systematic Theology is an important area of enquiry for every Christian. It gives a great over view of scripture helping the saint appreciate the key truths and pillars of the Bible. Although not everyone appreciates the systematic approach in preference to simple Biblical Theology, it remains the marrow of Christian doctrine. One neglects this area to their own detriment.


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