If you have ever engaged in inductive Bible study, you know the importance of "reading with a purpose." The process is quite straightforward. You choose a word, phrase, topic, person, etc. and read a chapter at a time; marking the Biblical text along the way. As you read, it's a good idea to make a list of what the Bible teaches on the particular topic you are studying. This is a fantastic way to organize what you learn from God's Word.

However, one of the limitations of the inductive method and for that matter, most Bible study strategies is the tendency to miss the proverbial "forest among the trees." One can study a passage, chapter or even a book of the Bible ("the trees") and understand it well, but fail to grasp the connection to the rest of the Bible ("The forest"). So let me introduce to you a helpful 3-step process that will add depth, breadth, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, illuminate greater insights to Spiritual truths.

Step 1 - Know Your Theological Themes
Every passage of Scripture will contribute insights to one or more of these 13 key theological themes. 

Bibliology - The Bible/Scriptures
Theology - God the Father
Christology - Jesus Christ
Pneumatology - Holy Spirit
Cosmology - Physical & Spiritual Realms
Angelology - Angels
Demonology - Satan & Demons
Anthropology - Man
Hamartiology - Sin
Soteriology - Salvation
Israelology - Israel
Ecclesiology - Church
Eschatology - End Times

Now at first blush, this may seem intimidating. Especially, if you are like me and it's difficult to remember a new name or phone number. Therefore, I recommend printing these out for easy reference. Click the following link (www.proclaimingthegospel.org/theology) for a PDF file for printing. Before you know it, you will have them memorized.

Step 2 - Read and Take Notes
Second, we need to read the Biblical text and ask the question, what does the Biblical text say about each of these categories. Then, we write down the Bible cross reference and what we learn about the category from the Scriptures. Let me give you an example. Let's choose Philippians 2:5-6, an amazing passage about Christ. In Philippians 2:5, we read "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus." There are two theological themes: (1) Ecclesiology/Church (believer) and (2) Christology/Christ. Now we need to write down what we learn. First, believers in the church should have an attitude of humility (see Philippians 2:1-4), and Christ was humble in attitude and action. Let's try the next verse. We read the following, "who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped". This passage has two theological themes: (1) Christology/Christ and (2) Theology/God the Father. We learn that Christ is God, has God's nature, but functions in submission to God. We learn the Father functions in leadership over the Son. Now you would continue this process of reading and organizing what you learn into these 13 theological themes. 

Step 3 - Consult a Systematic Theology Book
With your theological categories and notes in hand, you are now ready to venture to a Systematic Theology Book which are books of cross references with concise commentaries summarizing key doctrines of the Bible. Since no theology book is perfect, you will want to consult several. At the end of the article, I have listed several for you to consider. In the systematic theology book, you will examine the table of contents, scripture index, and subject index to find your passage or theological topic. You will search for three pieces of information. First, you will look for additional cross references. These will help you see where God repeats these truths. You will want to consult those passages and take notes on what you learn. Second, you will look at the concise commentary and see what theological insights the author reveals about the theme and passage. Third, you will read the additional information on the whole topic. This will help you see the “forest” and the “trees” and add theological depth to your understanding of these topics.

Warning!
This can be a fun, rewarding, and devotional way to study, but remember, “context is king.” It is dangerous to study doctrine too narrow without studying the surrounding verses, chapters, and the book as a whole. Additionally, without understanding and studying the full scope of the doctrine from Genesis to Revelation, you will lack critical insights to see the doctrine as a complete unit. Lastly, doctrines never stand alone; they are interdependent with one another. Therefore, be sure to study related doctrinal topics.
 
Final Thoughts 
As a final encouragement, studying theologically leads to thinking theologically. This is one of your greatest means to refute error and evangelize the lost. Furthermore, it’s a wonderful way to demonstrate how Scriptures are the supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice. 
So are you ready to try this at home? Let’s begin…
 
Suggested Theological Resources:

  • Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993.
  • Culver, Robert Duncan. Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical. Ross-shire, UK: Mentor, 2005.
  • Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004.
  • MacArthur, John, and Richard Mayhue, eds. Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017.