Types of Theology

How is THEOLOGY approached or organized?


Biblical theology is the study of the doctrines of the Bible, arranged according to their chronology and historical background. In contrast to systematic theology, which categorizes doctrine according to specific topics, biblical theology shows the unfolding of God’s revelation as it progressed through history. Biblical theology may seek to isolate and express the theological teachings of a specific portion of Scripture, such as the theology of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) or the theology contained within John’s writings, etc. Or it may focus on a particular period of time,such as the theology of the unified kingdom years. Another branch of biblical theology may study a particular motif or theme in the Bible: a study of “the remnant,” for example, might search out how that motif is introduced and developed throughout Scripture.


Covenant Theology isn’t so much a “theology” in the sense of a systematic set of doctrine as it is a framework for interpreting Scripture. It is usually contrasted with another interpretative framework for Scripture called “Dispensational Theology” or “Dispensationalism.”Dispensationalism is currently the most popular scriptural interpretative method in American evangelicalism, and has been so from the latter half of the19th century. Covenant Theology, however, remains the majority report for Protestantism since the time of the Reformation, and it is the system favored by those of a more Reformed or Calvinistic persuasion.


Dogmatic theology is sometimes confused with systematic theology, and the twoterms are at times used interchangeably. However, there are subtle but important differences between the two.  The fundamental difference between systematic theology and dogmatic theology is that systematic theology does not require official sanction or endorsement by a church or ecclesiastical body, while dogmatic theology is directly connected to a particular church body or denomination. Dogmatic theology normally discusses the same doctrines and often uses the same outline and structure as systematic theology, but does so from a particular theological stance, affiliated with a specific denomination or church.

When Adam failed in keeping the covenant of works, God instituted the third covenant, called the covenant of grace. In the CG, God freely offers to sinners(those who fail to live up to the CW) eternal life and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. We see the provision for the CG right after the fall when God prophesies the “seed of the woman” in Genesis 3:15.Whereas the covenant of works is conditional and promises blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience, the covenant of grace is unconditional and is given freely on the basis of God’s grace. The CG takes the form of ancient land-grant treaties, in which a king would give land to a recipient as a gift, no strings attached. One can argue that faith is a condition of the covenant of grace. There are many exhortations in the Bible for the recipients of God’s unconditional grace to remain faithful to the end, so, in a very real sense, maintaining faith is a condition of the CG. But the Bible clearly teaches that even saving faith is a gracious gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9).

We see the covenant of grace manifested in the various unconditional covenants God makes with individuals in the Bible. The covenant God makes with Abraham(to be his God and for Abraham and his descendants to be His people) is an extension of the CG. The Davidic Covenant (that a descendant of David will always reign as king) is also an extension of the CG. The New Covenant is the final expression of the CG as God writes His law upon our hearts and completely forgives our sins. One thing that should be apparent as we look at these various OT covenants is that they all find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The promise to Abraham to bless all the nations was fulfilled in Christ. The Davidic king who will eternally rule over God’s people was also fulfilled in Christ, and the New Covenant was obviously fulfilled in Christ. Even in the Old Covenant, there are hints of the CG as all of the OT sacrifices and rituals point forward to the saving work of Christ, our great High Priest (Hebrews8–10). This is why Jesus can say in the Sermon on the Mount that He camenot to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

We also see the CG in action in the OT when God spares His people the judgment that their repeated sin deserves. Even though the stipulations of the Mosaic Covenant (an application of the CW) promised God’s judgment upon Israel for their disobedience to His commands, God deals patiently with His covenant people. This is usually accompanied by the phrase “God remembered the covenant he made with Abraham” (2 Kings 13:23; Psalm 105; Isaiah 29:22;41:8);God’s promise to fulfill the covenant of grace (which by definition is a one-sided covenant) often overrode His right to enforce the covenant of works.

That’s a brief description of covenant theology and how it interprets Scripture through the lens of the covenant. A question that sometimes arises regarding covenant theology is whether or not the CG supplants or supersedes the CW. In other words, is the CW obsolete since the Old Covenant is obsolete (Hebrews 8:13)?  The Old (Mosaic) covenant, while an application of the CW, is not the CW.Again, the CW goes all the way back to Eden when God promised life for obedience and death for disobedience. The CW is further elaborated in the Ten Commandments, in which God again promises life and blessing for obedience and death and punishment for disobedience. The Old Covenant is more than just the moral law codified in the Ten Commandments. The Old Covenant includes the rules and regulations regarding the worship of God. It also includes the civil law that governed the nation of Israel during the theocracy and monarchy. With the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah of the OT, many aspects of the Old Covenant become obsolete because Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant types and figures (again, see Hebrews 8–10). The Old Covenant represented the “types and shadows,” whereas Christ represents the “substance” (Colossians 2:17). Again, Christ came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17).  As Paul says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2Corinthians 1:20).

However, this does not abrogate the covenant of works as codified in the moral law. God demanded holiness from His people in the OT (Leviticus 11:44)and still demands holiness from His people in the NT (1 Peter 1:16). So, we are still obligated to fulfill the stipulations of the CW. The good news is that Jesus Christ, the last Adam and our covenant Head, perfectly fulfilled the demands of the CW and that perfect righteousness is the reason why God can extend the CG to the elect. Romans 5:12-21 describes the situation between the two federal heads of the human race. Adam represented the human race in the Garden and failed to uphold the CW, thereby plunging him and his posterity into sin and death. Jesus Christ stood as man’s representative, from His temptation in the wilderness all the way to Calvary, and perfectly fulfilled the CW. That iswhy Paul can say, “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1Corinthians 15:22).

In conclusion, Covenant Theology views the covenants of Scripture as manifestations of either the CW or the CG. The entire story of redemptive history can be seen as God unfolding the CG from its nascent stages (Genesis 3:15)through to its fruition in Christ. Covenant Theology is, therefore, a very Christocentric way of looking at Scripture because it sees the OT as the promise of Christ and the NT as the fulfillment in Christ. Some have accused Covenant Theology as teaching what is called “ReplacementTheology” (i.e., the Church replaces Israel). This couldn’t be further from the truth. Unlike Dispensationalism, Covenant Theology does not see a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church. Israel constituted the people of the God in the OT, and the Church (which is made up of Jew and Gentile) constitutes the people of God in the NT; both just make up one people of God (Ephesians2:11-20). The Church doesn’t replace Israel; the Church is Israel and Israel is the Church (Galatians 6:16). All people who exercise the same faith as Abraham are part of the covenant people of God (Galatians3:25-29).

Many more things could be said regarding Covenant Theology, but the important thing to keep in mind is that Covenant Theology is an interpretive grid for understanding the Scriptures. As we have seen, it is not the only way to interpret Scripture. Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism have many differences, and sometimes lead to opposite conclusions regarding certain secondary doctrines, but both adhere to the essentials of the Christian faith:salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, and to God alone be the glory!

Recommended Resource: The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns


Liberation Theology is a movement that attempts to interpret Scripture through the plight of the poor. True followers of Jesus,according to liberation theology, must work toward a just society, bring about social and political change, and align themselves with the working class.Jesus, who was poor Himself, focused on the poor and downtrodden, and any legitimate church will give preference to those who have historically been marginalized or deprived of their rights. All church doctrine should grow out of the perspective of the poor. Defending the rights of the poor is seen as the central aspect of the gospel.

Black Liberation Theology is an offshoot of the South American liberation theology, which is largely humanistic, attempting to apply Christian theology to the plight of the poor. Black liberation theology focuses on Africans in general and African-Americans in particular being liberated fromall forms  of bondage and injustice, whether real or perceived, whether social,political, economic, or religious.

The goal of black liberation theology is to “make Christianity real forblacks.” The primary error in black liberation theology is its focus. Blackliberation theology attempts to focus Christianity on liberation from socialinjustice in the here and now, rather than in the afterlife. Jesus taught theexact opposite: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).Have blacks/Africans and especially African-Americans been treated unfairly,unjustly, and evilly in recent history? Absolutely! Should one of the resultsof the gospel be the end of racism, discrimination, prejudice, and inequality?Again, yes, absolutely (Galatians 3:28)! Is deliverance from social injustice acore principle of the gospel? No.

The message of the gospel is this: we are all infected with sin (Romans 3:23).We are all worthy of eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23).Jesus died on the cross, taking the punishment that we deserve (2Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 2:2), providing for our salvation. Jesus was thenresurrected, demonstrating that His death was indeed a sufficient payment for the sin penalty (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). If we place our trust in Jesus as Savior, all of our sins are forgiven, and we will be granted entrance into heaven after death (John 3:16). That is the gospel. That is to be our focus.That is the cure for what is truly plaguing humanity.

When a person receives Jesus as Savior, he/she is a new creation (2 Corinthians5:17), and the indwelling Holy Spirit begins the process of conforming him/her to the image of Christ (Romans 12:1-2). Only through this spiritual transformation can racism truly be conquered. Black Liberation Theology fails because it attacks the symptoms without truly addressing the disease. Sin/fallenness is the disease; racism is just one of the many symptoms. The message of the gospel is Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for our sins and the salvation that is therefore available through faith. The end of racism would be a result of people truly receiving Jesus as Savior, but racism is not specifically addressed in the gospel itself.

Because of its extreme over-emphasis of racial issues, a negative result of black liberation theology is that it tends to separate the black and white Christian communities, and this is completely unbiblical. Christ came to earth to unite all who believe in Him in one universal Church, His body, of which He is the head (Ephesians 1:22-23). Members of the Body of Christ share a common bond with all other Christians, regardless of background, race, or nationality. “There should be no division in the body, but . . . its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1Corinthians 12:25). We are to be of one mind, having the mind of Christ,and have one goal, glorifying God by fulfilling Christ’s command to “go into all the world,” telling others about Him, preaching the good news of the gospel, and teaching others to observe His commandments (Matthew28:19-20). Jesus reminds us that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love others as ourselves, regardless of race (Matthew22:36-40).


Natural Theology is the study of God based on the observation of nature, as distinct from “supernatural” or revealed theology, which is based on special revelation. Because observing nature is an intellectual pursuit, natural theology involves human philosophy and reasoning as means of knowing God.


New Covenant Theology is best described as a hermeneutical principle, or an interpretative grid through which one reads and interprets the Scriptures. As a hermeneutical principle, it stands as a bridge between dispensational theology and covenant theology. That is not to say that new covenant theology has intentionally set itself up between dispensational theology and covenant theology, but that new covenant theology shares things in common with both dispensational and covenant theology. As such, we cannot say what new covenant theology is without reference to dispensational theology and covenant theology.

Dispensational theology essentially sees the Scriptures unfolding in a series of, usually, seven “dispensations.” A dispensation can be loosely defined as the means through which God governs His actions with man and creation. Therefore, God’s governance was different with Adam than it was with Abraham,etc. Dispensational theology views the revelation as progressive, i.e., in each dispensation, God reveals more and more of His divine plan of redemption.However, while Scripture is a progressive revelation, each successive dispensation represents a new way of God dealing with His creation. In other words, according to dispensational theology, there is a strong level of discontinuity between the dispensations; once an old dispensation is over and a new one begun, the “old” way of doing things under the old dispensation is superseded by the new dispensation. And each dispensation is typically introduced with some new revelation from God.

Covenant theology is effectively the polar opposite of dispensational theology.  While both agree that Scripture is progressive, the overarching principle of covenant theology is the covenant. Covenant theology sees two theological covenants in Scripture—the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The covenant of works was introduced in the Garden between God and man in which God promised mankind life for obedience and judgment for disobedience. The covenant of works was re-introduced at Sinai as God promised Israel long life and blessing in the land on the condition of their obedience to the Mosaic covenant, but expulsion and judgment in the event of their disobedience. Thecovenant of grace was implemented after the fall and represents God’s unconditional covenant with man to redeem and save the elect. All of the various biblical covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and the New) are outworkings of the covenant of grace as God works His plan of redemption in human history. So,where dispensational theology saw a discontinuity between the various dispensations (and in particular between the Old and the New Testaments), covenant theology sees a great deal of continuity.

This is especially evident in the fact that covenant theology does not see a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church. Both entities are seen as one continuous people of God with one ultimate destiny.

All of that serves as the backdrop to view new covenant theology. As mentioned previously, new covenant theology is a middle point between the two. It shares a lot in common with classic covenant theology, in particular the continuity between the Church and Israel as being one people of God. However, it also differs from covenant theology in that it does not necessarily view the Scriptures as the unfolding of redemption in a covenant of works/covenant of grace framework. Instead, it sees the Scriptures in a more promise/fulfillment paradigm.

By far the biggest difference between new covenant theology and covenant theology is how each views the Mosaic Law. Covenant theology sees the Law inthree ways: civil, ceremonial and moral. The civil aspect of the Law was those laws in the covenant of Sinai which governed the theocratic nation of Israel while they live in the Promised Land.

New covenant theology sees the Mosaic Law as a whole and sees it all fulfilled in Christ (so far in agreement with covenant theology). However, because new covenant theology sees the Mosaic Law as a whole, it also sees the moral aspect of the Mosaic Law as fulfilled in Christ and no longer applying to Christians.

Reformed Theology

Reformed theology includes any system of belief  that traces its roots back to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century. Of course, the Reformers themselves tracedtheir doctrine to Scripture, as indicated by their credo of “sola scriptura,”so Reformed theology is not a “new” belief system but one that seeks to continue apostolic doctrine.

Generally, Reformed theology holds to the authority of Scripture, the sovereignty of God, salvation by grace through Christ, and the necessity of evangelism. It is sometimes called Covenant theology because of its emphases on the covenant God made with Adam and the new covenant which came through Jesus Christ (Luke22:20).

Authority of Scripture. Reformed theology teaches that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God, sufficient in all matters of faith and practice.

Sovereignty of God. Reformed theology teaches that God rules with absolute control over all creation. He has foreordained all events and is therefore never frustrated by circumstances. This does not limit the will of the creature, nor does it make God the author of sin.

Salvation by grace. Reformed theology teaches that God in His grace and mercy has chosen to redeem a people to Himself, delivering them from sin and death. The Reformed doctrine of salvation is commonly represented by the acrostic TULIP (also known as the five points of Calvinism):

T – total depravity. Man is completely helpless in his sinful state, is under the wrath of God, and can in no way please God. Total depravity also means that man will not naturally seek to know God, until God graciously prompts him to do so (Genesis6:5; Jeremiah17:9; Romans3:10-18).
U – unconditional election. God, from eternity past, has chosen to save a great multitude of sinners, which no man can number (Romans8:29-30; 9:11; Ephesians 1:4-6,11-12).
L – limited atonement. Also called a “particular redemption.” Christ took the judgment for the sin of the elect upon Himself and thereby paid for their lives with His death. In other words, He did not simply make salvation “possible,” He actually obtained it for those whom He had chosen (Matthew 1:21;John 10:11;17:9; Acts 20:28;Romans 8:32;Ephesians5:25).
I – irresistible grace. In his fallen state, man resists God’s love, but the grace of God working in his heart makes him desire what he had previously resisted. That is, God’s grace will not fail to accomplish its saving work in the elect (John6:37,44;10:16).
P – perseverance of the saints. God protects His saints from falling away; thus, salvation is eternal (John10:27-29; Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians1:3-14).

The Westminster Confession embodies the theology of the Reformed tradition. Modern churches in the Reformed tradition include Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and some Baptist.


The word “systematic” refers to something being putinto a system. Systematic theology is, therefore, the division of theology intosystems that explain its various areas. For example, many books of the Biblegive information about the angels. No one book gives all the information aboutthe angels. Systematic theology takes all the information about angels from allthe books of the Bible and organizes it into a system called angelology. Thatis what systematic theology is all about—organizing the teachings of the Bibleinto categorical systems.

In addition to systematic theology, there are other ways that theology can be divided.

Biblical theology is the study of a certain book (or books) of the Bible and emphasizing the different aspects of theology it focuses on. For example, the Gospel of John is very Christological since it focuses so much on the deity of Christ (John 1:1, 14; 8:58; 10:30; 20:28).

Historical theology is the study of doctrines and how they have developed over the centuries of the Christian church.

Dogmatic theology is the study of the doctrines of certain Christian groups that have systematized doctrine —for example, Calvinistic theology and dispensational theology.

Contemporary theology is the study of doctrines that have developed or come into focus in recent times.

No matter what method of theology is studied, what is important is that theology is studied.

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