A while back I wrote about the importance of keeping a personal copia, a topical index of quotes, arguments, illustrations, and examples.
Here the point is far, far more specific.
It’s about pastors and their writing habits.
A friend, who will remain anonymous, thought he had nothing to say when I suggested he write a systematic theology.
For those who don’t know, a systematic theology is a book covering the various topics of theology and stating, not merely what the author things is true about them and why, but also the interconnectedness of the themes of the Bible, Christian tradition, and Christian confessions of faith.
Such an exercise is quite valuable and in the digital age remarkably easy to edit and update. I have done no such exercise, I’m neither a real pastor (just a school teacher) nor a real scholar (don’t have an advanced academic degree), but my friend is. With his academic training writing a brief version of such a book would be time consuming, but simple.
Here is what my favorite poet, George Herbert, had to say about the matter:
THE Country Parson hath read the Fathers also, and the Schoolmen, and the later Writers, or a good proportion of all,* out of all which he hath compiled a Book and Body of Divinity, which is the storehouse of his Sermons, and which he preacheth all his Life; but diversely clothed, illustrated, and enlarged. For though the world is full of such composures, yet every man’s own is fittest, readiest, and most savoury to him. Besides, this being to be done in his younger and preparatory times, it is an honest joy ever after to look upon his well-spent hours. This Body he made by way of expounding the Church Catechism, to which all Divinity may easily be reduced. For it being indifferent in itself to choose any Method, that is best to be chosen, of which there is likeliest to be most use. Now Catechizing being a work of singular and admirable benefit to the Church of God, and a thing required under Canonical obedience, the expounding of our Catechism must needs be the most useful form.
If you don’t feel like reading the quote, Herbert suggests:
- That Christian ministers take the catechism (or confession of faith) used in their church and compiles a systematic theology that compares and synthesizes the ideas of famous theologians of the past on each topic.
- That from this work of careful logic he should be able to more clearly explain in sermons the various doctrine of the Christian faith using illustrative rhetoric and specific applications.
- That writing this work is worth it because it will be his own, despite the quality of other works available.
- That writing this work in his youth will make him happy in his old age.
- Finally, it will help him in his work of catechizing to practice explaining the catechism in more rigorous form in print.
So, pastors, anybody writing a systematic theology text this year?
* “Woe be to him that reads but one book”—Herbert’s Proverbs.
 George Herbert, The Works of George Herbert (London: George Routledge & Co., 1854), 224.