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S. Lewis Johnson’s Systematic Theology Series

July 17, 2012

A little at a time, I’m listening to the first messages in S. Lewis Johnson’s long, well-known Systematic Theology series: the only such audio series of such length and depth that I know of, with 126 messages covering many topics of systematic theology.  This series comes from SLJ’s early years at Believers Chapel, beginning in 1968 and ending sometime in 1972.  For these lectures SLJ mentioned two Systematic Theology textbooks for the students, ones from Louis Berkhof and Lewis Sperry Chafer, but the content so far stands on its own, without direct reference to topics only found in the textbooks and not explained by him.

The first two messages (what I’ve listened to so far) include an introduction to Systematic Theology and an overall “classical apologetics” approach to the question of the existence of God.  Having never taken any “theology” classes or read such books, the Systematic Theology introduction was interesting, with overview of the types of theology:

  • Exegetical theology: background of OT and NT, study of Greek and Hebrew
  • Historical theology: history of the doctrines of the church; start with the doctrine of Christ and what the Church has believed about it throughout the centuries
  • Systematic theology
  • Practical theology:  how to conduct a wedding ceremony, funeral service, other practical outworkings

The limitations of Systematic Theology are also well noted:

  • the finiteness of the human mind
  • the blindness of sin
  • the silences of scripture  (ref. Deuteronomy 29:29)
  • the imperfect state of science: God’s revelation in nature
  • the incompleteness of our knowledge of scripture
  • inadequacy of human language
  • illumination of the Spirit  (the Spirit has not revealed everything to us, and not all at once)

The second message takes more of a classical apologetics approach, though without specific mention of the terms, again as part of an introduction to Systematic Theology and discussion of the existence of God.  From the discussion here, as well as from googling through the S. Lewis Johnson transcripts, I observe that SLJ was probably only familiar with classical apologetics, since his only references to the topic appear to be referring to that type, along with references to earlier apologists including J. Gresham Machen and no mention of Van Til (at least as far as the transcript search indicates) or later presuppositional apologists.  At any rate, from my early Christian years of reading C.S. Lewis, I was familiar with the general (non-biblical) arguments for the existence of God (though I don’t recall that C. S. Lewis named the theological terms, but rather focused on the concepts themselves).  S. Lewis Johnson named and defined the precise terms here: the cosmological, teleological, moral and ontological arguments.

As shown in the full listing of the Systematic Theology series, later messages cover many topics including Theology Proper, prayer, angelology, anthropology, Christology, Soteriology, and Pneumatology.  I look forward to going through these topics in future sessions.

  1. July 20, 2012 at 2:17 am

    Thanks for sharing this and your input as well! I need to get around to listening this sometime! It seems that Presuppositionalism came into the Dispensationalism camp a little bit later…I think that would make a good research topic and blog posts sometimes into the history and origin of how Dispensational Presuppositional apologetics.

    • July 20, 2012 at 11:22 am

      Thanks. Yes it’s an interesting series so far. Hadn’t thought of that as the reason, but it makes sense, that SLJ’s references to apologetics reflect his theological background, the dispensational camp and his time period… whereas presuppositional apologetics had its beginnings within traditional CT Reformed (Van Til). Just found this blog post from your site, from a few years ago, mentioning dispensational presuppositional contributions:

      That’s a good idea for you to expand on, the history of dispensational presuppositional apologetics. One sidenote in reference to George Zemek, cited in your post: SLJ was a visiting professor at that school during the same time period as Zemek’s paper, the early 1980s. He mentioned his campus visits sometimes, during his sermons at Believers Chapel in the early 1980s.

      • July 20, 2012 at 5:53 pm

        Wow…thanks for letting me know about the SLJ reference to George Zemek…are you referring to TMS or Grace Theological Seminary?
        I do plan to write one day about the history of Dispensational apologetics, and don’t know where to begin…maybe an email to Dr. Zemek and Whitcomb and Vlach to begin with. It probably has been to done after our current Islam Week Marathon over at our blog right now. I need to also add to that last blog posts, since there are some more dispensationalist contribution since.

      • July 20, 2012 at 6:16 pm

        I’m referring to Grace Theological Seminary, where SLJ was a visiting professor of New Testament from about 1980-85.

  2. Bryan Cruz
    September 17, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    I enjoyed listening to the series very much. I agree with much of what he taught there but just disagree with his strict ” limited atonement ” position. A corrective for his error there would be Dr. John Walvoord in the book Jesus Christ Our Lord which supports the moderate Calvinist / 4 Point Calvinist form of unlimited atonement. Like you I am Calvinistic, dispensational and premillennial in my theology. I have seen you post on Paul’s blog where I also post on the comments sometimes. 🙂 I do believe that all dispensationalist should read and study Lewis Sperry Chafer Systematic Theology 8 vol in 4.

    • September 18, 2012 at 7:44 am

      Thanks for stopping by, Bryan. I haven’t listened to all of SLJ’s Systematic Theology series yet, so I don’t know if he taught the specific issue of the atonement in that series or not. But as I understand from his comments in later years, at the time of the Systematic Theology series SLJ was a 4-pointer, not yet holding to limited atonement/particular redemption. So do you know if he taught limited atonement in this early series? That would be interesting indeed, given that he later said he came to understand the atonement issue around 1976 or 1977. Certainly SLJ also always held Chafer in high regard, even when he did later disagree with some of Chafer’s views.

  3. Kurtly Wallace
    June 16, 2015 at 2:59 am

    Hi Lynda, I realise this post is a few years old now, but I was wondering if you’ve heard SLJ’s message on ‘How Do We Know Spiritual Truth?’ From that message it seems that SLJ was influenced by presuppositional apologetics.

    Also of interest is this recorded message by Cornelius Van Til. At the beginning there is an introduction by SLJ.

    • June 16, 2015 at 5:14 pm

      Thanks for the info! I have not listened to SLJ’s “Basic Bible Doctrine” series, which I think was done later, around 1980. So in later years, after he left Dallas Seminary and came to 5 point Calvinism, he also was influenced by presuppositional apologetics.

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