This past week I have been privileged to sit in a Systematic Theology class taught by Kevin DeYoung at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. I am a counseling student learning theology. The class read 685 pages of Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, published in 1679. Is the study of God an important part of the counseling curriculum? Should women even study theology? Why should anyone read systematic theology books written long ago? Shouldn’t we just love Jesus?

1. We need to study theology because the Bible commands it.

Everyone is created in God’s image, with intelligence to be used and even stretched. We are to seek “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). Obeying that command is not easy. Paul prays for believers to have the strength to comprehend. My brain has been tired this week, but that is expected. The wonders of the Trinity are mind-blowing. We are not expected to understand everything about God. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deut. 29:29). “But”, the verse continues, “the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” That means that we are called to learn about God and His works. “Seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 4:29).

2. Women should study theology.

Women and men are one with Christ and heirs according to promise (Gal. 3:28-29). The Bible doesn’t teach that theology is reserved for men. In fact, women are instructed to teach what is good (Titus 2:3). The woman in Proverbs 31 “opens her mouth with wisdom” (v. 26a). Women counselors have unique access to hurting women. The women who come for help need true theology.

3. Truth is essential. 

The truth will set us free (John 8:32). We are sanctified in the truth (John 17:17). A correct understanding of God (theology) and man (anthropology) is vital to counseling as we guide counselees. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28).  Thus…

4. We need discernment.

There are many philosophies of counseling. Counseling centers recommend books from different perspectives. One might advise a counselee to read a best-selling book (which has since been made into a movie) to learn about spirituality. Another might suggest Knowing God by J. I. Packer or another book about the attributes of God. Those who have learned about God in a systematic way have a framework to evaluate truth and can use godly discernment in recommending appropriate books and other helps to counselees. “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14).

5. A lukewarm heart doesn’t inspire worship of God.

Counselors can’t teach what they don’t know. We have nothing to share about God’s glory if we don’t know Him ourselves. We do not want to live on milk, which makes us unskilled in the Word of righteousness (Heb. 5:13).

6. We follow the example of the apostles.

Paul prayed for the Ephesians to know the love of Christ (Eph. 3:14-19). Since we are to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1), we are compelled to understand this God. It is of surpassing worth to know Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:8). One example of a rich theological passage is Colossians 1:15-23.

7. Christian thinkers from the past have much to teach us.

The study of God has occupied great thinkers for generations. We benefit from reading works which have blessed Christians for generations. Heresies are refuted; truth is explained.

8. We are created to know God.

Jesus prayed for His people: “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). The organized study of theology is just that—a search for knowledge of God. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3).

9. Counseling is based on theology.

I find that counseling problems are rooted in a misunderstanding of God and His works among us. Hebrews 3:1 exhorts believers to consider Jesus. The author then teaches theology from the Old Testament. Verse 13 of that chapter is a counseling verse, based on theology: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The ultimate purpose of counseling is to lead others into God-worship.

10. Our lives are to be lived to the glory of God.

The Lord does not need us to glorify Him. As the Westminster Confession of Faith says, God is “not standing in need of any creatures he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them.” But He is worthy to receive glory and honor and power (Rev. 4:11). The more we study theology, the more we understand that glory. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” We are created to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

Some may not have the opportunity to attend seminary, but all are called to spend a lifetime in theological study. We are blessed to have exposure to the works of the finest theological minds through the ages, in addition to current thinkers. We should be willing to read them. As a result, our counseling will glorify God as we know Him better and help others to know Him better. “[We] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that [we] may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9).

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

2 Peter 3:18

Questions for Reflection

How does studying systematic theology improve your counseling? Why should you make time to read books about theology? What are your favorite theology books? What keeps women from pursuing an in-depth study of God? 

Caroline Newheiser has been married to Jim Newheiser for 38 years. Recently she and Jim moved from Escondido, CA to Charlotte, NC where she is now studying systematic theology and loving it. A Master’s degree in counseling is her goal.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How will you protect vulnerable counselees from abuse by the counselor? Do changes need to be instituted?
  2. This article did not address the protocol to report and remove a sexual abuser in ministry. Matthew 18:15 confrontation is not advised in such cases. How would you help an adult woman report her abuse?
  3. What else does a counselor need to know in order to offer the best care to someone who has been taken advantage of as an adult?

Author’s Note: Special thanks to “Cindy,” who was the inspiration for this blog and took the time to accurately describe her story to me over a phone call and several emails.