What is theology?

What is theology?

Theology is derived from the Greek words, “theos” for God and “logos” for word, or subject, or topic of discourse.  The combination of these two words forms the word theology.  Theology from these two words has the means, “the study of God.”  In Called to Believe: A Brief Introduction to Christian Doctrine, edited by Steven P. Mueller, theology is defined as “words about God.”

It’s important to note that there are many different theologies because there are many different views of God.  Theology will be approached in a completely different manner depending on which h words about God are being studied.   If a Hindu sacred text is being studied, then the study of the “words about God” will be very different from the “words about God” from the Islamic Qur’an, the Jewish Talmud, or the Christian Bible.  Theology can be approached from many different worldviews also, such as, atheism or feminism.

Christian theology is the study of how God has revealed himself to mankind from the Bible.  It mainly focuses on how God has acted towards his creation, us, and what he wills and wants for us in our lives.  Within Christianity there are numerous branches of study.

Historical Theology – This branch of theology looks at the history of the church and the various theological movements in teachings, emphasis, and practice within the life of the church.

Exegetical Theology – This branch of theology “brings out” the truths of scripture by discovering what the message would have meant to its original audience.  To accomplish this aim, the historical and cultural context of the writing must be examined, as well as the literary context and type of writing and the original language needs to be examined, as well as interpreting each passage of scripture with other passages of scripture.  Once the original message, purpose, and intent of any given passage of the Bible is determined, then exegesis is properly prepared to apply that timeless truth of scripture to a modern day audience.

Pastoral Theology – This branch of theology focuses on the day to day application of theology in the lives of Christians.

Apologetics – This branch of theology focuses on defending the faith.  Many people ask complicated questions concerning the Christian faith, such as, how can you trust the bible to true, or why would an all-loving God send people to hell?  Or how about, all religions are just different paths that lead to the same God, so why must Jesus be the only way?  These questions and many others are asked both within Christendom, but Christians, and by people who are outside of the church, so this branch although often times ignored within certain groups of Christianity plays an important role in the church.

Missiology – This branch of theology focuses on the study of missions.  How should the church go about spreading God’s word?  How should the kingdom grow?  Answers are in scriptures, but answers also lie in studying cultures, psychology, trends, history, and through analyzing demographics.

Systematics – This branch of theology is essentially what the “What does the Bible Teach?” section of OC Apologists centers around.  Systematics is taking the whole of the Scriptures and putting the word of God into understandable categories to form doctrines.  Doctrine is simply an organized, system, of instruction.  That is what systematic is, taking the bulk of God’s word and narrowing the scope of an individual topic, such as sin or the nature of God, and siphoning it down into concise bullet points of information.

And what is the purpose of Theology?

The main purpose of Christian theology is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This should be the ultimate aim of Christian theology, to always point to the work of Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind.

The secondary purpose of Christian theology is to produce growth in a Christian’s life in the realm of knowledge and understanding of God.  This isn’t however just head knowledge.  An example would be a sports fan knowing all the stats of his favorite quarterback from high school to the NFL.  However, if he sees that quarterback on the street, does he know the quarterback?  Does the quarterback know him?  No.  The knowledge is just intellectual, and it’s not intimate.  The goal in the growth of knowledge of God in theology is to produce growth in the intimate knowing of God.  Just as a husband and wife grow to know one another deeply, and in a way that no one else knows them, so to the Christian theology when strives to seek a continual, intimate knowing of the Lord in the lives of Christian believers.

The Source of Christian Theology

The source of Christian theology should be scripture alone.  The Bible is the word of God and all Christian teachings should align with it.  Everyone can have multiple sources of information concerning God, such as pastors, parents, friends, church denominations, traditions, experiences, and even human reason.

These other sources can be very helpful.  Learning from standing on the shoulders of Christians that have gone before or who have studied a certain topic more than us should not be condemned.  However, the teachings of certain people and groups differ from one another, and they can’t all be correct.  Sometimes traditions can lead us astray from God and become trappings of religion, especially if the original intent and purpose of the tradition has been lost in time.  Experiences can be very deceiving, especially since not everyone will share the same experiences in their relationship with God.  Reason as a tool is necessary; just read through the list of various theological branches of study, they all require the use of the mind.  However, the mind and human reason is tainted with sin, and the wisdom of God is foolishness to the wisdom of man.  Therefore these other sources of theological information must always be subject to scripture.

Scripture alone should be the ultimate source and norm of our theology!

2 thoughts on “What is theology?

  1. Pingback: What is apologetics? | Andy Wrasman

  2. Dear Andy,
    You have said, “The source of Christian theology should be scripture alone”. I question the idea of “Scripture alone”. I have given this much thought and I think it is much more reasonable to say, Scripture is the ultimate, or supreme, or final authority.
    Some reasons for my rejection of “Scripture alone”.
    (1) There was a time before Written Scripture, therefore “Scripture alone” would not have always been the norm. Before the New Testament Scriptures, the early Christians would not have believed “Scripture alone”. They accepted the OT Scriptures, but the Gospel was rather obscured in the Old Testament. However, they also accepted the Authority of the Apostles as a reliable revelation of God’s Word. Only later, were the Apostle’s words recorded on pages for future generations.
    (2) We know which Books of the New Testament were canonized as a result of reason and tradition. Therefore, all contemporary Christians depend on reason and tradition in their acceptance of the New Testament Cannon. It not like the Old Testament identifies which Books were considered “God-breathed” so as to include them into the New Testament Cannon. Most Christians are unaware of, or have never considered, how important reason and tradition are when it comes to the validity of the New Testament Canon. Without accepting reason and tradition used to identify and establish the NT canon, there may not be a NT Canon, therefore everyone that accepts the New Testament must accept also accept reason and tradition as valid authorities.
    (3) With in Christian Theology, particularly Theology Proper, we study the naturalistic/rational arguments of the existence of God. Most major Systematic Theologies include these arguments (such as: the Moral Argument, the Ontological Argument, The Cosmological Argument, The Teleological Argument, etc.) as part of the study of Theology Proper. These arguments make great use of reason as an authority.
    (4) The Bible mentions the valid use of argument form studying the creation as an argument for God’s existence. In the creation, God has revealed aspects about himself outside of the Scriptures. Romans 1:19-20
    “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. ”
    In this verse, God declares that people can know something about His, “invisible attributes”, “eternal power”, “divine nature”; How ? ” in the things that have been made”. God has given mankind a revelation of Himself in the natural world of his creation, external from Scripture. This revelation is evident to even people who have no Scriptures.
    (5) Isaiah (Isa. 44:9-17) asks the readers to follow “reason” to understand the foolishness of making an idol and then worshiping the idol you created by your own hand.
    (6) Apologetics – A branch of Theology which seeks to provide a rational justification for the truth claims of the Christian faith. (William L. Craig) Apologetics is heavily dependent of the authority of sound reason. With out the authority of reason, apologetics would be a very difficult endeavor.
    (7) Hermeneutics – “the study of the principles and methods of interpreting the text of the Bible.” (Got Questions) Hermeneutics is heavily dependent on reason to give a precise understanding of Scripture. (Note: I certainly do not undermine the importance of the Holy Spirit’s intervention in helping us think rationally, after the thoughts of a rational God, of whom we are made in his image.
    (8) Importance of believers reasoning as recorded in Scripture. Acts 17:2,17, 18:4,19, 24:25, Heb. 11:19. If Paul, and others, used reasoning in their evangelistic and apologetic endeavors,as they were lead by the Holy Spirit, then it is difficult to justify the idea that we should not use reason, because we are fallen creatures, (unable to adequately reason because of our fallen nature and sin). I think this argument (the fall totally destroyed our ability to reason) exhibits a misunderstanding of the image of God in mankind, and the fall of man.

    I am not Methodist, but I am familiar with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. There are four authorities: (a) Experience, (b) Tradition, (c) Reason, (d) Scripture. This make the most sense of the way the Christian Worldview operates concerning our authorities – To the Christian there are four major authorities (a) Experience, (b) Tradition, (c) Reason, (d) Scripture; with the first three authorities subject to the ultimate and final authority, the Scriptures.
    I do acknowledge that at the end of your article you state, “Scripture alone should be the ultimate source and norm of our theology!” I can see that this statement is very different for the above statement, (“The source of Christian theology should be scripture alone”) because of the qualifiers; ultimate and norm. However, I think you should omit the word, “alone” in this statement and say “Scripture should be the ultimate source and norm of our theology!” This does not eliminate the possibilities of other legitimate authorities, but clearly implies all other authorities are subject to aline with Scripture, to assure that the other authorities are legitimate.
    Just thought I would share these thoughts for the thoughtful.
    In Him,
    DZ

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