What is Theology?


What is theology? Is it good, bad or indifferent? I think it is important to consider what this word means, and its implications for Christian living.  This word is particularly appropriate for this blog to consider since a form of the word is in the name of the site.

Merriam Webster provides a good multi-part definition for this term to begin the discussion.
1) the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially : the study of God and of God’s relation to the world
2) a: a theological theory or system <Thomist theology> <a theology of atonement> b: a distinctive body of theological opinion <Catholic theology>
3) a usually 4-year course of specialized religious training in a Roman Catholic major seminary

I have often heard theology disparaged from the pulpit at church. The reason there is such a negative view of theology is because the second or third definition above was chiefly in mind. The following excerpts from The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement reveal the basic mentality of what I often hear at church:

The word “theology” was rarely used in the early Movement except pejoratively and in reference to the speculative opinions of outsiders. This use was a social protest against the pretensions of theologians and theologies (especially Calvinism) of the day (James O. Duke, “Theology: Nineteenth Century” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 731).

Man leaders in Churches of Christ have argued that they have no theology; they simply follow the Bible. If what is meant by “theology” is a systematic thinking about the classic doctrinal topics of revelation, faith, God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, creation, church, the sacraments, salvation, sin, sanctification, and eschatology, then theological reflection in Churches of Christ is fairly uncommon and recent. But if theology consists of elaboration upon driving motifs, then certain observations may be made (Thomas H. Olbricht, “Theology: Churches of Christ” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 737).

The references above again use the second and third definitions. It should be noted, though, that theology can have a broader meaning than a particular system of religious teaching. The first definition references theology as “the study of God and God’s relation to the world,” a definition and concept that I believe has much merit. Using this definition, theology is not a frightful thing to be avoided but a necessary engagement of every Christian. For believers, the basic understanding of reality begins with God, and this understanding permeates every other facet of life.

Reflection, and even study, of God should constantly take place for Christians. All of life must be considered in relation to the God we serve. There is nothing that can be considered separately or apart from him. In this sense, theology is pervasive and essential. There is nothing in life that should not be considered theologically.

This is one of my goals – to consider all things in relation to God. That’s why I named my blog, “Theological Sweets,” and that is basically what I want to accomplish here.

One book that I have found helpful in this regard is How to Think Theologically, by Stone and Duke. The authors make the case that our faith must be tested and intentional, and I think they are right. Thinking theologically requires an active consideration of all things in light of God and his word. This type of continual assessment seems difficult, but I think it is at least part of what is referenced in Paul’s admonition in Rom. 12:2 to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

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