In today's "enlightened" global age of divided individualism and personal freedom, many have errantly concluded that the topic of "theology" is too structured or too divisive to be of interest. Others, in an attempt to avoid the negative connotations of "religion" (especially "organized" religion), oversimplify Christianity by claiming that man should simply love one another ("To the side with doctrine," they cry!). Others go so far as to completely discard any absolute basis for truth and affirm an ethic of relative rationalism (that morality is based on the popular opinion of society, rather than an objective God, who is the source of all truth). And, yet, still others toss up their hands before even starting, and declare that with so many varying interpretations of the Bible brandished about, time spent in theology is futile. But, is there biblical grounds for such ideologies? Can man truly live without a proper understanding of theology?
While it is true that Jesus rebuked many of the top "religionists" of His day (the Pharisees, Sadduccees, Scribes, etc...), it is not true that He rebuked them for studying the Word of God in itself. While it is also ironically true that the "religionists" of Jesus day were the very individuals responsible for Christ's death, it is not true that their actions were the result of proper study and application of the Word of God. In fact, it was the misunderstanding and misapplication of the Scriptures that Jesus confronted throughout His ministry, particularly among the religious "elite" of His day. That Jesus affirmed proper understanding of doctrine is evident in His use of scripture in thwarting Satan's temptations in the desert (Lk. 4:1-13) and in His teaching the people during the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7), where in both cases He taught from the scriptures on multiple occasions with right understanding and right application. Jesus peeled back the mere words printed on paper and disclosed comprehensive and wholistic meaning behind God's revelations. Even after His resurrection, Jesus personally affirmed again the value and clarity of the scriptures to the two erroneously dejected men on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:1-27).
The need for accurate teaching and study of God's Word is as ever desperate now as it has been in all of church history. In the Great Commission to go and make disciples, Christ commanded teaching (Matt. 28:18-20). This should come as no surprise, for God has revealed that as a man "thinks in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7). One's actions originate in thought. The old adage of "garbage in, garbage out" holds true within the realm of religion and theology and the subsequent practice thereof. As created beings of the Almighty God, mankind is called into an intimate relationship with Him. It is impossible to have an intimate relationship with someone who is not known. Christ's pointed question posed to Peter is of interest here: "But who do you say that I am?" Christ's very identity is critical to a right relationship with Him and God the Father. And, finally, even practically one cannot deny that a right way of life requires right understanding of God's precepts, which requires study of God - theology in its fullest sense.
The term theology comes from the Greek words theos, meaning "God," and logos, meaning "word," "discourse," or "reason." In Latin and then English it was adapted to mean "the study of God." Similar words are constructed in English in the same fashion: biology (from bios, meaning life), psychology (from psyche, meaning spirit or soul, the immaterial of man), geology (from gaia, meaning earth). Theology, then, is really a science about God and how He reveals Himself, interacts, and even relates with His creation. It is an attempt to understand God through His revealed Word, and restate in an organized fashion the key doctrines of the Christian faith that they might be properly understood and applied in today's world context. Theology should be practical.
Before closing the definition of what theology is, it is equally worthwhile to state clearly what theology is NOT. Theology is most importantly not Christianity; nor is Christianity theology. While theology is Christian, Christianity is more than mere belief or knowledge of Christ and His teachings. True as it is, the Christian life consists of a foundation of belief and knowledge, but is inclusive also of worship, fellowship with believers, love of all people through service and mercy, and much more. Being a Christian is about being changed from the inside out, wherein the change does not end with its beginning - the mind. Theology, then, is only a beginning for the Christian, not an end. It is one key and crucial discipline for the Christian. Yet, it is only a fragment of what it means to be a Christian.
As it is the study of God, theology's foundation is God Himself. The Bible from its very first verses presupposes that God exists, "In the beginning God...." The reader should note that there is not even the simplest proof offered for God's existence anywhere in the 66 books of the Bible. The scriptures merely affirm that He is (a point, which is strongly reinforced by God's revealed name, "YHWH"). It is on this premise that the science of theology begins, is sustained, and ends. Remove the One True God at anytime, and anything but theology is left - both by definition and by quintessence.
So then, with the starting block and end line clear - God Himself - how should one proceed to theologize? Besides carefully, man should in humility before his masterful God prayerfully search and study God's special revelation, the Holy Bible. Direct study of God's Word, where He has revealed Himself to us, is the primary means whereby man must learn about God. That is not to say, that man can do the learning, searching, and then "find out" God, as my two year old daughter would say, "all by myself." Indeed, such a starting point and a means of learning about God is directed in exactly the opposite direction, that God reveals Himself to us. He is the revealer, the initiator, the seeker who finds man out. It is a theological verses an anthropological starting point. It is not circular, because it is unidirectional, God unto man. It is not unscientific, because man may test and scrutinize the knowledge gained from God's revelation and compare it to his sense experiences in life. Finally, the faith of the Christian is not what is commonly called "blind faith," because theology results in the alignment of evidence in support of faith. Even though theology cannot prove that God exists, it supports the faith that is gifted unto man by God.
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