Friday, January 11, 2008
What is Theology?
Theology frightens the daylights out of most people. When they hear the word mentioned, their eyes glaze over: they have visions of white-haired old men with degrees spilling out of their ears, speaking in polysyllables and attempting to complicate simplicity. They imagine lists and categories and dry barren wastes without a drop of water. Not surprisingly, therefore, many will doubt the need for theology at all, asking the pertinent question: "Isn't it true that all we need to know is to love each other and preach the good news?"
However, it is a truism that everyone has a theology, even those millions who deny there is any need for it. Everyone who reads the Bible or even thinks about God has contrived a theology of some sort. So there is a question that everyone must face: "Is my theology a good one?" By good, I mean is it accurate, biblical, coherent, and consistent? This is not a subjective question; there are objective criteria to think about.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman that those who worship God must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). The prophet Hosea wrote:
My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. "Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children. (Hosea 4:6)
Why is Theology Important?
Besides keeping a lot of theologians off welfare and out of trouble, it brings clarification. Unlike the way teachers so often present it, theology is not a settled issue of firmly established facts. Theology is theory, and like theory in science, forever alive and developing. In the early Church questions arose now and then and theology - theory - to answer them had to be developed. For instance, in Acts, the church was faced with the problem of what to do with all the Gentiles who were coming to Christ. Did they have to become Jews first, before they could be saved? Or was entrance into Christianity by grace alone? And then, even if it was by grace, shouldn't they follow the laws of Judaism?
Later on, people began wondering who, precisely, was Jesus? Was he really God, or simply an emanation, or maybe a created being?
How are such questions answered? By studying the Bible - God's special revelation - and the universe - God's general revelation - and finding out what they say. This action, of looking to the Bible and the world for answers, raises a question of its own: if we are going to find out about God, if we are going to do a proper theology - formulate reasonable theories - what are the revelations of God, and how do we go about using them properly?
The Five Kinds of Theology
1. Natural Theology
Natural theology is restricted to the facts concerning God which are revealed in the universe around us. Thomas Aquinas, in a systematic fashion, outlined his belief that the existence of God may be proven from reason alone. Modern theologians such as Karl Barth, reflecting Immanuel Kant and David Hume, argued that there was essentially no validity to a natural theology, while Process theologians such as John B. Cobb, Jr., Schubert Ogden and David Griffen have argued the exact opposit. Within evangelical circles, there is a division on this question.
2. Biblical Theology
Biblical theology is restricted to the biblical revelation of God. Its sole source is the Bible, independent of any philosophical system (ideally). In reality, any approach to theology must inevitably carry certain philosophical presuppositions and perspectives.
3. Dogmatic Theology
Dogmatic theology refers to those elements of theological truth which are absolutely certain. It will avoid controversial fields of study and will concentrate on those points about which the church throughout history has held to unswervingly, such the virgin birth, the resurrection, the Trinity, and the like.
4. Practical Theology
Practical theology has to do with the actual function of the truth in the lives of people. Given beliefs and doctrines are considered true if they work in the lives of real people. In other words, if it works, then it is true. Otherwise, it is of no consequence.
5. Theology Proper
Theology proper concerns itself with the study of the person of God, apart from his works. It deals with the existence of God, the ability of people to know him, his various attributes, and the nature of the Trinity. In other words, Theology Proper is concerned with understanding and knowing God.