A frightening word to some and an unknown word to others; Theology has frequently been thought to be the language of religious philosophers, or the enigmatic historical doctrine of the church. The truth is that while theology is inextricably tied to linguistics, philosophy, religion, doctrine, ethics, science, and history, it can be simply defined as the study of God. Even more simply, it could be asked as a question: “What do you believe about God?”
How you answer that question defines, to some extent, your theology. One theologian made the point that everyone is a theologian, you don’t get to decide if you want to be one, you are a theologian, but you may not be a good one. Where did the universe come from? What and who is God? Can we know him? These are chiefly theological questions.
Theology shares its suffix with other studies of things, e.g. biology, anthropology, archaeology, coleopterology (scientific study of beetles…look it up), and many more -ologies. Theology is the study of God (Θεός – theos – God)
Theologian A.W. Tozer once said, “What we believe about God is the most important thing about us.” I’m sure many people objected to this remark, as I’m sure many people reading this will object. Surely, from all the various aspects of my life, there must be something more important? My career, my life, my family, etc? The reason Tozer could say such a thing is that while there may be a million important aspects to our lives, eternity naturally engulfs the relatively brief time we have on earth. Theology not only envelops our space and time, but it intersects with it. If there is an eternal God, we should want to know about him. Thankfully, God didn’t leave our search for him to be merely speculated about. God didn’t conceal the truth about himself, rather he revealed himself to his creation through history and through words.
I am currently enrolled as a student at a theological seminary. Theology is what I study, but it is also the lens through which I interpret everything going on around me. You too have theological lenses, here are a few things to inform you and encourage you in your own theological journey:
- Theology is determined by the author. Too many people believe that their understanding of and relationship with God is subjective. It is easy to want to twist or shape our understanding of God to fit us, but then we are essentially using play-dough to create idols instead of using telescopes to better understand the splendor of God. Biblical authors wrote Scripture with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and we should use various tools to understand what the authors intended (Paul, Moses, Zechariah, Luke, etc.) in order that we better understand what the primary author (God) has communicated.
- Theology is not about you. As we discussed in the very definition of the word, theology is the study of God. Certainly, we can understand how we as the human race, and as individuals, fit into the meta-narrative God has crafted. We can even learn how to live, how to think, and how to act through theological study….However, I am not the primary focus of the Bible. Lots of modern theologians will say that Scripture is for self-empowerment; they have either not read much, or have preferred self-deception. Theology is about God, about the cross, about redemption, and we get to be the beneficiaries of God’s overwhelming love.
- Theology is simple and theology is complex. Adapted from a quote from Augustine, “The Bible is shallow enough for a child not to drown, yet deep enough for an elephant to swim.” This is such an incredible truth. Theology is accessible enough to be taught to and understood by a child. Yet, theology can also be so complex that even the greatest minds throughout all of history couldn’t understand every doctrine. It can be written about in crayon, or with a fountain pen. It can be discussed in a blog post, or theorized about in a doctoral thesis.
- Theology is not scary! Don’t think that theology should be left to the “professionals”: the scholars, the pastors, the intellectuals. YOU are also a theologian. Learn from others who have studied and dedicated their lives to learning and teaching theology, but don’t use their education as an excuse to neglect your own understanding. Even if you learn something simple, e.g. “God is Creator” begin to apply that understanding; when you see a beautiful flower, or a beautiful sunset, thank God for his intricate design and his goodness in letting you see it!
The primary theological concept discussed throughout this next week will be the doctrine of the incarnation. If that is foreign speak to you, fear not! It means Christmas, the birth of Jesus, how God came to live as a human. The baby in the manger is God in flesh. How does this theology affect your Christmas? If it is true, it changes not only your holiday celebrations of 2018, but it can change your eternity. Because that baby grew up, died on a cross to pay the penalty for your sins, and raise from the dead to secure eternal life for you! You have only to repent of your sins, believe in Christ, and trust Him with your life. We cannot be saved without theology, because to know Christ is to know God, and to know God, you’re thinking theologically.
Theology is important. Theology cannot be avoided, and as a theologian yourself, think about who God is and how you can know him more this Christmas.