What Is Theology?
by Daryl Aaron
Many people, after hearing the word theology, roll their eyes and envision esoteric scholarly debates that have little if any bearing on real life. However, theology is much more basic, more foundational, than this, and it has everything to do with real life. The word itself comes from the Greek terms for “God” (theos) and “word,” “thought,” or “reason” (logos). So theology means: “that which can be said or thought about God—essentially, the study of God.” If the primary (though not exclusive) source of information about God is the Bible, theology can be thought of as the study of the Bible: What does it teach? What is true, according to Scripture?
A more formal definition might be something like this: “Theology simply means thinking about God and expressing those thoughts in some way.” Notice that this describes activity. Theology is not primarily something, but rather the doing of something, specifically, thinking and expressing. The term doctrine refers to the results of the thinking and the content of the expressing (though sometimes theology is used as a synonym for doctrine).
Furthermore, notice from the definition that theology is not simply a mental activity; it also involves communication. This is noteworthy because knowledge of God is too essential to keep to oneself. It needs to be passed on to help others understand God as well.
If this is what theology is, then it follows that theology is something everyone does, for everybody thinks and talks about God to some degree. Even atheists do; they just do so in negative terms. At some level, all people are theologians, whether they know it or not. The question, then, is not whether one is “doing” theology but whether one is doing theology correctly.
So how do we do theology correctly?
How to Do Theology
One truth that Christians have long understood may initially seem counterintuitive: We must do theology in faith. Normally we would assume that after we thoroughly understand something, we decide whether or not we should believe it. But the Bible teaches another order. The apostle Paul says:
The person without the Spirit [the unbeliever] does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God [e.g., God’s Word, the Bible] . . . and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:14
In other words, only a person of faith—one who trusts in God and trusts in his Word—can truly understand his Word as he intends. Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) put it this way: “I believe in order that I may understand.” Or, as others have rephrased it, theology is “faith seeking understanding.” The belief, or faith, is to precede the understanding.
This does not mean faith is blind. It is not mindless or irrational. God will never ask us to trust in something for which there is insufficient basis for belief. It does mean we must do theology in dependence upon God, the subject of our study and author of our primary truth source—the Bible, his Word. Through his Spirit, he will guide us into all truth (John 16:13).
Daryl Aaron, Christian Theology for People in a Hurry Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2019. Used by permission.
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