What is Theology? Part 1
This is part one in a two part series. Part two can be accessed here.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Here, Jesus tells a scribe that if we are to aim at one thing in life, we ought to aim at loving God with everything we are. This makes perfect sense when we consider that Christ restored to the utmost that which we had utterly destroyed. Since God redeemed all we are, we are to give all we have to all of Him. Nothing less is an appropriate response.
One part of loving God with all of your mind is studying theology. The word theology comes from two Greek words and literally means a word about God. When we study theology, we’re studying how God affects our views on countless issues. For example, we study who God is, who we are, the world’s origin, for what purposes we ought to live, and how the world will end, to name just a few issues.
Now, anyone who has studied theology knows one thing: Theology is hard. However, if you go to church, you’d probably be surprised at how much theology you already know. After all, a sermon is essentially a lecture on theology, or at least it should be. To help you get your feet under you on theology, I’m going to give you a systematic survey of the usual topics in theology over the next few weeks. Once you get an overview of the territory, it’s much easier to see what you already know, how things connect, and different topics worth studying.
Christian systematic theology is an attempt to organize all Christian beliefs in a systematic way. To do this, theologians typically organize Christian theology into approximately eight different doctrines. The more important doctrines are almost always placed closer to the beginning, while the less important doctrines are pushed to the end; of course, there’s some debate as to which doctrines should be earlier and which should be later. Within each doctrine of theology are numerous subheadings waiting to be explored.
1. The Doctrine of God
Also known as Theology Proper, the doctrine of God contains all the beliefs that Christians hold about God. First, we believe God exists; consequently, in Theology Proper, we explain why we believe this—and the answer cannot be that the Bible says so. All true Christians throughout the Church’s two millennia long existence have also believed that God exists as a Trinity; within Theology Proper, we explain what this essential doctrine means. How, for example, does God the Father relate to the Son and to the Spirit? Another discussion topic is what God is like. God has numerous attributes; God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, immutable, unimaginably powerful, eternal, and a lot of other things that will make your head hurt if you think about them for too long! However, sometimes these things can be difficult to understand. Take, for example, Plato’s famous Euthyphro dilemma. Within the Euthyphro, Socrates, seeking to expose the inadequacies of polytheism, asks whether something is good or pious because the Greek gods approve of it or, alternatively, whether they approve of it because it is good. Applied to a Christian context, is love, for example good because God loves, or does God love because love is good? If the former, then God’s morals are relative and He could’ve chosen to make murder morally desirable; if the latter, then God is subject to something exterior to and higher than Himself. A simpler question also within the doctrine of God is how can God be incorporeal (John 4.24) and yet have a right hand (Matthew 22.44)? Theology Proper explores all of these beliefs about God and many more.
2. The Doctrine of the Revelation
No, this doctrine doesn’t have much to do with the biblical book of Revelation; instead, this doctrine deals with how God reveals Himself to us. The most common sub-heading within this doctrine is Bibliology, or the doctrine of the Bible. Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God to humanity; thus, within this doctrine, we discuss not only what it means for God to inspire the Bible, but also how it happened. Given that the Bible is God’s inspired word, it follows that the Bible is God’s communication to us and thus bears God’s authority. Furthermore, since God doesn’t lie, the overwhelming majority of Christians affirm the Bible’s inerrancy. Inerrancy, however, can be a bit controversial because some biblical passages appear to conflict; how, for example, do the two accounts of Judas Iscariot’s death, found in Matthew 27.3-10 and Acts 1.18-19, relate to one another? Discussions of how God reveals Himself through nature and our consciences and how Jesus reveals the Father to us also belong under the doctrine of revelation.
3. The Doctrine of Humanity
Also known as Theological Anthropology, the doctrine of humanity attempts to understand who we are as humans within a Christian worldview. For example, the Bible states that we are all, regardless of nation, creed, or color, created in the image of God, the imago Dei; however, the Bible is less than clear on the specifics of this important designation. Within the doctrine of humanity, we attempt to understand what it means to be made in God’s image. Though we were made in God’s image, we know that we’ve messed something up through our sin. Thus, the doctrine of humanity also explains how we are still in God’s image after our sinful fall; furthermore, Theological Anthropology discusses the nature of and penalty for sin. Of contemporary importance, the doctrine of humanity also discusses the proper relationship between males and females, homosexuality, and all the other en vogue sexual idiosyncrasies running rampant through modern, Western society.
None of my discussions have been comprehensive. I did not, for example, mention anything to do with the canon of Scripture (which books do and don’t belong in the Bible), the existence and nature of angels and demons, or the biblical covenants which God has made with humanity; each of these, however, belong under the doctrines above.
Notes & Sources
 Mark 12.31, NIV.
Image Courtesy of Motion Worship. http://www.motionworship.com/