Theology sounds like an advanced type of study, something that would only be applicable to seminary students or their professors. By the end of this blog, I hope every Christian realizes the importance of theology to every believer, not just the certain “privileged” ones. In this blog I want to answer a few of the key foundational questions about theology: What is it? Why is it important? How is it developed? Is it a Biblical endeavor? I hope that through reading this you will be encouraged to dig deeper into the truths about who God is.
What is theology? The word theology is derived from the two greek words theos and logos. Theos is the word for God. Logos has several meanings- word, reason, study, speech, expression. Theology carries the goal of coming to a greater understanding of God. Studying and pondering theology can be a method of organizing the different truths about God. While we may have a complex conglomerate of ideas about who God really is, a systematic theology can categorize the different complexities. When the different topics are separated out to be studied individually, the knowledge of God is greatly benefitted.
Why is theology important? Our theology develops every aspect of our lives. Theology forms the foundation of who you perceive yourself to be. What you believe about God says everything (logically) about what you believe about yourself. Theologically speaking, an atheist should never claim to live a valuable life. Similarly, a believer in God should never claim to live a meaningless life. So theology forms and develops what we can know about our life’s purpose. If we are not living according to our real purpose, then what use is it? (This is not to make it seem relative to each individual- there is true theology and there is false theology)
Second, you are going to reflect your specific beliefs about who God is. If you believe God is loving toward prisoners, then you are most likely going to seek to be loving to prisoners. If you believe God hates a certain race of people, then you are probably going to hate that race also. If you believe God is personal, you will pray; if you don’t believe God is personal, you won’t. If you believe God is only interested in your “religious” aspect of life, you won’t involve Him in much. If you believe He is interested in every aspect of your life, then you will involve Him in every aspect of your life.
What is the correct method of developing a theology? Various religions have different theologies. There are at least as many theologies as religions. For many people, a theology is developed based on their ideas and preferences. For many profound and personal reasons I am a Christian, therefore I seek to develop a Christian theology. Christian theology can not be developed the same way as the rest of the world’s theologies.
Christian theology harmonizes between two basic categories: reason and revelation. Reason means our ability to come to conclusions. Revelation means that an outside (transcendent) influence has brought us to a conclusion. There are debates about whether the starting point for our world view ought to be reason or revelation. It seems to me that we can’t help but have reason as our starting point. Assuming revelation as our starting point would actually be a conclusion based on reason. For the Christian, revelation is not at all forsaken. But revelation without reason is unrecognizable, but reason without revelation is waywardness.
The only way we can discern whether an apparent revelation is truly revelation is by reasoning. Many have gone astray in their theology and world view because they refused to harmonize revelation with reason. They came to illogical conclusions because they didn’t apply any reasoning to what they assumed was revelation. Through reasoning we can be able to filter out some of what we know can’t be true about God. For instance: God is material, but pre-exists all material. Our reasoning could determine such a statement as false because it contains a contradiction. If a revelation comes that can not possibly be aligned with reason, than such information is false revelation- meaning it is not the truth about God.
Yet reasoning is not enough when we are talking about the attributes and nature of God. “”My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.” (Isaiah 55:8). Since we are feeble, extremely limited in humans, we can’t ever expect to know the full meaning of any aspect of God’s existence. A full meaning would require multiple thoughts at once, while we are only capable of handling one thought at a time. Then we forget things. Beyond that, there are attributes of God that can not possibly be known without Him revealing them to us. For instance: we could not know that God is as a Father unless He had revealed it to somebody. These attributes are not determined by reasoning, they go beyond reason, but not against it. Revelation is knowledge and information where reasoning ends. This revelation is found within the Bible.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33)
You may say “this sounds so challenging. What’s the point? I guess there wouldn’t be much point if you didn’t really believe God was there (see my blog on agnosticism). But if you are a believer in God- especially a Christian- then you should be willing to put up with some challenges in order to do and be what God has asked of you.
We are commanded to be people of knowledge. “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). This world is not a place we walk idly through and assume to not be affected by the lies that permeate every aspect. Jeremiah 9:6 says “You live in a world of deception. In their deception they refuse to know me. This is the Lord’s declaration.” It is apparent that we have to be proactive in our knowledge of God.
We should not worship God out of ignorance, but out of knowledge. “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2) We can not assume to know God truly without developing our knowledge of Him. Lack of knowledge is the reason people fall from the favor of God. People can wander from the true God while thinking they are following God. This happens because they do not allow the knowledge of God in to affect them.
Ignorance of God brings defeat: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6)
Knowledge of God brings victory: “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14).
To summarize, we (namely Christians) should seriously seek to develop our knowledge of God (theology). Theology is an important endeavor because God commands it. God deserves it- we glorify Him all the more through an increased knowledge of who He is. We need the knowledge of Him to live a life consistent with our real purpose. Theology is extremely important for pulling yourself into the truth, other believers into more of the truth, and the lost away from lies and ignorance.