Theology comes from the Greek words Θεός, meaning “God”, and λόγος (logy), meaning “study of”. So simply put, theology is the study of God. There are a few variables that play into this simple definition though and to understand them is to gain a firm grasp on how to do theology correctly.
First, we must have a firm grasp on which god we are talking about. Obviously as a Christian, I believe there is only one God, the Christian God, Jehovah or Yahweh. But, as a Christian, I am also not naive enough to believe that this means everyone believes in God or believes in Him the same way I do. So, with that thought in mind, where do we start? Do we let bygones be bygones and assume an air of relativism? Is it best for everyone to just believe in God in the way they want to believe? The clear answer to that is no.
Here is why relativism will fail in theology…Relativism assumes that all truth is relative. Or to put this in another way, relativism says that truth is subject to differences in perception and experience. What may be truth for you is influenced by your community, upbringing, culture and perhaps even political views. The problem with relativism is it starts with man, is built on man and seeks to glorify man by making man’s opinion all that really matters.
Theology, true theology, is quite the opposite. Theology is concerned with God. Theology uses systematic and rational thought to mesh out truth about who God really is. One’s opinion of God is measured against revealed truth about God and if need be opinion is “crucified” for lack of a better term. A common misconception is that theology is a set of beliefs that have no rational basis in reality. Instead, they are mankind’s projections of who they want God to be or be like. But this conception fails the test. When working through theology, every possible avenue is explored in detail and great concern is given concerning which direction to take. The theologian uses the gifts of intellect and understanding to form and comprehend a complete picture of who God is. Not only that, but one truth can not contradict another truth. All truths, even if they appear to be contradictory, must flow toward a common conception of who God really is.
Wayne Grudem, research professor of Bible and theology at Phoenix Seminary, states the following, “Systematic theology involves collecting and understanding all the relevant passages in the Bible on various topics and then summarizing their teachings clearly so that we know what to believe about each topic.” I couldn’t agree more. Theology must be both biblical and systematic. To be biblical, it means it derives it truths from the only book of true truth there is, the Bible. To be systematic, it means it takes that true truth and collects it, summarizes what it says and then rationally and carefully examines it with imposing man’s opinion on it.
Theology is not a simple task, but it is the task of each believer. in 1 Peter 3:15, believers are told the following, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” To give an answer, implies you know the question. It also implies you know the truth to the question. Jesus also tells us the following, “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9) When we ask for truth and understanding, it will be ready and available. Each of us should seek to know God better; which is really the goal of theology after all.
Some resources on theology:
- Systematic Theology – Wayne Grudem
- Christian Theology – Millard Erickson
- A Body of Divinity – Thomas Watson
- Mere Christianity – CS Lewis
- Reclaiming the Mind blog