A Confession About TheologyJuly 5, 2017
There are a few things that I could passionately and admittedly say that I love. One of those things are words. I love words. And especially how they’re poetically and carefully used in both fiction and non-fiction creative literature. Do you enjoy reading descriptions of natural scenery? That’s me.
In one of the novels I read this year, which I find quite controversial, the author describes one of the sceneries like this:
“Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; iris curling and browning at the edges far away from auburn hair wind down to their stalks. And the boys. The beautiful, beautiful boys who dotted the landscape like jewels, split the air with their shouts in the field, and thickened the river with their shining wet backs. Even their footsteps left a smell of smoke behind.” (Sula by Toni Morrison, p 56)
Who writes like that? However my disagreements at times, I’m easily attracted to such creatively written pieces. Despite my love of words, I have a confession to make about what I believe is one of the most important words in Christendom.
Before I became a Christian, and during my early Christian years, I never liked the word Theology. In fact I hated the word. Whenever I heard it, no matter the source, I would defiantly react negatively. And that was mostly due to the hostile encounters I had with people who supposedly studied, or were at that time, studying Theology.
Let me clear the air. I never hated Theology as a study, I just never liked how some of the people who used the word “Theology” conducted themselves and carried-out arguments in public spaces. Sometimes I would feel like Theology has become so academic that it even replaced the use of some biblical terms and teachings. To me those people seemed pharisaic and legalistic in their conduct. Tradition seemed to be honoured above fundamental teachings of the Bible.
However, today I’m also a Theology student. I’m convinced that all Bible-and-truth-loving Christians are Theologians. By this I mean that whenever we humbly study our Bibles we’re studying Theology. On the contrary, if we consider what the word theology means, it is also true to say that everyone, whether Christian or not, has a particular theology.
Besides devotionally studying my Bible, I also take formal Theology classes and I’m loving them. To be specific I’m studying what is called Systematic Theology. In the coming weeks and months I plan to publish some of my reflections in a series of articles.
My hope is that as you read those articles you will be challenged to seek, understand and enjoy some of the fundamental Christian doctrines taught by the Bible.
What is Theology and Systematic Theology?
Like many of the ology fields (e.g. Sociology, Physiology, Meteorology, etc.), Theology is a logical and analytical study field. The word “theology” is actually translated from the compound Greek word “θεολογία” (transliterated as “theologia”) which is made up of “Θεός” (“Theos”) which is translated in English as “God” and “-λογία” (-logia) which simply means “reasoning”. Therefore, Theology can be defined as a logical reasoning about God. To be blatant, Theology is a study about God (I find this somewhat boisterous, though).
If Theology is a logical reasoning about God, then Systematic Theology can be defined as an orderly way of reasoning about God. To make sense whenever I’m asked, I usually define Systematic Theology as a topical in-depth study of the Bible. This is much easier to understand because in Systematic Theology we look at what the whole Bible teaches about a specific topic (e.g. “what does the Bible teach about the Church?”). In essence, Systematic Theology gives an orderly account of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.
To avoid turning into what I used to hate about the word “Theology”, I have three convictions and reminders of why I study Systematic Theology. I hope you’ll consider them as you go through my “Systematic Theology articles” in the coming months.
1. The Bible is not theoretical, but very practical. This is where everything starts. The Bible is the actual Word of God and is Scripture. As a result is does not give hypotheses and theoretical knowledge. As a Christian you cannot rightly study the Bible and remain unchanged—and yes—change never ends until death. It is foolish and very dangerous to just know what the Bible teaches without applying that knowledge.
2. All Theology should lead to Doxology. Simply put, doxology means a praise to God. The ultimate reason we study Theology is so that we can rightly glorify God. Period. God graciously reveals himself to us in the Bible, and for us to glorify him in a right way we need a right understanding of who he is. We should praise, worship and glorify God the way he wants us to, not according to our own imaginations. The true God is the God that is revealed in the Bible. The aim of Theology is so that we can accurately understand who God is and how he wants us to live for his glory, which ultimately gives praise to him. If your study of Theology doesn’t progressively lead to a right passionate praise of God, then there’s something wrong. How accurate and frankly did the proverb say, where there’s smoke there’s fire.
3. A prideful man is a foolish man. No matter what we do it’s impossible for us to understand what the Bible teaches about God. Unless God himself does a miraculous work in us and opens our eyes to behold his beauty, we cannot understand the Bible (hence I find defining Theology as “studying God” very boisterous and somehow inaccurate—cf. Ps. 119:18-19, 1 Cor. 2:14, 12:3, etc.). It is for that reason that we should study Theology on our knees. We should humbly come to God in prayer like the psalmist and say, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes” (Ps. 119:33). Even as we study Theology, we shouldn’t be prideful and end up like Pharisees who knew Scripture but rejected the Messiah. Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” With humble hearts comes wisdom. Studying Systematic Theology helps us avoid error. Even with that we should humbly, patiently, lovingly, and prayerfully correct those who have an erroneous view of God.
May the grace of God be with the meek. Grace to you.