What is theology? Theology is the study of God. It’s setting forth the thoughts of God. It’s what A.H. Strong called “The science of God and of the relations between God and universe” (1). It’s actually even more than that, but I’ll come back to that. Theology comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes and varieties and flavours. There’s Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, New Testament Theology, Old Testament Theology, Historical Theology, Pauline Theology and all kinds of others. But no matter what kind of theology you’re talking about, theology done right concerns itself with what the Christian believes based on the Word of God. What do we believe the Bible teaches? Whatever kind of theology we’re doing, we’re organizing what Scripture teaches. We’re restating the facts—the truths of Scripture. Which raises the question, Why?
Couldn’t we just read the Bible to get that? Why do we need theology? The Bible is the truth. Just read your Bible. Isn’t that enough? The answer is: We need theology for our edification. As the well-known theologian, John Frame, puts it: “Theology is the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life” (8). Our theology is how we apply Scripture to life.
How about an example to illustrate this? I’ve never done archaeology before, but I’ve seen Indiana Jones. Archaeologists dig. You dig up a patch of land and see what you uncover: pottery, charred timbers, trinkets, toys, rusty weapons, and coins. Then you organize that stuff. Sort all the broken pieces of pottery. Use the pieces to date the site you’re excavating. That’s archaeology. Now with theology, you’re not digging and sorting in desert sands. The only source for your material is the Bible. The Bible is our source for theology. Of course, God has revealed Himself in different ways. He’s revealed Himself in Creation, in the Lord Jesus—but the only source we can interpret and understand these through is the Bible. How do we process everything the Bible has to say? Every question we want to ask about God—
What does the Bible say about what’s good and what’s bad?
How does God want us to worship?
What is God’s plan and purpose for everything?
What is true?
We look at the whole of Scripture so we know the truth and can identify false teaching. The reality is we all have a theology. How we think about God and our relationship to Him—that’s our theology. You’re a theologian. Let me tell you about another theologian for a minute. A guy with maybe not the best reputation named Origen.
Hailing from Alexandria, Egypt from long ago—some of his teachings may have been questionable, but this man loved the Word of God. He cared about theology. He even wrote his own version of one. Now we would reject his fanciful allegorical interpretation of Scripture that he was famous for—his quest for a deeper symbolic meaning in Scripture. But he was right to recognize that our theologizing depends on the Holy Spirit. Everyone’s a theologian, but only a Christian can be a good theologian. And, while Origen was incorrect to push this deeper allegorical understanding of Scripture, he was correct to point to deep things and how we can know them. The Apostle Paul makes it clear in the book of 1 Cor. that the world views God’s wisdom as foolishness. We can’t understand the mystery of God’s wisdom without God’s grace and the Holy Spirit. No normal method of inquiry will lead you to a saving knowledge of God. There is only one means of accessing this knowledge. What he calls, “the depths of God.”
1Cor. 2:9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
1Cor. 2:10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
Paul wrote that it’s the Holy Spirit who makes the thoughts of God known to us. We wouldn’t be able to think God’s thoughts if we didn’t have the Holy Spirit. Someone without the Holy Spirit could read the Bible and put together an accurate theology. But it would be foolishness to them. They wouldn’t believe it. There would be no application. Your theology does you no good if you don’t have the Holy Spirit. And you only have the Holy Spirit if you have placed your faith in Christ to save you.
And that brings us to what we should get out of theology. Or rather, what God should get out of our theology. And that’s worship. Theology can be academic sometimes, but it’s not merely academic. It’s practical. It’s the application of God’s Word to every area of life. As we study God and His relations with the universe, as revealed in the Word of God, we should be changed. We should be challenged. There should be growth in our relationship with this God we are coming to know more and more. The more we know Him, the more recognition we have for the object of our worship. What a waste it would be if we studied God and it didn’t cause us to recognize His worth and give Him praise.
Hi Brent – why does one need to be a Christian to be a good theologian?
Hi Bob! My point was that theology done right is done in dependence on the Holy Spirit. A non-Christian could compile a correct theology, but they would not believe it. There would be no application. The goal of theology would remain undone. As Herman Bavinck put it: “Dogmatics is from start to finish the work of a believer who is confessing and giving an account of the ground and content of his faith” (1:109). If theology is thinking God’s thoughts after Him, an unbeliever cannot do this since they do not believe His revelation.