Christian Theology is one of the most rewarding studies to ever commit oneself to. At the surface, it can be simple, and yet profound; mystifying, and yet illuminating. Theology can help us Christians to formulate what it is that we believe, give us a greater appreciation for our faith, and deepen our love and adoration for the God who has been revealed in the person and deeds of Jesus Christ.
From my own experiences, I’ve noticed that some Christians feel slightly uncomfortable with theology. When the word “theology” is mentioned, some people seem to get the impression that we are talking about a boring, and lifeless academic subject that robs a Christian of his joy and passion for God. “All you need is Jesus,” is a type of reply you may get whenever the word “theology” is used. “Theology is human wisdom trying to make sense of God,” or my personal favorite, “Theology puts God in a box.” But I believe that these responses stem from misconceptions of what theology actually is.
I believe that the Christian writer and theologian, C. S. Lewis captured the proper perspective of Christian Theology in his book Mere Christianity. Lewis compared Theology to a map. If you are content to look at the Atlantic Ocean all your life, then taking a walk along the beach is all that is in store for you. But if you want to cross the Atlantic, then a map is absolutely essential.
Having a relationship with God is like looking at the Atlantic Ocean. You experience the waves, the sounds, and take in the majestic sights of an absolutely hugh body of water. But if you want to cross it, then walking on the beach will do you no good; you’ll need a map. Lewis writes “Theology is like a map. Merely learning and thinking about Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting… Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map.”
Having a relationship with God and learning about God are not the same, but they do go hand in hand. Being in a relationship, you not only experience that person, but you also learn about that person as well. If I were to tell you everything about a person I love, right down to their personality, and their hair color, you would never know what it’s like to experience a relationship with that person. I could describe how tall they were, what their favorite food was, and what kind of movies they like to watch. But if you have never met them, you would never really know what it is like to know them. You would have to meet that person to know them.
So how do we define Theology? Again, the illustration of the map can help us. Looking at a map will help us describe what it is that we are experiencing. If someone asks “what is God like?” a Christian can say things like, “he is loving,” or “he is patient.” A Christian can describe God with words like all-powerful, all-knowing, and fully-present everywhere. This my friend, is theology.
Theology comes from two Greek words: theos, God, and logos, word, or “study of”. Strictly speaking, theology is the study of God, but as we have seen above, theology comes from the experience of knowing God as well.
Whenever Christians say things like “Jesus is God,” we are saying a theological truth. Whenever we comfort ourselves in times of pain by saying “God is good, and he has plans for me,” we are doing theology. When we sing “great is thy faithfulness,” we are commiting ourselves to a theology. Theology is a belief system, and an affirmation of what it is that we believe. While we can say all these things without having a real relationship with God, we can’t have a relationship with God without a theology. In reality, the two go hand in hand.
So to sum this all up, theology is anything about God. What we believe about God ultimately determines what we say about God, and even how we feel about God. Everyone has a theology.
But from where do we get our theology? Or said in another way, what informs our theology? Is experience the only place that we derive our theology? How do we know that God is loving, and faithful? Do we build our theology only on experiences, or do we build them on something else? This is what I want to explore.
In this blog, I have attempted to clarify what theology is. Now I want to briefly explain and explore the primary source of all Christian theology.
The Scriptures, also referred to as The Bible is the primary source for all theology. The Bible is absolutely essential to Christianity, for without the Bible, Christians would know nothing about God. Talking about God would be a pointless endeavor. This is why Christianity has a doctrine known as Special Revelation. Special Revelation means that God has purposely revealed himself to humanity. In Christianity, the belief that God has made himself known in a special way stands as one of the most critical of all theological beliefs. If God has not made himself known, then theology is not possible. Therefore, the Bible is God’s self-disclosure. The doctrine of special revelation is the very foundation on which we can build a theology.
To illustrate the importance of special revelation, I want to write about another aspect of God’s revelation. In Christianity, there are two types of revelation. I have already explained what special revelation is, so I would like to explore another aspect of God’s revelation known as General Revelation.
God’s general revelation is written about in the Bible. In Psalm 19 it says “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
In this biblical passage, the author is telling us that something about the creator can be discerned from the created order. God has revealed himself in a general sort of way.
It is agreed upon by many Christian theologians that humans would of had a hunch that a god existed, even if God had never given us special revelation. Had God never revealed himself, there would still be something discernable in the created world that hinted to his presence.
But that’s it.
Without special revelation (also known as particular revelation), we would not be able to talk much about matters of theology. We wouldn’t know that God was loving, nor that he was everywhere. We would not know that he was a savior, and we would most certainly not have a clue that he was tri-personal (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
That is why special revelation is one of the most important doctrines in all of Christian Theology.
I have divided this blog into two parts because there are yet some more sources of Christian theology that I have not explained yet. You might be wondering “other than the Bible, what other sources do you need?” That’s a good question, and I intend to answer that in part 2 of this blog. There are actually 4 sources (one of which I have already hinted at) that Christianity has recognized as being valid sources of theology.