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What is "Theology"?

June 26, 2024 | Brad Campbell

“Theology.” The million-dollar Bible College word you’ve heard a million times but never properly defined.
What is “theology”?
At its root, the word “theology” is a compound of two Greek words: theos (“God”) and logos (“word”). With this compound, one could define theology as “God words” or “words about God” – his character, being, justice, desire for the world, saving action toward humans, etc. But theology can also describe our “words to God” in prayer and worship. It has vertical and horizontal capacities that encompass both the heart and the mind. Clearly defined, the word “theology” describes any words to, for, or about God that help shape our understanding of his work in the Bible, history, and our own lives. Theology is simply what we talk about when we talk about God. But we must be careful to define what “God” we are talking about. To speak words about God for us is to describe the nature and character of the triune God of the Christian Bible: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
Who gets to “do” theology?
Believe it or not, theology is not a discipline reserved for universities, seminaries, or local church pastor bruncheons. Theology is something that all Christians practice in all times and places. Christians use their own unique language to describe how God has worked, spoken to them, and redeemed their own lives – including you and me. People tend to do theology the most in times of deep joy, grief, pain, hope, and suffering (see the psalms, for instance). But we also do theology when we read our Bibles, pray, engage in a small group, listen to music, or watch the news. God is all around us, and we are constantly trying to figure out how to put language to how he is working. All of us, in most parts of our lives, are doing theology whether we think we are or not, because we are all trying to understand more and more how the God who saves us is working around us and in us. For this reason, Anselm – one of the influential theologians in Church history – defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.” With faith, we are all seeking how to better understand God, ourselves, and creation in light of one another and to give language to those experiences.
Theology as a Way of Life
Theology also has a lived expression. Our tendency is to think of the word “theology” as something that happens in the confines of our minds. However, theology is an invitation for us to contemplate the things of God so that we can partner with God in the restoration of all things. Theology leads to action. For this reason, we can say that the whole of the Christian life is a journey in theology – a journey in learning more and communing more with God and his good creation. We must be careful, however, not to view theology as a quest with an end or an arrival point. God is infinite and perfect; we are finite and fallen. We must be cognoscente to remember Augustine’s words, that “any attempt to understand God is a failed attempt to understand God.” Because we are not God, we will never truly understand or comprehend God’s truest character or being. By his grace, he has revealed to us glimpses of his being – just as sunlight might shine through the cracks of an old shed. With what God has given us through Scripture, history, and the ongoing revelation of the Holy Spirit inside of us, we learn about what God wants for the world and work with him to make that happen. The Christian life is a quest in doing theology, but with no end; because we will never truly be able to understand God… at least not in this life.


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