The Importance of Theology

the importance of theology

            No matter what some people may think the study of Theology is of the utmost importance not just for academic Christians but all believers who seek to do the work of spreading the Gospel. The study of theology is a necessity because at its core “theology is faith seeking understanding”[1] and it provides a framework so we can not only comprehend our faith but know how to communicate it to others effectively.

            Theology today is the culmination of over 2,000 years of study, history, experiences, turmoil, and intellectual growth as men and women attempt to give human language to matters which are beyond human comprehension. Despite the opinion of some, theology provides several key benefits for the church and the believer: it provides a process of systematic reflection, it helps to decouple us from our cultural biases, it gives us an overarching framework to see the Bible through and it gives language to better communicate our mission. Theology then is a compliment to mission and not an enemy of it, for without understanding there can be no success in delivering the message found within our mission to the world. For at the heart of the matter is the truth that every Christian is a theologian.

It is A Process of Systematic Reflection

            We must begin with the idea that “theology is a kind of secondary and systematic reflection of the faith that we profess.”[2] Theology does not supersede or replace the Scriptures but rather it provides an array of tools to study and understand the scriptures in light of thousands of years of history. The ideas and spiritual struggles of previous generations continue to have value as human nature at its core has not changed and the great questions of life remain largely the same.

            When used properly theology, and especially systematic theology acts as a processor of information much like a computer’s CPU. We can link together the different disciplines of study such as Biblical studies, anthropology, history and many other fields together in our search for understanding. It demonstrates not only how a verse was impacted by its history but also how history was impacted by a biblical verse or doctrine.

            We could say that “basically, systematic theology is the reflection on and the ordered articulation of faith.”[3] No matter what some people may think there is no conflict between faith and theology because it is theology which helps us to articulate our faith to other people. Yes, there have been times when the Scriptures and theology as a whole has been taken to the academic extreme but those excesses do not cancel out the mountain of benefits theology provides not just for the academic but also the average believer. The truth is that “we want Christian practice to be theologically grounded”[4] but at the same time we also want theology to be practically grounded as we go from “from trusting God to understanding God.”[5]

It Helps Decouple Us from Cultural Biases

            Each generation of the church must wrestle with the idea of how to be relevant to the world around it and how to best communicate the gospel. While it can be tempting to either remain unchanged or to embrace new culture to an unhealthy degree, theology when applied properly can aid us in avoiding either of these extremes. The concept of apostolic continuity applies to this subject as no matter the changes in culture we are still bound to the core teachings of Christ. Although we must learn how to translate those truths into the language, place and culture we are in, all the while being aware that “all theological assertions are historically conditioned.”[6]

            When used properly theology can not only give us added language to communicate with but it also acts as a filter to strip out unnecessary doctrines, beliefs and traditions. Much like how the Protestant Reformation sought to eliminate what they saw as extra-biblical practices so modern theology acts in a similar manner. Proper theology then is the cure for Traditionalism which adheres to “lifeless conformity to past theological formations. Using dry language that has no meaning for people anymore.”[7]

            The study of theology could be looked at as the study of what is actually important in the scripture and how we can be free of superstitions or doctrines which are grounded more in culture, politics, history, experience than on the scriptures themselves. This is especially true because “the Bible doesn’t address all our questions directly, as systematic theological perspective helps us to understand the Bible.”[8] As we see in our generation there are moral and cultural issues which were inconceivable thousands of years ago so theology must step in to provide guidelines and clarity on how to best live in this world which is so far beyond what the apostles and writers of scripture could ever imagine.

Theology Provides an Overarching Framework to Understand the Scriptures

            The Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience provides for us a glimpse of the different facets of our faith and how all of them must be active in the life of a believer. So it is with theology, and especially systematic theology which seeks to bring all of the streams of study into a single river of understanding. Theology is a rational discipline according to Thomas Aquinas, as “Faith goes beyond reason” and “Reason has the role of building upon what is known by revelation, exploring what its implications might be.”[9]

With all of the competing disciplines such as Biblical Studies, Philosophical Theology, Historical Theology, Practical/Pastoral Theology, Mystical Theology and Apologetics fighting for control of the primary interpretation of scripture it can be daunting to understand what a verse or concept is actually saying to not only its original audience but to us today. However, with systematic theology we receive the tools to glean from all of these other disciplines in order to produce an informed interpretation or understanding of a scripture or a religious concept.

From this larger unified framework of theology we also find what is needed to protect us from allowing experience, allegory, general revelation or philosophy from taking priority over the teachings of scriptures in not only individual lives but also in the larger church. These mostly personal matters can add color to our understanding of scripture but they are not the canvas of theology we paint upon.

Theology Gives Language to Our Mission

            It is one thing for me to go out in the zeal of mission and say that “Jesus saves,” but those words are irrelevant if it is unknown what they mean. Does Jesus save me a seat on the bus, or does He save me 15% on my insurance by switching to Geico? Mission without theology is just empty activity. From the study of theology, we can give clarity to matters such as atonement and all of the other matters we desire to speak about in our mission.

            Going about mission without a solid theological understanding reduces evangelism to an exercise in humanism which seeks to better humanity. As opposed to the revelation of the death and resurrection of Christ which is made all the more real through proper exegetical analysis which shows the prefiguration of Christ in the Old Testament and can explain the “bread crumbs” left by God over the centuries. Theology also shows us why we are in need of a savior and in our best attempts allows us to say what we are redeemed from, why God would do such a thing and why we can have assurance that these things are true. While the endeavor of mission can produce converts only the proper application of theology can produce disciples.

[1] James Pedlar

[2] James Pedlar

[3] Stanley J. Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imageo Dei (Louisville, KT; Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 1.

[4] James Pedlar

[5] Alister E.McGrath, Christian Theology: An introduction, 25th anniversary edition (West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2017), 84.

[6] Stanley J. Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imageo Dei (Louisville, KT; Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 6.

[7] James Pedlar

[8] James Pedlar

[9] Alister E.McGrath, Christian Theology: An introduction, 25th anniversary edition (West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2017), 127.

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