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Christian Theology Simplified

Updated on December 18, 2017
cam8510 profile image

Chris spent 50 years in the Evangelical world as a layman, as a student at a prominent Christian University and as a missionary and pastor.

Statue of Theologian, John Calvin

Statue of John Calvin (1509-1564) in Geneva, Switzerland.  Sculptor-Maurice Raymond (1862-1910)
Statue of John Calvin (1509-1564) in Geneva, Switzerland. Sculptor-Maurice Raymond (1862-1910) | Source

I Wonder If....

Many people I talk with aren't very interested in the subject of Theology. How about you? I admit that theology sounds like a boring subject. But have you ever wondered about any of these concepts?

  • Is there really a God?
  • Is there life after death?
  • Who goes to heaven and who doesn't?
  • Is there a place called hell?
  • Are angels real?
  • Is there one right religion?
  • What is God like?
  • Is Satan real?
  • Was Jesus really the Son of God?
  • Is Jesus God?
  • Did God create the universe?
  • Will Jesus really return to earth?
  • Where did evil come from?
  • Is the Bible the Word of God?

These are questions a lot of people ask, and they are the things theologians ponder. So if you have ever asked one of these questions or anything like them, you have been engaging in theology.

Definitions of Theology

Saint Augustine (AD 354-450), in his book called "The City of God," defined theology as "Reasoning or discussion concerning the deity."

Richard Hooker, an influential 16th century Anglican Priest, referred to theology as "The science of things divine."

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines theology as "The study of religious faith, practice, and experience : the study of God and God's relation to the world."

Actually, those are all pretty obvious aren't they. Lets look a little deeper into the subject.

"The Last Judgement" The Louvre.

The Last Judgement. The Louvre.
The Last Judgement. The Louvre. | Source

Eleven Theological Categories

  • Soteriology-The study of salvation.
  • Hamartiology-The study of sin.
  • Eschatology-The study of "last days" prior to and including the return of Christ.
  • Pneumatology-The study of the Holy Spirit.
  • Christology-The study of the person, Jesus Christ.
  • Ecclesiology-The study of The Church.
  • Bibliology-The study of the inspiration of the Bible and how it was consolidated.
  • Angelology-The study of angels.
  • Anthropology-(As a theological topic)-The study of man in relation to God.
  • Theology proper-The study of the attributes and works of God.
  • Missiology-The study of the mission of the Christian Church.

There are more, but this is a list of some of the most prominent components of theology.

Two Methods of Studying Theology

Theology is studied primarily in two ways. These methods are not mutually exclusive, but actually complement one another. Before I introduce them, allow me to apply them to an average person's lifetime.

We might study a person's life chronologically from birth to the present, or to the time of their death. We could also study a person's life topically by examining their family life, occupation and hobbies.

Christian theology is studied much the same way. It is looked at chronologically and is referred to as Biblical Theology. It is studied topically and is called Systematic Theology.

A Good Explanation of Biblical Theology

Biblical Theology

Biblical Theology examines how the Christian God has progressively revealed Himself to man in the Bible. Theological concepts such as salvation were introduced early in the Bible and were developed more and more through the centuries. The same goes for other theological concepts such as who God is, who Satan is, sin and the afterlife.

Biblical Theology considers the historical and social circumstances surrounding specific events and teachings. This method focuses on the progressive development of Christian beliefs.

An example of this development of a Christian teaching can first be found in the book of Genesis chapter three, verse fifteen. After Adam and Eve sinned by giving into the temptation by Satan (In the form of a snake), God pronounced judgement on the serpent (Satan), Adam and Eve. In this particular text in Genesis, God says to the serpent/Satan,

"And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

Many biblical theologians see in these words the whole idea of salvation in very early, undeveloped form. Satan is told that his head will be crushed by the offspring of the woman. The offspring is Jesus Christ who would come centuries later and would be injured by Satan and would in turn destroy Satan's power. The concept of salvation began in Genesis three and was developed throughout the rest of biblical history. This is biblical theology: the progressive development of concepts such as salvation.

The Triumph of Religion

Source

Systematic Theology

Systematic Theology brings all teachings of the Bible on a certain topic together and synthesizes a tenet or doctrine or belief. The goal of Systematic Theology is to develop statements of belief on various topics. These statements are referred to as dogmas. They are intricately worded, authoritative statements of Christian beliefs or doctrines.

Systematic theology would not study the progressive development of beliefs throughout the Bible as Biblical Theology does, but puts all references to a particular belief together and synthesizes the information into a dogmatic statement. Here is a simple example of how this works on the subject of salvation.

  1. John 3:16-God loves everyone in the world.
  2. 2Peter 3:9-God doesn't want anyone to "perish"
  3. Ephesians 2:8-9-Salvation is given as a result of our faith. It is God's gift to man.
  4. 1John 5:11-God has given us eternal life.

A simple synthesis of these verses might be as follows: God loves everyone and doesn't want anyone to die without knowing Him. He extends salvation to all as a free gift, asking only for their faith in Him. He rewards those who trust in Him with eternal life.

A Good Explanation of Systematic Theology

From Faith in God to Violence

So this is how Christianity has developed over the centuries. Men and women have studied the Bible and developed doctrines by which to live. It has not been uncommon for these theologians to come to differing conclusions after studying the biblical data. The second half of the sixteenth century was filled with religious wars, often Christian sect against Christian sect or protestants against Roman Catholics. All of this violence was based on disagreements between Christian groups about what to believe.

Source

The Master Theologian Already Summed It All Up

Theological terms can be confusing, and I hope I've shined a little beam of light on some of them so that they make more sense. Theology is a worthy field of study, and in my humble opinion should be entered into with a great deal of humility. We are human beings and as such, we are prone to misunderstanding human to human communications. How much more prone are we to misunderstanding communications from the Almighty Himself.

Maybe the theologians get too close to their work sometimes. If we step back and look at the Bible as a whole, in spite of the things we don't understand about it, there is a message that comes through loud and clear. That message has already been synthesized into a dogmatic statement by Jesus Christ Himself when he said,

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Maybe any other doctrines, dogmas, statements and beliefs should always be stated with the above quote as a disclaimer.

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    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      9 months ago from Hartford, CT

      It sounds like you are referring to the difference between reward and gift. Is that correct? If so, I do see that difference and will make that change. I want the synthesis to represent mainstream theology.

    • MickeySr profile image

      MickeySr 

      9 months ago from Hershey, Pa.

      Cool, I'm happy to hear that - I mean "He rewards those who trust in Him with eternal life" is just about the opposite 'conclusion' that the Bible presents . . . R.C. Sproul has said (and I think titled a book) 'everyone's a theologian', adding 'some are good theologians and some are bad theologians', but everyone is some manner of theologian in that they own some set of ideas they believe to be true - I would be so bold as to suggest those theologians and Christians who hold that God rewards people with eternal life (for their faith or whatever) are of the 'bad theologian' strain.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      9 months ago from Hartford, CT

      MickeySr, Thanks for visiting my hub and for your comment and question. My synthesis is not meant to represent what I believe the Bible teaches. It is my attempt to demonstrate in an abbreviated fashion how systematic theology works. My conclusion, which you quoted, is an accurate presentation of what some theologians and many Christians believe the Bible teaches. Other theologians and Christians have concluded differently.

    • MickeySr profile image

      MickeySr 

      9 months ago from Hershey, Pa.

      Chris ~

      I understand your point was to demonstrate the distinction between the approachs of historic theology and systematic theology, but you're not asserting that your 'synthesis' of the 4 verses you alluded to, namely . . .

      "God loves everyone and doesn't want anyone to die without knowing Him. He extends salvation to all as a free gift, asking only for their faith in Him. He rewards those who trust in Him with eternal life"

      . . . is an accurate presentation of what the Bible teaches, are you?

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      21 months ago from Hartford, CT

      Yves/savvydating, It is nice to have you visit my hub today. Regarding context, some people seem to think that the Bible should not be extended even the basic respect we have for any other book. Who would consider going to a book of O. Henry's short stories, flipping open to any page, choosing a line and then think for a minute they could have the foggiest notion what was going on. But the Bible is used that way, probably, more times than not. It isn't simply that considering context is good hermeneutics, it is also respect for the art of writing, for books and literature and for the author, himself or herself. Thank you for visiting and for your comment. Have a great week.

    • savvydating profile image

      Yves 

      21 months ago

      I appreciate your having listed all the theological categories. I was not familiar with most of them. In reading the Bible, it is also important to remember context. Too many times, individuals read the Bible and somehow decide to tear apart the verses that do not coincide with the liberalism of modern day America. This shows a lack of understanding in the most arrogant sense.

      In any event, I enjoyed this article. Thank you for writing it.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      2 years ago from Hartford, CT

      Susie, thank you for reading the article and for leaving your comment. I hope the information is helpful.

    • profile image

      susie martun 

      2 years ago

      i want too thank you for the information

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 

      4 years ago from California

      You brought up some very thought provoking concepts, especially at the end, where you talked about theologians getting too close to their work. Interesting point in that Jesus himself said that to love God and love others was the greatest command. You explain the tension between the importance of sound doctrine and the importance of staying true to what Christ was asking.

      In the Epistles, sound doctrine is well prized and eternally significant. Titus 2:1 says, "But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine." We are also told that doctrines of demons will creep into the church and will try to deceive believers (1 Tim 4:1). So guarding ourselves by studying scripture is important.

      Jesus desperately prayed for our unity in his High Priestly Prayer in John 17. He wants us to be of one mind and unified in our worship. He also says to come to him with the faith like a child's. All throughout scripture he gave salvation to the weak, the lowly, and the unlearned.

      I hold several doctrines dear, some of which I would gladly die for. The authority of scripture, the deity of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, substitutionary atonement, the doctrine of Salvation by Grace---these are all essential to the christian faith. If we do not agree on these doctrines, then our fellowship is broken. If someone thinks that Jesus was just a good preacher, and I believe that he is the third person of the Trinity of whose atoning work resulted in the imputation of God's righteousness to all who believe---what possible fellowship can we have?

      I try my best to hold onto sound doctrine, but understand that people differ in their opinions of what scripture says. Sometimes people don't have the right doctrine because they are new to the faith or they have strayed in their thinking. I think there is a place for humility, grace, and love when there is a difference of opinion on non-essential issues. We can have unity because we are unified in something much greater than the petty squabbles over whether or not head coverings are required female dress.

      What does it mean to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength? I believe that sound doctrine glorifies God. If we don't believe God to be who he revealed himself to be, can we truly love him? John 4:24 tells us to worship him in spirit and in truth. Understanding his attributes and the depth of his grace should propel us to love him further. We can love him with our soul and heart, emotionally--with our mind, by our doctrine--and with our strength, by our actions.

      Thank you for starting this discussion on a very touchy subject. I think it does the Christian community well to talk openly, humbly, and honestly about doctrine. It should never be done out of jealous ambition, greed, or ego boosting, but in love, knowing that we were all once dead in our transgressions.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Hartford, CT

      Hi Christine, It is so strange to go back and look into some of these concepts, words and beliefs that I used to hold to so tightly. I hold them loosely now. I use the knowledge when needed, but for now I'm content to let the theological chips fall where they may. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • profile image

      pochinuk 

      4 years ago

      I feel like I am in my grade school library reading

      somewhere:

      Back in the 70's

      811 was the poetry section-been there done that!

      500 for nature and philosophy- been there done that!

      Your hub is like a small opened drawer in a large cabinet in

      the center of an old public school library...

      Finally I made it to:

      230 Theology

      Thank you, my forte is not history, but I want to get better.

      Equipped with more clarity on theological terms like these

      I may be able to set more time tables in my mind on dates and facts.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Hartford, CT

      Don, We barely covered Augustine's "Confessions" or Dante at my college. I hope these things come in handy sometime. Possibly in your reading you may come across a term that you would recognize. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Although I will probably never get that deep into it, your definitions are useful. Some of these things, like Augustine's "Confessions" and Dante, I studied in a public university. I wonder if they still teach these works?

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Hartford, CT

      Thank you Deb. I've got a bit of history with this stuff and it seems a shame to not do something with it. When I write about religion, I try to simply state what I know in a non-judgemental way.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Hartford, CT

      Ruby, I'm sorry I missed your comment from a week ago. Nothing polarizes people like religious beliefs. It is an interesting phenomenon to watch, and a relief to no longer be involved. Thanks for reading.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You have done eel with this overview.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Interesting article. funny how people can read the bible and believe differently and have churches who teach one way while another teaches something totally opposite. I have always been interested in theology. Great topic. Thank you..

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Hartford, CT

      Thanks Eric. I'm happy that this hub struck a chord with you. These are things that are important to me as well.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Hartford, CT

      MC, You are so right. An understanding of the Bible is a must when it comes to understanding much of history, especially countries founded upon Christian principles. Good point and thanks for visiting.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I just loved this read. Why not put perspective on our thoughts and arguments and beliefs.

      I was enriched by this article and it helped greatly and graciously that I do truly love the author.

      These are just things of my world/existence and I like it a whole lot. Thank you friend

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      5 years ago from San Diego California

      Too many times people get too intertwined in the meaning of words and forget the spirit. Nonetheless I find the study of theology fascinating. The Bible is the foundation of most of our cultural institutions and it is essential to understand it regardless of one's religious persuasion.

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