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Christian Theology Simplified
Statue of Theologian, John Calvin
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.
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 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
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.
- John 3:16-God loves everyone in the world.
- 2Peter 3:9-God doesn't want anyone to "perish"
- Ephesians 2:8-9-Salvation is given as a result of our faith. It is God's gift to man.
- 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.
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.