The What, How, and Why of Theology

Theology matters. According to Joel Beeke, “Theology is a word that mystifies some and intimidates others.” The reasons many are hesitant towards theology are numerous. For some, they may believe that they are unqualified to discuss theology because they didn’t go to bible college or receive a seminary degree. Others may be weary of theology because they believe that its dry, lifeless, or boring. I’ve actually heard someone say, “I don’t need theology.”

But the truth is, we cannot avoid theology. To quote the late R.C. Sproul, “Everyone’s a theologian.” The question is whether or not our theology is biblical or false. In this post, I intend to answer the questions (1) what theology is (2) how do we approach/study theology, and (3) why we study theology.

What is Theology?

Our word theology comes from two Greek words: theos, which means God, and -ology, which comes from the Greek word logos, meaning word. Therefore, theology could be defined as “words about God” or more simply put, “the study of God.” Faithful theology is the participation of the mind that seeks to understand the truths of God as He has revealed them to us through His Word.

Before we move further, I’d like to talk about different “classes” of theology.⌈‍1⌉ First, there is systematic theology. Systematic theology seeks to answer the question, “What does the whole bible teach concerning a given topic.”⌈2⌉ Second, there is historical theology. Historical theology seeks to answer the questions: how have biblical doctrines of Christianity been identified, defended, and applied throughout the history of the church, and what have particular theologians or churches taught about particular doctrines in the history of Christianity. Third, we have biblical theology. Biblical theology identifies how particular truths have been developed in relation to redemptive history. Fourth, we have practical theology. Practical theology seeks to apply the truths of theology into everyday living (godliness).

I know that’s a lot to swallow, especially if you’re new to your study of theology. But to sum up, theology is essentially the study of God as He has revealed truths through His Word. There are different classes of theology: systematic, historical, biblical, and practical.

How do we study Theology?

First, I believe that we must study theology with an awareness of our need for the Spirit’s work in granting us understanding of God’s Word. Paul, when writing to the church at Corinth said, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God (1 Cor. 2:12). As believers in Jesus Christ, we have the gift of the promised Holy Spirit. Did you catch what Paul said? He said that we have received the Spirit, who is from God, that we might understand. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, he prayed,

“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (Eph. 1:17-18).”

If we’re not careful, overtime, as we study theology, we may be tempted to grow arrogant and self-sufficient in our understanding of God’s Word. However, we must remember that we are dealing with Divine truth. We must remain humble in our studies because it is God who has given us understanding from the beginning. Recently I have begun every study in God’s Word by reciting Psalm 119:18, which says, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”

Second, we must study with reverence. If we’re not careful, we will begin to treat the Word of God like any other book in circulation. But we know that the Bible is not an ordinary book. It is, as Paul said, not to be treated “as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God (1 Thess. 2:13).” We must have a quiet disposition as we open the Word of God. We read in the psalms, “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way (Ps. 25:9).” We should be humbled as we open up the Word of God realizing that we are reading the words of God and marvel at the very fact that He has even chosen to reveal Himself to us.

Third, we must study with an obedient heart. Jesus said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you (Luke 6:46)?” When we open up God’s Word for study, we must remember the authoritative nature of it. The sixty-six books of the Bible are inspired by God. They are, as Paul said, “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). Every promise must be believed, and every command must be obeyed. We do not have the right to cherry-pick which verses we like and which ones we don’t.

Why do we study theology?

Why do we do anything that we do? Question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “The Chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” The Apostle Paul said, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).” Our primary purpose in all of life is to live for the glory of God. Paul is helpful again, when he said, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).”

The Apostle John wrote, “whoever says “I know Him” but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in Him (1 John 2:4).” The goal of theological study is not merely intellectual gratification, but transformed hearts that live to please and glorify the Father. Right belief should lead to right living.

Questions for Reflection

1. What is Theology?

2. How do we study Theology?

3. What is the goal of Theology?

4. Does my study of theological truth create in me a transformed heart that seeks to glorify Christ?

Soli Deo Gloria, 

Josh Chambers

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Footnotes: 

1 There are more than what I am listing, but for the sake of time and space, I’d like to focus on some of the more popular classes.
2 These topics range from theology proper (the study of God), anthropology (study of man), christology (study of Christ), bibliology (study of Scripture), ecclesiology (study of the church), and eschatology (study of last things). If you’re a little confused by the different terms, don’t worry, we will make our way through them in the future.

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