An Introduction to Theology
What is Theology?
Theology is a word which many tremble at as they picture dry academics and controversy which only real “Bible students” can understand. While this appears to be a sort of humility, it is actually an ignorant position that produces needless fear. We need to understand what theology is before we can question its necessity.
So then, we should start with a definition. What is theology? Theology is the study of God. But because God is the center of everything, especially in Scripture, theology extends to studying God’s Being, His works, and His relation to man as revealed in the Bible. For one to hate theology, he has to hate studying God—a notion that should be absurd to every believer.
It is no wonder, though, that many become intimidated when they hear that word because there are different types of theology, some of which have the potential to be abused. Generally, in the world of Christian academics, there are five branches identified under the broad term “theology.”
- Systematic Theology: the study of the faith on a topical, systematic basis. While systematic theology is good in itself, it has potential to be abused in academic circles. One example of this is the invasion of highly philosophical discussions, rather than the exposition of Bible doctrine.
- Dogmatic Theology: the study of truth as understood, affirmed, and defined by various groups within Christendom. For example, “Reformed theology” would be a dogmatic study. This type of study has certainly been abused in history.
- Biblical Theology: the study of truth (its development and emphases) according to genre, book, and author in Scripture. Again, liberal theologians could misconstrue this to be a critical dissection of the Bible, when it should never be.
- Historical Theology: the study of truth as understood through and at different times in the history of Christianity. This has the potential of both over-emphasis and under-emphasis.
- Practical Theology: the study of theories and methods of practical Christianity (e.g. preaching, missions, evangelism, Christian living, etc.). Unless Scripture reigns, this could become a psychology-based analysis which ends in theories and not true wisdom from God.
However, let us not be discouraged from studying God simply because others have at times made a mockery of it. We need to understand that studying the Bible is not dry nor dangerous if done properly. Yes, it is hard. Yes, it takes discipline. But when we see God in all His glory behind those pages, it certainly will not be, of all things, dry.
With this in mind, it is helpful for us to understand the ten main areas in which the theologian studies (and remember, “theologian” does not equal “seminary student”). These areas fall under “systematic theology”: notice the logical ordering of them.
- The Doctrine of Scripture (Bibliology). This area of study includes subjects like the sufficiency of Scripture, infallibility, authority, etc. Often the canon and transmission of Scripture are discussed as well.
- The Doctrine of God (Theology Proper). The title “Theology Proper” narrows the study to the doctrine of God specifically, as opposed to general studies within broader “Theology.” In this area, the discussion revolves primarily around God’s attributes and Being.
- The Doctrine of Christ (Christology). In this area, the focus remains on Christ’s Person, offices, and comings.
- The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Pneumatology). The Spirit’s Person and function are the main subjects of this study. The technical name is derived from the Greek word for “spirit,” pneuma.
- The Doctrine of Angels (Angelology). Within “Angels,” we study good angels, demons, and Satan himself.
- The Doctrine of Man (Anthropology). Here, man’s makeup, fall, and role are discussed. Anthrōpos is the Greek word for “man,” thus explaining the technical name of this study.
- The Doctrine of Sin (Hamartiology). Here, sin is considered in its many aspects, such as its nature, its punishment, etc. Hamartia is the Greek word for “sin.”
- The Doctrine of Salvation (Soteriology). Depending on whether the Atonement is discussed under the doctrine of Christ, soteriology would include “redemption accomplished” (the work of Christ) and “redemption applied” (conversion). Sōtēria is the Greek word for salvation.
- The Doctrine of Last Things (Eschatology). This area of study concerns itself with Bible prophecy and includes questions about the Millennium, dispensations, the tribulation, etc. Eschatos is the Greek word for “last.”
- The Doctrine of the Church (Ecclesiology). People normally divide this into two studies: the Body of Christ and the local assembly. Both are called “assembly” in Scripture and fall under the same category, but they are two different entities that must be considered separately. The Greek word for “assembly” is ekklēsia.
The Purpose of Doing Theology
Why should we study theology at all? Mainly, we study it, because it is in our Bibles. God has revealed Himself, and regardless of how we feel, we must respond when God speaks. We are called to tremble at God’s word (Is. 66:2). We don’t have a say in whether this is necessary and study theology because we must.
Of course, the reasons go deeper than that. We also do theology to know God. “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:20). Some think God can be understood apart from doctrine and meaningful study. He cannot. God is known through revelation, not feelings or even experiences (unless informed by doctrine). If we don’t have doctrine, we don’t have God. Period. This is what salvation brings us into: we are saved so we can know God (John 17:3). In theology, we are advancing in the potential that salvation presents to us: it is an extension of our eternal life.
But further, we do theology, because we must know and defend what Scripture teaches. This is what Jude spoke of in his letter: “Beloved… I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3). To defend the faith (the embodiment what we believe) we must know it. But without theology, we have nothing to believe. We are just left with subjective experiences which nobody can cling to. This is why we must study theology.
Theology is the Most Dignified Study
Studying theology is not only a duty, but it is a privilege and a dignified occupation. Actually, the Lord Himself shows us this in that He taught the first systematic theology lesson: “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). These dear souls cherished their experience, because they were near unto Christ’s heart: “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (v. 32). This should be our experience. We can be occupied with and taught by the infinite God of Heaven! How can this not be the most dignified study?
But we can ask further, how is this not the most worthwhile study? After all, if God is in everything, studying Him will not fail to give perspective and guidance in every aspect of life. In nature, we can appreciate His beauty. In viewing society, we can make sense of its failure. History can have purpose in our eyes. Science can show us the orderliness of God. Everything stems from our view of God. Man spends thousands of dollars in pursuit of knowledge, and that is mostly composed of theories made by fellow man. God calls man’s wisdom “foolishness,” while His own wisdom stands true. Thus, if the world pursues mere foolishness at great lengths, what should limit our pursuit of God? He is the essence of our greatest learning! To consider Him is the only way to obey the command to love our God with all our mind.
The Effects of Studying Theology
To the same extent that this study has dignity, it also has unfathomable effect. Because it was the acceptance of truth that brought us salvation, it will be the study of truth that confirms us in it. It proves and allows for a proper relationship with God: “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 Jn. 1:9). Not only that, but it sanctifies the believer, making him holy for God: “Sanctify them in the truth: Your word is truth.” (Jn. 17:17). It preserves the believer: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16). It gives the believer an understanding of God’s promises, allowing him to take hold of those promises in a trial. It matures the believer: “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). If Scripture is our spiritual food, apart from understanding it, we will wither as believers.
But on a larger scale, theology will affect collective Christian testimony. For teachers, who bear the standard of Christianity, there must be solid doctrine: “Holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Tit. 1:9). Every believer bears the standard in some way. This must be a doctrine-based standard. Doctrine is the starting point of the Christian life in everything, whether that be in discerning error, walking in truth, leading others, or any other practical duty. We are not subscribing to real Christianity if we don’t understand the Christianity of the Bible. Anti-theological religion is merely man-made ideology. If we don’t know what is and what is not from God in our belief system, we have no guarantee that there is any legitimacy in our claim to know God. Theology is vital.
So then, are you ready for radical study? Are you ready to plunge yourself into the depths of knowing God? Your pursuit will never find its end and your efforts will never find rest, for the knowledge of God will never be exhausted. But you can be guaranteed this: the knowledge of God will satisfy. How much will it satisfy? How great an effect will it take? No one knows because there is always more in the pursuit of God. Why not test the limits then? Why not be extreme in your devotion? Why not make the essence of your life to know God? Plunge without reserve into the bottomless depths of God’s truth. Begin measuring the vastness of His Being and see if you can ever touch the brink of its infinity. Be a theologian, then. Behold your God!
 Unless otherwise quoted, all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).