The English word “theology” comes from two Greek words, theos (God) and logos (the study of), so it literally means “the study of God.” Things that Theology is interested in are: (1) the nature of God (what kind of being is God?), (2) God’s attributes (God’s characteristics and abilities), and (3) God’s relationships with His creatures.
The basic meaning of the word “theology” is “the study of God.” However, often the word “theology” is used in a more expansive sense than this, to describe the studies of different teachings of the Bible. These kinds of theology have their own special “-ology” names:
- Theology Proper (the study of God)
- Anthropology (the study of man and the created universe)
- Christology (the study of the person and work of Jesus Christ)
- Pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit)
- Ecclesiology (the study of the Church)
- Soteriology (the study of salvation)
- Hamartiology (the study of sin)
- Eschatology (the study of the final purpose of all things)
The source for all of these “-ologies,” all of these particular “studies of,” is the Bible. The things that the Bible says about these topics are scattered throughout its pages, not presented all in one place for each issue. We go through the Bible, look at the things it says about each of these issues, and then try to put all those things together into a single “picture” that makes sense. When we do this, we are doing theology, and we are each and every one of us theologians.
Why Is Theology Necessary?
First, no man is an island. No one lives all alone with his own personal copy of the Bible. No one should act as if he or she can figure it all out without ever consulting anyone else. Christians are called to be in community with each other (the church). It is in the context of our lives together in the church that we read the Bible, talk about it, try to figure out what it means, and work to apply its teachings to our lives. Theology is what we all do together as Christians who all love the same Lord and read the same Bible.
Each of us has different gifts, different strengths (1 Cor. 12:12-20). We need each other, especially when it comes to understanding the Bible. Sometimes one person can see something that another does not see, and the first can help the second to see. As Christians, we are a body (Eph. 4:4-16). For each person to try to figure out the Bible all by himself would be like the foot saying to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or the head telling the stomach, “You have nothing to say that I need to hear. I can do it all by myself!”
Second, the Bible itself tells us that not everything in it is easy to understand (2 Pet. 3:16). Sometimes what you read in one part of the Bible seems to say something different than what you read in another part. When this happens, you have to try to reconcile the two places.
One of the jobs of Theology is to reconcile parts of the Bible that seem to contradict each other. Theology uses tools to do this. Some of those tools are: (1) knowledge of the original languages of the Bible, (2) knowledge of the cultures of Bible times, (3) the thoughts of past generations of Christians on the texts in question, and (4) the beliefs of your church.
Third, Theology helps you to grow more mature in your faith. There is nothing at all wrong with “just” reading the Bible. Every Christian should read the Bible regularly. But there is a difference between just reading the Bible and studying the Bible.
Studying the Bible is a much more serious task than just reading it. Studying the Bible requires you to pay much closer attention to its words, and it often requires you to confront things in the text that seem to be difficult to understand. When something you read in the Bible is difficult to understand, and you “wrestle” with it for a while trying to reach a conclusion, you are thinking theologically – that is, you are engaging in the process of trying to figure out what the theology of the Bible on this particular point is. The process of “wrestling” with the Bible this way helps you to grow more mature in your faith and makes you stronger as a Christian.
Theology can help you see where your own views come from, and also help you better understand why other Christians think differently than you and your church think about particular issues, so that you can be more charitable to them.
In the Middle Ages, theology was called “the Queen of the Sciences” because Christians thought that all other kinds of knowledge owed allegiance to the basic truths of the Christian Faith as summed up by the discipline of Theology. This is a view that has fallen on hard times in our age, because we often do not want to do the hard theological work of relating what the Bible says to every area of our lives.
We need to remember that God’s Word has something to say to us about every area of our lives. All of our studies should be done with a nod to the “Queen,” whose decrees we read about in the pages of the Bible.