“Did you ever study theology?”
This was asked of me, once, maybe a few times. If by ‘studying theology’ you mean an academic endeavor, yes, yes I have. I have a desire to earn a degree in theology, from an esteemed place of higher learning like Harvard or even Cambridge, but alas, at this point I would settle for a degree from ‘My-Town-U’. While I don’t at present have an earned degree in theology, I have studied theology, even on an academic level for most of my life. My library is full of volumes by the likes of John Calvin, Millard Erickson, and John R. W. Stott. As a teen, I felt the call of God to preach His Word. This put me on a journey of almost 30+ years of studying theology.
What is theology?
Breaking down the word in its most basic form we get, ‘theos’ and ‘ology’. ‘Theos’ means God while ‘ology’ is the study of, thus, we get: the study of God. As an academic practice Theology is as ancient as any subject of higher learning. Many of our great institutions, such as Harvard and Yale, were created as places to train clergy, as they were often the most educated members of the community. Today, doctorates are still given in the field of theology and theologians are employed in institutions of higher learning, equal to philosophers and scientists in academic standing. As a field of study, one would do well to pursue it, if you so felt lead.
Jesus gave us a clue to how to study theology:
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39 ESV)
We see in this verse that Jesus is describing the true intent, at least what it should be, of theology. Theology should be about coming to know God, and Christ is the full embodiment of who God is, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV)
Theology is best when we try to come & know the true essence of God, who He is, what He is like, and what He expects of us.
As we look at these three areas, philosophy and other disciplines can be helpful, but, scripture is where we will find the truths that we need to understand God fully, or as best we can we our feeble minds.
Who is God?
If we look into the Word, we find out who God is, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1 ESV) We see that God is the Creator, as we study this truth we come to this, John, speaking of Jesus said, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3 KJV) Again, the essence of God is Christ, Jesus is the very essence of God. God is also our Lord, a word not used today much, simply meaning someone over us, of great authority.
Paul was preaching to a hostile, very religious but anti-Christian crowd said, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” (Acts 17:24 KJV) God is also our redeemer and savior, in/by Christ, “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:13-14 ESV)
What is He like?
God is described in many ways (and let us not forget this applies to Christ, as He is the essence of who God is). Let’s look at a few descriptions of God, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:8 KJV) The highest attribute we could describe is love, and God is. We find, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24 ESV) This tells us He is different, at least in essence, than we are.
We see also, “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the LORD our God is holy.” (Psalm 99:9 KJV) Holiness could be defined in many ways, but I think scripture bears out the idea of separate, set apart. God is separate from His creation, but separate from sin and the evil we see, as well.
Finally (at least in this VERY brief theological study), we notice, “O LORD God of Israel, thou art righteous: for we remain yet escaped, as it is this day: behold, we are before thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before thee because of this.” (Ezra 9:15 KJV) He is just, right, and by Him is all righteousness measured.
What He expects of us?
If we come to some understanding of who God is and what He is like, it seems natural that what would follow is what we do with such knowledge. An ancient sage said, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV)
Our God has given us a divine manual, a guide, we call the Bible, and in it is the truths articulated by the writer of Ecclesiastes. Paul expressed another truth, of what is required of us, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” (Acts 17:30 KJV) We must fall before Him, realizing our sin and acknowledging it. A prophet of old said, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8 KJV) There was no claim made that the requirements would be easy, but scripture lays out clear mandates upon those that follow God, worshipping Him, and serving Him.
Theology can become an academic endeavor, and as a discipline it is admirable to pursue. Yet, it seems sad that some would seek a degree, learn more facts, terms, and ideas and miss knowing Christ. Theology should be pursued to know Jesus (God) better, more intimately, and with a desire to do so even more.
Paul was a theology geek in his day, studying the Jewish religion at the feet of one of the most highly respected rabbis of all ancient history. Yet, after coming to Christ he said, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8 NLT)
I think his idea of theology is the way we should pursue and endeavor to accomplish.