What is Theology and its Purpose (A Pre-Assignment)

Webster defines theology through the following description: “the study of religious faith, practice and experience; especially: the study of God and of God’s relation to the world… a theological theory or system…. a distinctive body of theological opinion.”[1] Theology is often perceived as the lofty language of the religious who possess plenty of knowledge but lack wisdom in its application. That they spend so much time studying God and what faith, practice and experience look like that they fail to actually have faith or practice their beliefs; that they miss out on the experience God has to offer those who seek Him. It raises the question, is this really theology and if so, what purpose does it serve? As we begin to ask ourselves why we study generally, and specifically God, we can begin to understand the reason for theology.

Many people have very different motivations for studying, but the root of the work to gain knowledge is often change. Perhaps we are studying to change our career, or to move up at our job, or to better understand the systems in place and how they influence our lives. Maybe we study the past so we can better understand the future. Ultimately, we find a very close relationship between studying and a desire to move beyond the place we are. While there are many reasons why one might seek knowledge regarding God, most often they are motivated by a desire for something different.

If we did not study God, as it is phrased, if we did not dive deeply into the words of the Bible as well as the history of God’s people we could quite easily lack the understanding to correctly apply the teachings we find. Consider that Jesus, the foundation of the New Testament, was well versed in the word of God through the Jewish people’s sacred documents. Even the Son of God sought to have a thorough understanding of those books and often made them the foundation upon which he built his teachings. Contrast this to an example of poorly formed theology, such as Christians who used the Bible as justification for the enslavement and abuse of Africans brought by force to America and its profoundly heart-breaking impact. By selecting the verses that were meant to encourage the enslaved and ignoring verses that called for followers of God (both Old Testament and New) to care for the foreigner, the widow, the orphan, and to work against poverty, they formed a theology that elevated them rather than one that was seeking God.

Thus, the purpose theology should serve is as a means of preventing ourselves from forming our faith around truths we’ve created that serve ourselves rather than God. By learning about God and putting those teachings and the context of them first, we can transform our lives from ones defined by moral convenience to lives lived according to the values and principles that God provided to us. It can be challenging not to become lost in the seeking and easy to forget the application but a well-formed theology should always be something that a person walks in, speaks to and demonstrates. As it is defined, it is not just the study of God but of God’s relation to the world. The way God views and interacts with the world ought to guide us on the ways in which we do.

[1] Marriam-Webster. n.d. Definition of Theology. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theology.

 

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