What is Theology & Why Does It Matter?

smiling woman showing spine of Bible | article titled: Why Does Theology Matter? {Defining Theology and Understanding Its Role in Our Lives}

Article by Sarah Koontz, Founder of Living by Design Ministries

As a lifelong Christian, I have always wondered about theology.

What does the term mean?
What is the purpose of theology?
Why don’t I know the answers to these questions?

One significant disadvantage of beginning your faith journey as a juvenile is the flimsy “felt-board education” most churches provide to their youth.

Our heads are filled with biblical stories, and our hearts are shaped with biblical principles, yet we are never provided with the training necessary to build a fireproof faith.

Sadly, the felt-board characters of my childhood will never withstand the heat of persecution or the burning questions adulthood inevitably brings.

My decision to pursue a theological education is rooted in my deep, personal need to understand the Christian faith I have built my life upon.

My decision to pursue a theological education is rooted in my deep, personal need to understand the Christian faith I have built my life upon.Click to Tweet

I believe in the God of the Bible. I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.

I have dedicated my life to Christian service.

Yet, I yearn for something more!

I am a child of faith seeking a mature understanding of God.

I am ready to turn in my felt-board faith for something more resilient and enduring.

After just a few short months of studying theology, I am astounded by all the useful knowledge I have acquired.

I hope some of this knowledge that I am sharing with you now will help strengthen your faith as well.

close up of woman holding a cup of coffee as she studies her Bible | What is theology & Why does it matter?

What is Theology? A Working Definition

Although there are many different definitions of theology, here are five basic truths about theology to help you better understand the term better.

1. What is theology? Theology is the study of God, His attributes and His relationship with man and the universe.

A simple, dictionary definition of theology is, “the study of God, his attributes, and his relationship with man and the universe.” [1]

This definition highlights the Greek etymology of the term, which is a combination of theos, meaning “God,” and logos, meaning “word, teaching, study.”

After just a few short months of studying theology, I am astounded by all the useful knowledge I have already acquired.Click to Tweet

2. What is theology? Theology is faith seeking understanding.

A concise and straightforward description of theology, “faith seeking understanding,” was introduced by Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century. [2]

This second definition illuminates two essential aspects of Christian theology, namely: (1) pre-existing faith is a vital aspect of theology (2) the pursuit of understanding must be motivated by faith.

3. What is theology? Theology is any Christian ‘conversation’ about the triune God.

Our third definition of theology, as presented by Dr. Kreider in my systematic theology class, is “any Christian ‘conversation’ about the triune God (truth).” [3]

In the most practical sense, “Theology seeks answers to general and personal questions about God, ultimate meaning, purpose and truth.” [4]

group of women studying the bible together | What is theology & Why does it matter?

4. What is theology? Theology is man’s effort to understand God.

It is beneficial to point out, at this juncture, that theology is merely a human pursuit.

It is man’s effort to understand God and communicate the truth about God in a manner that people within their community will understand.

5. What is theology? Theology is finite and must always be measured by Truth. [3]

The study of theology is an ongoing process that should always be motivated by the student’s desire to know God and make Him known.

It is crucial for students of theology to be humble in their conclusions and ready to reassess their interpretations if compelling truth is presented that contradicts them.

Good theology brings transformation as it strives to separate truth from error.

It invites clarity and order into our Christian faith.

Good theology invites clarity and order into our Christian faith.Click to Tweet

What Are the Different Types of Theology?

Theology is, in fact, a broad classification comprised of many different fields of study.

Three of the primary “specialties” within the Christian arena of theological studies are biblical theology, historical theology, and systematic theology.

Recognizing the unique qualities of these disciplines has been very helpful as I’ve sought to understand how Christians have approached the “study of God” throughout the ages.

Biblical Theology

Biblical theology attempts to restate and summarize the distinctive teachings of the Bible within their original historical context.

Some argue that because biblical theology limits itself to the specific revelation of God within the Scriptures, and the Scriptures clearly state that God has chosen to reveal Himself in other ways (Rom. 1:20), it is insufficient and incomplete on its own.

Although this may be true, we cannot allow it to take away from the value of reflecting upon the progressive revelation of God within the biblical text.

woman studying her Bible | What is theology & Why does it matter?

Historical Theology

Historical theology seeks to understand how Christians have expressed the truth about God throughout history.

Studying the history of the church and the development of doctrines allows us to discover how people have read the Bible in the past and learn from their experience.

Historical theology helps us recognize and discern the work of God in different contexts and cultures.

As Christians, it is important for us to embrace our rich history and identify the great theological questions that have been addressed in the past.

Systematic Theology

Systematic Theology is an organized response to God’s revelation, which seeks to express truth about the triune God in simple language informed by culture and Christian tradition. [3]

Some view systematic theology as the process of collecting, arranging, comparing, exhibiting, and defending the known facts about God.

While the Bible remains a primary source, systematic theology attempts to compile the truth about God from any and every source into a cohesive system.

I like how Millard Erickson summarizes systematic theology: “That discipline which strives to give a coherent statement of the doctrine of the Christian faith, based primarily upon the Scriptures, placed in the context of culture in general, worded in contemporary idiom, and related to the issues of life.” [5]

Discover the beauty of theology and its purpose in the life of a believer. Click to Tweet

Why Should Christians Study Theology?

Be careful.
Don’t let them ruin your faith.
Are you sure you want to do that?

These are just a few of the negative responses I received from family members and friends when I shared the news that I planned to enroll at Dallas Theological Seminary.

My deep love for God and desire to nurture my gifts led me to pursue a theological education, yet these fearful reactions left me wondering if I had made a mistake.

I had decided to dedicate the next decade of my life to studying—God, the Bible, and my Christian faith—yet the very people I expected to affirm my decision were anything but supportive.

My husband just completed his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, and I never once heard anyone “warn him of the dangers” of pursuing an advanced degree in his field.

Why are Christians so negative about seminary?

Sadly, many people of faith do not understand or appreciate the value of formal theological study.

women studying the Bible with a child | What is theology & Why does it matter?

They will sit in the pew and applaud the well-organized sermon from their theologically-trained pastor, they will fill their bookshelves with the newest release from Tony Evans or Andy Stanley, yet they are hostile toward the very institutions that trained these men.

If the goal of theology is to ground our lives in biblically informed truth, help us understand and explain what we believe, and ultimately transform the way we live, why are so many Christians afraid of theology?

Their many objections can be summed up in three simple words: fear, disillusionment, and complacency.

They are fearful because they think theology destroys faith.

They are disillusioned because they know people who use theology as a weapon to destroy rather than a tool to build up.

And they are complacent because they have allowed their fear and disillusionment to prevent them from experiencing the profound benefit of theological studies.

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, commanded us to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37 NIV).

So I ask the Christian community at large, “What is the definition of theology if it is not ‘loving God with all your mind?’”

True theology should serve to strengthen our faith, not destroy it.Click to Tweet

In their book, Who Needs Theology, Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson hypothesize that “anyone who reflects on life’s ultimate questions—including questions about God and our relationship with God—is a theologian.”

Since most Christians have spent time pondering such things, Grenz and Olson reason that all Christians are theologians.

Don’t let their conclusion scare you!

The only difference between lay theologians (you and me) and professional theologians (people who teach at seminaries) is the fact that they are Christians “whose vocation is to do what all Christians do in some way: think and teach about God.” [6]

True theology should serve to strengthen our faith, not destroy it, because our core Christian beliefs will withstand the test of critical reflection.

I have decided that if I am going to dedicate the next decade of my life to studying theology (and defending my study of theology), I need to be absolutely certain that the theology I am being taught is “truly Scriptural, completely Christian, and totally relevant.” [7]

Many seminaries have strayed from the fundamental teachings of Scripture; many professional theologians have stopped trusting the Bible to set their theological agenda, and their doctrine has suffered.

Are you a child of faith seeking a mature understanding of God? Are you ready to turn in your felt-board faith for something more resilient and enduring? After just a few short weeks of studying theology, I have been astounded by all the useful knowledge I have acquired so far! Learn how understanding theology can help strengthen your faith, as it has mine. | What is theology & Why does it matter?

I will be the first to admit that there is a systematic problem within academia at large, but that does not mean Christians should run away in fear!

The One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4b); therefore, we can trust God to guide and protect us as we pursue higher education.

The church is being infiltrated by false prophets, bad doctrine, and poor theology.

Our loved ones are being misled because they do not understand the importance of scrutinizing all teaching “in light of biblically informed Christian truth.” [8]

We need as many humble, wise theologians as we can find to help us separate truth from error!

In my short time at Dallas Seminary, I have doubled (tripled!) my resolve to persist in my personal study of theology and develop a more effective life of discipleship.

Good theology brings transformation as it strives to separate truth from error.Click to Tweet

I study theology in order to become the kind of theologian who inspires others to turn in their felt-board characters and join me in the pursuit of a “more examined and reasonable faith.” [9]

If you are interested in studying theology for yourself, I’d encourage you to start by reading, Christian Beliefs or Exploring Christian Theology.

You also could check out one of the free online courses offered by Dallas Theological Seminary.

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.” -2 Timothy 2:15 HCSB

ARTICLE CURATED BY:  Yvonne Novak and Neely Beattie, Living by Design Creative Team

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • [1] Landau, Sidney I. The DoubleDay Dictionary for Home, School and Office. Doubleday: Garden City, N.Y., 1975.
  • [3] Krieder, Glen R.“Who Needs Theology?” Lecture, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, TX. 2013.
  • [2] McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. 6 ed. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2017.
  • [5] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3 ed. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, MI, 1998.
  • [4 ,6, 7, 8, 9] Grenz, Stanley J. and Olson, Roger E. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
About the Author: Sarah Koontz

About the Author: Sarah Koontz

Sarah Koontz is the founder of Living by Design Ministries, a non-profit organization that exists to deliver free Bible Studies to inboxes around the world. She is a passionate storyteller who enjoys using illustrations to communicate deep spiritual truths. Sarah and her husband Ryan live on thirteen acres in the heart of the Black Hills, SD. They have two beautiful daughters, a rowdy flock of chickens, and two cats. Sarah is an avid gardener, a faithful coffee drinker, lover of one-pot-dinners, and an unexpected homeschooler.

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