The term “Christian theology” is not as straightforward as I had thought.
My blog’s banner says, “Thinking about faith, publishing and Christian theology.” The “About” page goes into more depth on what that slogan means to the blog, but even there, I assume you know what I mean by “Christian theology.” A bad assumption.
Spring semester classes just entered their second week at my university. I am particularly excited about this semester because my classes cover all the fields of my academic interest. There’s a couple major classes in journalism and communications, there’s an English creative writing course, there’s one with a practical focus on the work of the Church, and then I have Christian Theology. Yes, it’s a class.
Now the first thing we addressed (besides, you know, the class syllabus) was what “theology” means and how people react to it. If you bring up theology in conversation, some people give you a blank stare before asking why you are talking about rocks. Then, you have to politely repeat for them, “I said theology, not geology.” I get that happens. Other people I meet generally don’t have as much interest let alone knowledge of theology as I do. I think that’s sad because I really don’t know that much and it must be one of if not the most important topics for people to discuss. But it never occurred to me that people, including Christians, could have a negative outlook on discussing theology.
We tested in class different objections to theology. When we came to our professor’s argument in defense of theology, it boiled down to people not understanding the difference between “good” theology and the “bad.” My professor explained, like many other things in life, theology can be abused and distorted, but that does not mean theology cannot be useful when treated properly. He summed up theology as “speaking about God by following after what God has already said about himself.” It’s human thinking in response to revelations God has given us. Literally, “theology” means the “science of God.”
My professor suggested a synonym for Christian theology: witness. Basically, theologians ask questions and seek to know God better. Through this, they are a testimony to others. Christians who participate in theology learn more about their faith, the Church, and who God has shown himself to be. This means we can defend our faith, aid the Church, and be a testimony to the world of the living God.
Not only are there such benefits to studying theology, Christians can suffer from a lack of theology. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains the danger of avoiding theology:
In other words, Theology is practical: especially now. In the old days, when there was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a very few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones — bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected. To believe in the popular religion of modern England is retrogression — like believing the earth is flat.
The point is “Christian theology” shouldn’t be intimidating. It is a gift God hands to us so we can get to know him better, not in a cold analyzing of theories, but through questions that build our relationship with our Father.