What is Theology? Consider the Benefits & Pitfalls

National Association of Christian Ministers Summary Series: Theology

By Michael Mooney, NACM Exec. Elder

Define Theology #

Theology is defined as “the systematic study of the nature of God and God’s relationship with humanity and with the world. Although other religions may be said to have theologies, this is a matter of controversy within, for instance, Judaism, which holds that God is unknowable.” (Theology, 2008).

There is a fine line to be drawn between the subjects of theology and of philosophy.  Both subjects have historically shaped the other.  However, the distinction is observable in at least two categories:

1) Theology is expressed in the attempt to speak about God, using terms that are not a matter of everyday language; and

2) Theology is learned through critical thinking about God from within a community of believers (Theology, 1999).  

In other words, Philosophy is contrasted by critical thinking about God without the guidance of an organized community of believers, and is free to speak of God in everyday language.

From these definitions we conclude that theology demands the use of technical language, and requires that its teachings are administered within the context of a community of believers.

Religious communities believe things about God.  In other words, believing in God results in beliefs about who He is, and how He relates to His creation.
These beliefs are organized into conclusions about God which govern systems of beliefs.  In other words: 
    1. Conclusions about God are formed by beliefs regarding who He is.  
    2. These beliefs begin a stairway with each step contingent upon the next, and 
    3. Resulting in an overall view of God (theology) which requires the logical order to be true.  
For example: 
    • We believe that God is Holy
      • Therefore, He must also be honest 
        • Therefore, He must also be a keeper of His word
          • Therefore, He must save those who believe in His name
            • Therefore, He must also punish those who do not
See how each of these conclusions are interconnected?  God could not be Holy, but fail to keep His promises.
Religious communities use technical language to express their systems of beliefs. 
Here are a few known as theology proper (because they describe God’s works and attributes).  God is:
    • Omniscient (all-knowing),
    • Omnipresent (present in all places) and 
    • Omnipotent (all-powerful).

Benefits of Studying Theology #

      • Knowing what you believe
      • Knowing what you do not believe
      • Knowing how those beliefs relate to the beliefs of others
      • Knowing how to share your beliefs with others
      • Improving the possibility of knowing God’s will for your life
      • Having the potential to improve the quality of your life by applying the principles of godly living
      • Having the potential to increase the blessings in your life by practicing sound faith

Possible Pitfalls of Studying Theology #

      • Pride may enter the heart
      • Becoming dependent upon their knowledge; resulting in overconfidence that their understanding of God is the final authority 
      • Becoming obsessed with correcting perceived false doctrines in the lives of others
      • Lost sight of the fact that truth and love are interconnected and inseparable when applied.  In other words, it is possible to speak the truth without love, but it is not possible to live the truth without love. 
      • Developing blind spots of the true meaning of Bible passages because of biases toward doctrines
      • Limiting faith in the power of God because of beliefs about His nature  
      • Acquiring a righteously indignant and judgmental attitude of others who may not share the same views 
      • Losing the necessary balance between faith and reason 
References to Quoted Sources 

Theology. (2008). In The Columbia Encyclopedia. 

Theology. (1999). In Dictionary of Existentialism.