I can remember having weekly vocabulary tests in Elementary school. Nothing was scarier than coming across a word that was long and complicated. As I became older, I realized that one word was misunderstood and feared throughout many of our evangelical churches – the term “theology”.
Many Christians today have preconceived notions about what “theology” means, as well as its suitability for use in church. In apparent defiance, many well intentioned Christians claim that the Bible alone is necessary for spiritual understanding, while theological jargon only complicates the Gospel. While Scripture is undeniably all sufficient and alone contains the inspired words of God, we would be incorrect to assume that the Bible and theology are mutually exclusive (i.e. only one can be true).
Instead, proper theology is a means to help Christians understand the authoritative Word of God and to be free from biblical error. To prove this point, let us first have a basic understanding of what theology entails. Simply put, theology is the comprehensive study of God. In Evangelical Christianity, theology divides into two branches – biblical theology and systematic theology. Biblical theology seeks to understand the heart of the Bible’s message, while systematic theology organizes Scriptural teachings into understandable definitions. Though both theological terms may sound intimidating, the goal of theology is to train every individual to adequately understand and categorize the truths of Scripture. Categorizing Scripture is thus essential for bridging biblical truths.
Essentially, theology exists primarily to serve all Christians. Theology balances the Christian’s understanding of Scriptural teachings, while keeping a clear Biblical focus. Additionally, theological discernment is also benefited by heroes of the faith who labored for biblical accuracy. Therefore, holding to a theological viewpoint helps build upon prior biblical insights. C.S. Lewis described this relationship between current and historical theology by explaining, “Doctrines [theology] are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experiences of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God–experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused.” (Mere Christianity Book 4 Ch. 1) Thus, theology is the historically proven and necessary map to help guide Christians through the truths of Scripture.
Because theology assists in categorizing Scripture, it is one of the primary tools for Christians to use when studying God’s Word. Without a balanced theology, numerous passages of Scripture can seem challenging and inaccessible. Theology answers these challenges through bringing common biblical themes together, supplying unity to apparent contradictions, and giving clarity to God’s overall message.
With this basic understanding of the usefulness and necessity of theology, it is important to realize that each one of us actively engages in continuous theology. From the first moment that we hear the good news of the Gospel, we begin to classify and categorize our knowledge and understanding of God and His Word. Realizing that each of us actively engages in theology should not lead to discouragement, but rather ought to encourage and motivate us towards further accuracy in our pursuit of biblical discernment.
Finally, it would be wise to add a caution as well. As with most things in life, becoming extreme on either end of the spectrum can be unhelpful. In the same way that Christians must recognize that theology is necessary for biblical understanding, so too must Christians realize that studying theology solely for the sake of theological intelligence is counterproductive. As Christians, our entire goal must always be to use all available tools to understand God better through His Word. In this regard, theology is simply the tool used to know God better, rather than an end to itself.
So, while the term “theology” might still leave you with an uneasy feeling, my hope is that every Christian might view theology as good, historical, and necessary for understanding and obeying God.