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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Bible Basics: An Introduction to Christian Beliefs

Don Stewart :: What Is Christian Theology?

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What Is Christian Theology?

Bible Basics – Question 1

As we begin our course of study, it is important that we have a correct understanding of some basic concepts. First on our list is the definition and explanation of the word, “theology.” What do we mean when we use the word theology?

Theology Defined: the Study of God

Theology is the science of God. The term, “theology,” literally means, “the study of God.” It is derived from two Greek words. Theos is the Greek word for God, while the word logos can mean “discourse,” or, “the study of.” Theology, therefore, is thinking, or studying, about God. It is important that we realize that there is no higher activity that a person can pursue than the study of God.

The Bible says that every Christian begins to personally know God the moment they believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said:

This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent—Jesus Christ. (John 17:3 HCSB)

The Christian life is a relationship between the believer and the Creator. This relationship grows and matures as the believer learns more about the God in whom they have trusted. The apostle Paul spoke of believers being made rich in their knowledge of God. He wrote the following:

For in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind. (1 Corinthians 1:5 NRSV)

We can become spiritually rich when we learn about Him. Therefore, it is important that we learn as much as we can about the living God.

Some Important Points about the Study of God

There are a number of important observations that we can make about theology; or the study of God. They include the following:

1. Everyone Has Their Own Beliefs about God

Those who study theology for a profession are known as “theologians.” However, in a sense, everyone is a theologian, for every human being has his or her own theology; that is we all have our own beliefs about God. This includes the atheist who believes that God does not exist. Therefore, you do not have to have a degree in theology to be a theologian; neither do you have to be a minister or someone in full time Christian service.

Some people have carefully thought through what they believe, or do not believe, about God. Others have not spent much time at all thinking about what they believe. Some people never think about it.

Whatever the case may be, all of us have a theology, or a set of beliefs, in which we embrace. Therefore, the key question for the believer is this, “How good of a theologian are we going to be?” To what degree are we going to think through our beliefs?

2. Our Beliefs Affect How We Live

These opinions that we hold about God affect the way in which we live our daily lives—it is not merely an academic pursuit that is removed from real life. Each of us will live in accordance with what we believe about God’s existence or His non-existence.

For example, if we believe that God exists, and that we can personally know Him, then we will try to do those things that please Him. However, if we reject the idea that God exists, then we will act in whatever way that pleases us; with no thought of having to answer to a Supreme Being. Consequently, our theology, or our personal beliefs about God, has enormous practical implications.

The Apostle Paul wrote that true belief, or doctrine, leads to godliness in living our lives. He said the following to a man named Timothy:

Some false teachers may deny these things, but these are the sound, wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, and they are the foundation for a godly life. (1 Timothy 6:3 NLT)

Correct belief should lead to godly living.

3. Christian Theology Is the Study of the God of the Bible

While the word theology simply refers to the rational study of God, “Christian” theology is unique. It is the intelligent study of the “Christian” faith. It limits itself to the study of the living and true God of the Bible rather than the gods of other religions; for He is the only God who exists.

Christian theology is thus to be distinguished from the theology of other religions, as well as the beliefs of the secular culture. It is what sets Christianity apart from all other belief systems.

4. The Term, “Theology” Is Used in Two Different Ways by Christians

The word theology, in Christian usage, is used in two ways. There is a narrow sense of the term as well as a wider sense.

A. The Narrow Sense Is the Doctrine of God

In a narrow sense, the term, “theology” refers to the specific study of the doctrine of the God of the Bible. It explores His existence, His character, and His works. In this sense of the term, the idea of theology limits the study to God alone. This is also known as “theology proper,” or the “doctrine of God.”

B. The Broader Sense Is All Christian Teaching

In a broader sense, theology refers to the sum total of Christian teaching. Used in the broadest sense, theology can be described as the science that deals with our knowledge of the God of the Bible and His relationship to humankind. This is the sense in which the term is most-often used.

5. Our Job Is to Study the Facts about God That Already Exist

Since Christian theology is a science, it does not create. The job of those who study Christian theology is to discover the facts about God that already exist. Therefore, all of the relevant passages on a particular topic are collected and analyzed. Like the scientist, those who study Christian theology look at all of the available evidence and draw conclusions based upon the evidence.

It is an investigative process; not a creative process. God has already revealed Himself, and this revelation is found in the Scripture. It is, therefore, our responsibility to understand what He has revealed.

Therefore, the study of Christian theology is limited. It studies the facts about God as God has revealed them. God has determined the subject matter ? it is not the determination of human beings.

We can only know as much about God as He has chosen to reveal to us. It is impossible to discover truths about God apart from the things that He has revealed—we are not able to fill in the gaps. If human beings want to understand God, then we must study His written Word.

6. The Only Infallible Source of Christian Theology Is the Bible

Some people limit the study of Christian theology to the information found only in Scripture, while others believe that all facts, from every source, should be considered when studying this subject. It is clear that the only infallible source for doing Christian theology is the Bible. Information that is discovered from sources outside the Bible must be evaluated in light of Holy Scripture.

7. God Has Revealed Things to Believers Because We Are His Friends

There is another thing which we need to emphasize. The Bible says that those who believe in Jesus Christ are “friends of God.” Jesus has revealed His truth to us because we are His friends.

On the night Jesus was betrayed, He said the following words to His disciples:

I no longer call you servants, because a master doesn’t confide in his servants. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. (John 15:15 NLT)

A master, or person in authority, does not confide in those who are his slaves, or his servants. Although believers are servants or slaves of God, we are also His friends.

Consequently, He has revealed His truths to us because we are His friends. What a wonderful truth this is! What a friend we do have in Jesus!

8. Only Believers Can Truly Understand and Appreciate God’s Truth

There is something else that is important. The truths that He has revealed to us are not really understood by those who do not believe in Jesus Christ. Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians:

I did this so that you might trust the power of God rather than human wisdom. Yet when I am among mature Christians, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world, and not the kind that appeals to the rulers of this world, who are being brought to nothing. No, the wisdom we speak of is the secret wisdom of God, which was hidden in former times, though he made it for our benefit before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would never have crucified our glorious Lord. (1 Corinthians 2:5-8 NLT)

The truths of the Christian faith have been revealed to all humanity. However, it is only those who believe in Jesus Christ that will truly understand and appreciate what God has said. There is a spiritual dimension to the truths which God has revealed.

Therefore, the believer has the advantage over the unbeliever when it comes to understanding the truth of God because the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside every believer, is our Teacher.

9. Jesus Christ Is Our Standard

This brings us to our final point, and in many ways, our most important. Christian theology revolves around the Person and teachings of Jesus Christ; God the Son and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. The Bible says that He came into the world to reveal what God is like.

We read in John’s gospel the following:

No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (John 1:18 NRSV)

Jesus Christ is the final standard for all matters of faith and practice. Whenever Jesus speaks on an issue, He speaks with finality. There is no higher court of appeal.

Therefore, it is absolutely essential that we discover Jesus’ views on the various topics with respect to Christian theology. We start with Jesus Christ and develop our system of doctrine, or theology, based upon what He taught. Christian theology is all about “Christ.” We must never forget this.

Conclusion: the Study of Theology Is of the Utmost Importance

These facts that we have briefly considered should help us gain a better understanding of the subject of Christian theology. We should now have an appreciation of the importance of holding on to a theology that is correct; for we will live out our beliefs in our daily lives. The theology, or belief system, that we do hold does indeed matter.

While our understanding of divine truth will always be incomplete, we can know certain things about God. Therefore, we should be highly motivated to learn what we can about the living God who has done so much for us.

Summary – Question 1
What Is Christian Theology?

Theology is not a bad word. It means the “study of God.” In fact, everyone is a theologian in the sense that we all have beliefs about God and we all live our lives in accordance with those beliefs. If we believe that God exists, then we will live differently than those who reject His existence. Therefore, it does matter what we believe.

Christian theology is a study of the God of Scripture; as opposed to the God or gods of other religions. The term, “theology,” as Christians use it, can be defined in the narrow sense as the study of the doctrine of the God of the Bible. It can also be understood in a wider sense to refer to the sum total of Christian teaching. This is the usual way in which the term is used.

The job of those who study Christian theology is to discover the facts as they are—it is not to create facts. The subject matter of the study of Christian theology is something that God alone determines. Therefore, we can only understand as much about God as He has chosen to reveal to us.

The Bible is the only infallible source of Christian theology. Though certain truths about God can be derived from a study of things outside of the Bible, these truths must conform to that which is recorded in Scripture.

Also, we are told that God has revealed these truths to us because we are His friends. He wants His friends to know the truths about who He is, who we are, and what He requires from us.

In addition, the Bible makes it clear that only believers can truly understand and appreciate the message of Scripture; it is to be spiritually understood. Unbelievers can never fully appreciate the truth of the Word of God.

Finally, we must realize that Jesus Christ is our infallible standard by which we derive our belief system. He came into this world to make God known to humanity. Consequently, He is the final authority on all matters of faith and practice.

With all these truths in mind, we can see how important it is to make a serious study about the living God. This is what Christian theology is all about.

An Introduction to Christian Beliefs ← Prior Section
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