Why Study Theology?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 4, 2021 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

What is theology? Isn’t that something the seminary students study? Why should your average Christian even think about studying theology? This blog post will look into these questions and give you a basic understanding of what theology is and why it’s important.

Most briefly, theology is the study of God using various study methods. The word theology itself is made up of the Greek word theos, which means God, and the Greek word logos, which most simply means word but also refers to Jesus (as The Word), and it can mean any sort of rational utterance or study. Most literally, theology is the study of God, but it also refers to the systematic study of the Christian religion as a whole. It is a way for those who follow Christ to attempt to learn more about God, even though He is ultimately unknowable by our finite human minds.

Theology can refer to knowing God through the Scriptures given to us as His Word, the faith traditions of those who have come before us, using our intellect to reason who God is, and our personal experiences of God. If those sound familiar, that’s because I wrote on these sources of authority a couple of months ago. We learn about various attributes or characteristics of God through Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

There are lots of ways to define theology, as it is a very broad field. Theology is not just an academic exercise but also a formational one. My working definition of theology is that it is studying beliefs about God and the practice of Christianity using particular methods, including academic study and spiritual reflection on God and His Word.

But why is studying theology even important? There are three main reasons: defining our faith, defending our faith, and seeking understanding about God.

Our faith must be defined in some way, or else we do not understand what we believe. I grew up in a Christian home, and for many years I believed certain things about God because my church, my teachers, or my parents told them to me. But to mature in my faith, I had to figure out not only what I believed but why I believed it.

Theology helps us understand the boundaries of our faith, and therefore we can defend the faith better to those who do not believe or who may not believe the same things we believe. One important aspect to remember in defending our faith is the difference between dogma, doctrine, and opinion. Dogmas are truths that are the foundation of the Christian faith, such as the fact that Jesus was fully God and fully man, and that He came to earth, died, and was raised to provide salvation for all of humanity. Denying a dogma is considered heresy. Doctrines are significantly important to the faith, but not as important as dogma. Different churches hold to different doctrines of baptism; they are important, but not as important as the dogma of salvation through Jesus. Finally, opinions are issues that don’t really matter and don’t have a strong basis in Scripture. The Greek word for these matters of opinion is adiaphora, which refers to the stuff that doesn’t really matter for salvation. The particular style of worship used in a congregation is a matter of opinion or adiaphora. Theology is important to help us distinguish what matters are dogma, doctrine, or opinion, and to defend the ones that are important.

Theology is also important for us to seek understanding about God. We don’t study theology for purely academic reasons; we study theology because we want to know the God we believe in. Our God is a relational God; He wants to be in a relationship with us. We desire to know those with whom we are in relationships. This aspect of studying theology deals with the way we practice our faith and experience God in our lives.

Studying theology gives us understanding so that our practice of Christianity is well-grounded and useful for ourselves as individuals and the community around us. When we grow in our knowledge and understanding of God, we are able to grow in our faith and our personal spiritual formation. However, we also need to look at theology from a somewhat neutral perspective; we need to be open to new ideas if that’s where the study takes us. We should not remain stuck in previous beliefs if they are not the Truth of God’s Word. Just because I believed something for many years doesn’t make it the truth; Truth is defined by God Himself and how He has revealed Himself to us.

The first step to studying theology is to believe in God’s Word as absolute truth. Reformation theologian Martin Luther said, “When a person desires to become learned in spiritual and divine matters, the beginning is made by simply believing the Word of God.” Luther’s method of studying theology was to first remember that the Scriptures are of supreme importance over human reason, to meditate on the Word to gain insight from the Holy Spirit, and to prepare to be tempted by the devil as we grow in understanding of who God is.

We need to understand what we are believing in so that we can truly believe it and live it out. If we only pursue studying theology for academic purposes, it will have no meaning in our lives. We need to pursue theology so we can know more about the God who created us.

Theology is studying beliefs about God and the practice of Christianity using particular methods, including academic study and spiritual reflection on God and His Word. This study is important to define our faith, defend the faith, bring knowledge and understanding into the Christian world, and to experience personal formation as a Christian.

Join me on this journey over the next couple of months as we look into each main branch of theology. Join me in learning more about who God is, discovering who we are as His creation, and experiencing growth in our faith.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

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