Thoughts on Theology

The following is an assignment from one of my classes… we were to define theology and then we had a discussion on whether theology could be sinful.

Theology is the study of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in and through his self-revelation, human religious experience (including church practices like worship and teaching, and the processes of salvation, sanctification, and glorification), faith, spirituality, and orthodox church tradition, resulting in the pursuit of (and conformity to) Truth as expressed in Scripture – all of which being ultimately for the glory of God. Systematic Theology seeks to express in a cogent, coherent system of beliefs the commands, teachings, principles, implications, truths, and spirit of the Scriptures in addition to the God with whom they are concerned and from whom they come.

Can theology be sinful? If so, when does it become sinful?
It seems to me that theology can and does become sinful when it begins to be an end in and of itself. When a theological perspective ceases being first and foremost for the glory of God in Christ Jesus, and becomes more dedicated to proving itself (its logical consistency, its universal appeal, its biblical basis, etc.), replicating itself, or making itself known and respected rather than aiding discipleship of the saints in understanding God’s self-revelation, it has dethroned God (by making him and his glory a secondary or tertiary goal) from his rightful place and has exalted itself above him. In this way, it becomes sinful. 

For example, if I quote a certain theologian (Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, Grudem, Piper, Driscoll) – or any other man, for that matter – more than I quote Scripture, and if I know a certain book or collection of writings better than I know the Scriptures themselves then I have begun traveling down this road. Rectifying this situation does not involve merely reading the Bible more and studying it more intently… rather, it begins with repentance for idolatry, turning from my trust of fallible humans over the infinite God and pursuing what he has said above all others.

This is not to say that theologians are detrimental or obstruct our understanding of the Scriptures. The men mentioned above have been immensely formative to my beliefs and my sanctification. The sin lies not with the theologian (unless they are a heretical false teacher), but rather with me. If I put my trust in Grudem’s theology or Edwards’ sermons or Calvin’s doctrine before I put my trust in the Scriptures from which they are derived, then I have turned the appropriate order on its head – I have begun examining the Scriptures through a theologian’s lens rather than measuring a theologian’s claims against the Scriptures.

The end goal of theology, then (as far as I can tell), is the study of God’s self-revelation in such a way as to bring him glory through truth-based spirit-filled worship, bold Christ-centered gospel-saturated preaching and teaching, and through the transformed lives of Christ followers working out the lifelong process of sanctification.

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4 comments

  • In reference to your definition of theology, would you say that most people have developed or are developing a theology (whether sinful or not)?

  • That's a good question, and I thought about it for a while before I wrote what is below…Short Answer: I think that most people have a very nebulous undeveloped collection of beliefs that they operate from, which serves as a theology of sorts, but doesn't really do much for them beyond cliche answers or coffee cup quotes.Long Answer:I would say that the vast majority of people have a theology that they hold, whether they realize it or not. It could be base-level Judeo-Christian morality, veiled universalism, some kind of Hindu-esque karma system, or something else altogether. Either way, very few people would say that they believe nothing, and almost everybody says they believe something, but few people can carry an in-depth conversation about what they truly believe and offer substantive answers to even general questions.Most people (both Christians and non-Christians) have a set of morals and a way in which they view the world that is based on assumptions or presuppositions (that may or may not be based on a coherent set of beliefs). It seems to me that the vast majority of people in general already have that theology set, and are not looking to change it unless something or someone gives them a nudge to do so. This could be a friend or family member dying, or a religious-esque book recommendation, or an invitation to church where something they see or hear piques their interest to dive deeper. If nudged, they might do some searching for answers, and they end up in one of three camps. Either they 1) end up where they started – confused, distracted, and/or ambivalent; 2) find some scratch for their itch in worldly pagan religions that gives them some semblance of comfort; or 3) they find that the Holy Spirit has begun to woo them to follow Jesus and they become a Christian.The very small minority (at least in my opinion) are those who are learning, growing, actively asking questions, and seeking to understand God in a more enlightened way. They consider their presuppositions or assumptions, they appeal to sources of authority (the Bible, certain theologians, etc.), and they can be seen to grow – either in their conviction and understanding of their system, or by gradually modifying their perspective toward a more precise set of beliefs.That's about all I've got for now… I hope that answered your question without boring you to tears or making myself look like a bumbling fool. Thanks again for your question.- NJ

  • What precautions could you take in the seminary environment to prevent sin through theology? (because that is a place where you run a high risk of placing the theologian over the scripture)BTW, I dropped Hebrew for the time being and am focusing on Greek alone. I spent some time in prayer about it because I really didn't want to walk away from it, but came to the conclusion that I will not risk being second rate in either of the languages so I am going to focus intently on the one and then once I am fluent, I'll take the other.

  • Nick, I'm going to answer your question with a new post – I am a long-winded seminarian and you asked a very good question. (Kudos on dropping Hebrew… it was really tough for me to take them one at a time – I can’t imagine how hard it would be to take them simultaneously.)

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