It was my pleasure and privilege to study theology under some truly gifted teachers. Though my credentialed education stopped with my Masters, my education continues. And so it should be for all of God’s children. We are all to be growing in grace and knowledge until Jesus takes us home. And then, we will know Him as He is! For now, we learn as He taught us to, taking heed to the Scriptures, studying, growing in discernment, trusting the Holy Spirit to illumine our minds.
What is an amateur theologian?
Well, an amateur is someone who endeavors to study in a certain field for the love of it, not for the acknowledgement or recognition of having done so. We do theology out of love; we love God and want to know Him as He has revealed Himself. The Spirit says “study to show yourself approved” and we say “YES, LORD! My pleasure!!!”
Over the course of this semester, I will be sharing a bit about theology to get you started or continuing on your way. To begin, who should study theology? Believers. All true believers. I’ve written and taught often to encourage women in this–it is not a study reserved for men. Nor is it a field reserved for ‘professionals’ or pastors or elders. Please, read here if you missed it. Apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit, Who is also known as the Spirit of Truth, no one can learn true theology.
Are there different types of theology? Yes, and it is important to know about the authors you intend to read before you buy their books, for this very reason. There are theologies that stray from Scripture. The most common type being Natural Theology. In this discipline the author would be taking the physical world and deducing something about ‘god’ yet these deductions are often in contradiction to Scripture, and therefore do not teach about the One True God. There is some baby in the bathwater, but not a good place to hang out for those of us trying to know and worship God with our whole heart, soul, and mind.
My Masters was in Philosophical Theology; what in the world is that, you may wonder. Theology that seeks to answer the questions raised by Philosophy–pointing always back to the Word, and unfolding His story as the answer to all the most basic life questions and deepest longings of humanity.
The theology I will be writing from is of the Reformed tradition, which affirms the ancient catholic orthodox faith. We will discuss early church councils that defined terms and clarified the church’s stance in times when heresy threatened to change the course of history.
Are there different ways to think through, or write about, theology? Yes, this discipline can be separated into four main approaches: Biblical, Systematic, Historical, Practical. Biblical theology ought to be where most of our time is spent, as it takes all of Redemptive History, all of Scripture, and studies the whole story as God’s unfolding revelation.
Systematic theology starts with a topic, and seeks to find portions of Scripture that teach on that one topic. This is helpful, but apart from Biblical Theology can result in a distorted view of God’s glory, or His Person, or can seek to understand the various important doctrines of the faith apart the whole history of redemption; it has left some stranded with a man centered view of salvation.
Historical Theology is fascinating, tracing how the doctrines of the church have been taught, refined, defined, honed, etc. You can see how heresies arise and how they have been fought. This is especially enlightening concerning the most essential doctrine, The Doctrine of God; especially as you ponder His Triune nature.
Practical Theology is exactly what it sounds like, how to do we practice the faith; or “how then shall we live?” as Francis Schaeffer so famously taught. This is where we study the “how to” as we seek to meet the needs of our local household of faith. This was not considered its own discipline until the early 1900s, because all earlier theologians considered this the outcome of any theology.
Or as J.I.Packer said, in the 1993 preface to his book originally written in 1979 titled God Has Spoken:
The older I get, the more I want to sing my faith and get others singing it with me. Theology, as I constantly tell my students, is for doxology: the first thing to do with it is to turn it into praise and thus honour the God who is its subject, the God in whose presence and by whose help it was worked out…Theologies that cannot be sung (or prayed for that matter) are certainty wrong at a deep level, and such theologies leave me, in both senses, cold: cold-hearted and uninterested.
My own pastor often says good theology leads to theopraxy. Or, the right knowledge of God leads to living life in relation to that knowledge. If we are in the Spirit, if we abide in Christ and He in us, then we are theologians. We will be drawn to the Word, and we will listen, and grow. He will work in us, making us more and more into the image of the Son (Romans 8), living out what we learn.
As the Son obeyed the Father, so we too will walk in the newness of life! Life! Theology will lead us to love what He loves, hate what He hates, and walk with Him at His pace, in the good works He prepared for us beforehand. We will, by walking in His Light, expose the darkness for what it is (see here), and overcome, “by the blood of the Lamb and word of our testimony.” (Revelation 12:11)
In the course of this semester I will cover a rudimentary Reformed Systematic Theology. The first post will be what Thomas F. Torrance has pointed out ought to be the very beginning of all theological discussions: The Doctrine of the Triune God. Many begin with separating the Persons and studying them separately. But God’s unity demands that we study the Three in One, not as though we could compartmentalize. Western thinkers, Americans especially, value the individual and so compartmentalize all of life and consider ourselves separate from everyone and everything. We must not let that cloud our thinking about God.
Let me close by reminding you that this is just an introduction. I hope this series encourages you to dig deeper, and delight in knowing God. I will recommend many good books along the way. The first I will recommend is James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith. He is a fine teacher, a godly man who was very fruitful in his time here on earth, and this book has encouraged a great many in the faith. This deserves a spot in every Christian home library.
Doctrine of God, or Theology Proper
Bibliology, or Theology of the Word of God
Soteriology, or the Theology of Salvation
Ecclesiology, or Theology of Church
Eschatology, or Theology of End Times
Cosmology, theology of the world/universe/creation
Anthropology, or Theology of Humanity (Including Hamartiology, or the doctrine of sin)
And a few that don’t have a fancy name:
Theology of Family
Theology of the Body
Theology of Work
Theology of Home, or Place
photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash