While I was home for spring break enjoying the company of my family and some good food, I got to have a few good discussions with my brother, Preston. One of them got started because he asked me “So what, exactly, is theology?” Being a Biblical and Theological Studies major, I have an answer prepared for every time I am asked that question; it comes out automatically, almost like a reflex: Theology is the study of God; theos is the Greek route meaning “God,” and –ology is the suffix meaning “the study of.” When having a casual conversation with the average person, it is easy to leave it at this stock definition and move on, but I felt that my brother deserved something more in-depth.
When I first came to Nyack College I was also unsure as to exactly what theology is. What gave me the most helpful insight was the main text in my Introduction to Biblical and Theological Studies class, entitled Who Needs Theology, by Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson. This book posits that everyone is a theologian, even non-Christians…even Atheists! Theology is simply thinking and philosophizing about deity in general, whether that deity is the God of the Christians or some other deity. That means that even those who have decided against the existence of God are theologians, since they had to ponder and consider the divine in order to deny it! You may be surprised to hear this, but you are a theologian, too.
Even after realizing this, you probably don’t feel like a theologian; I didn’t feel like one either when I first read this in the Grenz and Olson book. When most of us think of theology, we think of old men with their doctorates writing long, complicated books on topics that almost no one actually cares about. Many of us go as far as to think that theology is harmful to ministry because it confuses people with unnecessarily complex doctrine. The way that I view Christian theology, and the way I think that everyone should view it, is the earnest search for better and more comprehensive understandings of God in order to more properly love and serve him.
Through my studies I have come to a realization that has helped me understand what I do as a Christian theologian and why it needs to be done. God is vast, infinite, and above human understanding. No matter how much humans ponder, study, and write, we will never have a complete understanding of who God is and how he works. Instead of using this as an excuse not to try to understand him, I see it as an invitation to continually increase my understanding of him, since there will always be more to learn. I feel closest to God when I am nose-deep in the Bible or a theological text.
Preston, I hope this helps.