Are you Doing Theology?

Mention “theology” and you may have just opened up a can of worms. Many Christians are afraid of theology; some are almost hostile. With Trinity Sunday coming up, we might explore why that is and how we can answer some common objections.

Theology is hard – it is for those who went to college or who have degrees and speak Latin.

As an academic discipline, theology is not harder than many other subjects. Much of theology is very accessible and the rewards of theology are great. We are to love God with our minds as well as with our hearts. No matter what language you speak, someone is doing theology in that language.

Theology is a complication. (“The Gospel is simple, let’s just stick to that”.)

Just about anything can be appreciated on many levels. Eating a meal is simple, but the sciences of nutrition and of the chemistry of food are complex subjects that fascinate many good minds. Besides, what do you do after someone has received the Gospel? Eph. 3: 14-19, 4:14, 15; Heb 5: 12-14.

Theology is unnecessary. (“Christ is essential, that’s all we need.”) What is “essential” as Christian doctrine is not the same as what is “essential” for salvation. What is “essential” is not the same as what is “central”.

Theology causes arguments. (“Doctrine divides; Christ unites.” or “No creed but Christ.”)

Theology, like any other area of knowledge, progresses by the process of making propositions and offering refutation. This is biblical. See Mat. 16: 13-18; 1 Cor. 15:12-20. The spirit in which it is done matters: In essentials, unity; in opinions, liberty; in all things, charity. Theological arguments do not have to turn into religious wars; instead they can be the means by which honest-hearted persons grapple with the truth.

And while we are on the subject: Who is Christ and how does he unite? How can you answer that without doing theology?

Therefore, if we recognize theology as the study of God, coming to know God, then theology is something the Church has to do and something every Christian is doing. There is no question of doing it; the question is whether or not we are doing it well. Theology is neither esoteric nor optional. Theology is what the Church does and has always done.

Here are the names of some of the branches of theology –  that thing that you are doing as you get to know God better each day:

The study of religious beliefs is called “theology”. There are many sub-categories.

“Biblical theology” – doctrines of the Bible, rules of interpretation.

“Dogmatic theology” – body of doctrine received in the Church.

“Moral theology” – ethics, principles for conduct

“Soteriology” – study of salvation.

“Eschatology” – study of death, afterlife and endtimes.

“Anthropology” – study of the nature of man.

“Theology proper” (often just called “theology”) is the study of the nature of God.

“Christology” is the study of Christ.

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  • Joe DeVet

    You missed a category: “Theology of Dissent.” This teaches people how to believe they can dissent from authentic Catholic teachings on faith and morals, and teach others accordingly, while continuing to be a Catholic in good standing. It teaches people how to “form their consciences” in favor or doing intrinsically evil acts while believing their actions are perfectly moral. We know this theology quite well, because DRE’s in parishes, and other leaders like priests and deacons, learned this theology at our seminary. The seminary has improved, but the effects of its past teaching continue to infect the community.

    As an NFP teacher, I and my fellow volunteers face the effects of this continually. For after all, Humanae Vitae is perhaps the principal “lightning rod” for dissent in the Church. Things are much better than, say, 20 years ago, but we have a long way to go.

  • dennisofraleigh

    “Teleology” is also an important area of theological study, the study of purposes.
    I recently had an email exchange with a fallen-away Catholic friend of mine who dismissed dogma as so much religious “filler.” She wasn’t afraid or hostile toward it, merely holding that much of it didn’t have anything to do with anything outside academic theological circles. “I believe the Bible is God’s word and I try to live by that,” is how she summed up her approach to whatever she is now practicing as “religion.”
    I explained to my friend that she believed more “dogma” than she may have realized: that the Bible was divinely inspired; that Jesus was the Son of God and divine, and other important “Biblical” truths she held.
    I think my friend’s attitude is but one example of a lot of the popular thinking nowadays (in Catholic and non-Catholic circles), which tells me people don’t think very deeply about what they believe, contenting themselves with a mediocre “middling” religiosity that attempts to find the path of least resistance while at the same time assuages their consciences that they are sufficiently “spiritual” to avoid hell, and never mind the details.

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