The word “theology” comes from the Greek words “θεος” and “λογος” and means “the study of God.” It is historically a branch of philosophy.
The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek words “φιλος” and “σοφος” and means ”love of wisdom.” It is the discipline of logical thinking, as well identifying and avoiding fallacies.
Colossians 2:9 uses the word “philosphy” in a negative sense in Colossians 2:9, but just like everything that has an improper use, it also has a proper use. Justin Martyr (AD 100-157) was a philosopher from Samaria who converted to Christianity after he decided it was the true philosophy. He tried to evangelize fellow philosophers. Paul also preached to the philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens, but got poor results, because he was a rabbi, not a philosopher. Today, at least an undergraduate course is a requirement for theology in ATS accredited seminaries.
Theology uses all the same methods as philosophy, but is based on a concept of God.
Theology as a Branch of Philosophy
If you base your philosophy on a concept of God, you’ve got a theology. The concept of God can be any of the following:
- The view that there is no god at all. By some interpretations, Buddhism can fit into this category.
- The view that God created the universe but ignores it and does not intervene in it. This is largely the product of 18th century intellectualism, and was the religious view of the American founding fathers. Benjamin Franklin said, “God helps those who help themselves,” which was a way of saying that you have to make your own miracles, because God won’t.
- The view that the universe itself is God. The closest modern version of pantheism is when people say that the “the universe will bring you something.”
- The view that there are many gods, some with territories, others with specialties, and there is office politics and palace intrigue among them. If you have a concern, you need to pray to the right god. In polytheism, there is usually one god who rules over all the others, and that gave ancient Christians a good toe-hold into evangelism.
- The view that there are many gods, but there is only one god who can properly be worshipped. Mormonism fits into this category. Most Mormons believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are separate gods, and some believe that God has a wife, but they only direct their prayers to Heavenly Father.
- The view that there is only one God, who is a monad. Islam is the world religion with the most rigid form of monotheism.
- Christianity is a variation of monotheism in which there is only one God who consists of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom can be worshipped, who are individually God, but collectively only one God.
Justification for Trinitarian Monotheism
There is a philosophical basis for Trinitarianism. It posits that a monad cannot achieve consciousness, because the essence of consciousness consists of distinguishing Me from Not Me, which is only possible if God is not a monad and consists of at least two persons.
If God is a monad, He cannot be conscious, and not being conscious, He cannot create the universe. Also, God cannot know love if He has no one to love, and love is perfected in loving an equal. This is further reason to reject monadism. Before creation, the reasoning goes, God has to be at least two persons, or He could not love or even be conscious.We also know that God is social in nature; He relates to us as a social being. This is only possible if, before creation, there were more than two persons who make up the essence of God. Theoretically, there could any number, but Christian revelation says there are only three.
Theology versus Applications of Theology
Many people apply theology to contemporary social and political problems and call those theologies, such as “liberation theology” or “feminist theology,” but those are not really theologies, so much as they are methods of applying theology to real-world problems.
Specializations Within Theology
There are specialized areas within theology, such as apologetics and polemics. Apologetics consists of defending what you believe or persuading people to believe it, too. Polemics consists of refuting beliefs.
Why Theology Must Be Systematic
“But last week, you said…”
If anyone ever says that to you, it means that you made theological statements that don’t add up or contradict each other. It means that you didn’t quite think your theology through.
There is a way to avoid it, and it’s obvious: Think things out in advance. That’s easier said than done. You read the Bible and study reference books, but you still find things that you can’t fit together, and most often you don’t realize that until someone has put you on the spot. Okay, let’s pray as we study, but what if God’s answer is, “Why do you think I gave you a brain? Think it out for yourself.”
In a burst of sudden insight, you say, “Ah, so that’s what my brain is for! I could think it out for myself, but how do I do that?”
The answer is to arrange your beliefs into a coherent framweork, to tie up loose ends and eliminate contradictions. This is called “systematic theology,” and it was formerly known as “dogmatic theology,” in which case the word “dogma” meant “a revealed truth that we could not discover on our own.” in that sense, theological thinking consists of deriving doctrines from dogmas and putting them into a consistent system.
A dogma is a truth that was revealed to us, because we could never have figured it out on our own, such as the Incarnation and the Trinity.
The Benefit of Systematic Theology
If you have a well-thought out systematic theology, you can save yourself a lot of embarrassment when someone asks you a question. Sometimes people ask questions to put you on the spot and make you look ridiculous if you don’t have an answer; this is how to avoid falling into that trap.
“if God has a plan, how can I choose Jesus?”
If you reassure people that God has a plan, but you also urge them to choose Jesus, you have to figure out how those two beliefs fit together. Some astute person might realize that they cannot choose Jesus if God planned that they would reject Him, and that they cannot reject Jesus if God planned they would accept Him. Also, you may have discovered that reassuring someone that God has a plan can backfire badly at a funeral.
My solution is to deny that God has a plan! If you want to build a house, you need a plan, so you don’t forget anything. If God wants to build a house, He doesn’t need a plan, because He never forgets anything. If we have a will, we need a plan, but if God has a will, He does not need a plan. We can’t change His mind about His will, but there are a lot of ways we could could change His mind about the route He will take to get there. What is your answer?
“Can God make a rock so heavy that He can’t move it?”
If you have been teaching that God is all-powerful and can do all things, someone might be curious about how it works. Someone who is a non-believer might try to stump you with this question to make you look silly.
My answer is that if you take out the rock, you are really asking if God can do something that God cannot do. The answer is no, not because God is deficient, but because the question is meaningless. What is your answer?
"Someone said the Bible condemns me. Is that true?”
There was a daft pastor who actually answered this question by saying, “Yes, the Bible condemns you, but I don’t.” That shows your cluelessness, not your love. No one is dumb enough to think that you can win a theological arm-wrestling match with God. The person thinks, “If God hates me, what difference does it make if the pastor doesn’t?” It’s better to admit that you don’t gave a good answer at hand and that you need to do some research, because you want to give a complete and correct answer.
If you admit to human shortcomings, you don’t lose respect, you gain it.