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Concise Lexicfon of Christianity

Ken Collins’ Website

Teachings, worship, rites, sermons, and terminology

What Is Theology?

The word theology comes from the Greek words θεος and λογος and means the study of God. It is historically a branch of philosophy.

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. Philosophy is a prerequisite for systematic theology in ATS accredited seminaries. Students who have a philosophy class on their undergraduate transcripts meet that requirement.

Theology uses all the same methods as philosophy, but it 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:

Retrofitting Trinitarianism into Monotheism

There is a philosophical rationale 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.

The word person is confusing. That’s because early theologians couldn’t think of a better Latin word for ὐποστασις. There is only one God, who has three ὐποστασεις.

If God is a monad, He cannot be conscious, and if He is unconscious, 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, and two people don’t make a society. God 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 three is the smallest number and Christian revelation says there are only three.

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.

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. Technically, those are not really theologies, so much as they are applications of theology to real-world problems. That is not a value judgment, it is only a categorization.

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.

Exercises in Systematic Theology

It’s always best to rehearse before going on stage, so here are some exercises in systematic theology for you.

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?

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?

Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?

One answer to this question is that the Law of God requires it, and Jesus is obligated to obey the Law, or that it was His plan all along. The problem with that answer is that it was obviously not a good plan, since He could just say your sins are forgiven and be done with it. If the Law places an obligation on God, it is stronger than God, or it means that God wasn’t smart enough to figure out in advance the terrible consequence of His plan. That is obviously not a good answer.

My answer is that Jesus didn’t have a personal need to die on the cross, but we have a need to see it in order to believe in His authority to give us commandments and rescue us from death. Jesus voluntarily died on the cross. It is in the Law because He knew in advance that we would need verification for what we saw.

If it is not God’s will for anyone to be lost, how can anyone go to hell?

This is a good question, because it is hard to imagine anything that could be stronger than God and frustrate His will. If God doesn’t want something to happen, how can it happen? We are not stronger than God, so how could we sin beyond His ability to redeem us? A possible answer is that God predetermined that some people would go to hell, but that doesn’t really explain anything, because it says that God didn’t want anyone to go to hell, but He wanted some people to go to hell. Those two things can’t be true at the same time.

I am not going to figure this out for you; you are on your own.

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.