A Compilation of Blog Entries Posted July 25 to August 5, 2007

How to Do 

by Win Corduan

How to Do Theology, Part 1

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9]

Theology has been called the "Queen of Sciences." One might consider this statement to be true partially just because of the importance of the subject matter, but there is another reason why this title is appropriate. Theology, just like her little sister, apologetics, is not really a discipline in its own right, but a combination of many disciplines. To be a competent theologian, it is not enough to study theology. You need to study the Bible, church history, philosophy, ancient history, languages, literature, science, geography, and any number of other disciplines that will impact the final product of your labor. So, theology is also the Queen because all other disciplines are in service to her.

It is also appropriate to think of all other disciplines contributing to theology because, after all,theology concerns itself with God, the one who has created the entire universe. As Aquinas said, theology is the culmination of wisdom, and wisdom ultimately stems from God. Wisdom is the highest form of knowledge, and knowledge is based on truth. So, all truth, all wisdom, and all knowledge ultimately lead to their source in God. This is ultimately why theology can never simply be a recitation of facts concerning God because as we speak about God, it is impossible to avoid having God speak to us. I mean this in the simplest, non-poetic form. To study God means to study our Creator to whom we are accountable. Thus, at the same time as we can look at theology as the highest form of science, it is ultimately also the most practical because, if theology does not lead to application, we have not really brought theology to its proper conclusion.

Cardinal in 

the Hibiscus Bush

So, we can start out by saying that the essence of theology is to read the Bible and to apply it. Now, there is a lot to be said for such a statement. First of all, one should be all for reading the Bible, and second, one should be all for applying it. Third, in any number of situations, such as holding a Bible study or having our daily devotions, chances are this appears to be precisely what we do. If I preach a sermon, for example, it is very likely that I will have picked out a passage and am aiming towards one particular application of what the passage teaches. In the process of getting to that conclusion, I will emphasize certain parts of the passage and attempt to illustrate them so that they will make sense in our contemporary setting. By the time that I am through, the subpoints should all add up to the main point, and I will ask the congregation to implement the main point, whether it be an invitation to receive Christ as Savior or some aspect of leading the Christian life. By and large, my procedure will be essentially to move from the biblical text to what it says to us today.

But this is only how it appears to be externally. In reality, such a leapfrog is not really possible. As I take the biblical text and I draw my conclusions concerning how we should act, I am implicitly using a number of other substages, which I may not point out explicitly, but which are certainly inevitable. So, what I will attempt to do in this essay is to carefully delineate these various steps that bring us to a full-fledged theology.

No Leapfrogs 


Let me make it clear that I am stipulating the truth of Christianity. I am also assuming that theology is based on the Bible, and that the Bible is the inspired word of God. There is obviously a lot that can be said and has been said about defending the truth of these assumptions (see my No Doubt about It), but for our purposes in this essay I want to talk about theology and not apologetics.

To emphasize this point let me quote the very familiar verse from 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Now, it would be silly to claim that the Bible is the inspired Word of God because it says so in these verses. That would simply be circular reasoning, which does not have a whole lot of apologetic value. However, this verse does put some restrictions on what we can pass off in the name of theology. The two assumptions that Christianity is true and that Christianity is based on the Bible should be noncontroversial and should cut across denominations and traditions. Consequently, when we are saying that Christian theology bases itself on the Bible, we are assuming the truth of whatever it is that the Bible affirms.

No Leapfrogs 


There is no need at this point to go further and argue for the inerrancy of the Bible; it suffices for our purposes that it would be contradictory to say that the Bible is authoritative, but that it affirms falsehoods. The issue in which concepts such as inerrancy become important has more to do with the question of what the Bible actually affirms as opposed to what is just incidental information that is part of the context, but not really a part of what the Bible teaches us. Furthermore, these issues usually come up in the context of historical, geographical, or scientific questions, not when it comes to straightforward theological assertions, and this statement from Timothy certainly falls into the category of theological affirmations, rather than any of those other categories.

So, theology basis itself upon the Bible, which contains the observation of itself that it is inspired. This fact leaves us with one of two options:

1. The statement could be false, in which case the Bible is not inspired, and in which case it would be foolish to base our theology on the assertions of the Bible.
2. The other possibility is that it is true, in which case the Bible is inspired.
----What is logically not possible is for the Bible to be true and not to be inspired.

But this text not only says that the Bible is inspired, it also stresses that the Bible is sufficient. Being inspired entails that it contains everything for a Christian to be complete and to be prepared for every good work. Thus, it would appear that, despite what I was claiming above, the Bible is all we need, and all we need to do is to study the Bible and apply it. So, where is the leapfrog?

The leap frog to which I alluded comes into play when we think about how we are actually learning from the Bible. It is at this point that it becomes naïve to think that we can simply read the Bible and apply it directly without at least implicitly transferring the message of the Bible through various channels before it becomes applicable for us. Nonetheless, to say that we cannot leapfrog from the text to application does not deny the Bible as the ultimate authority.

No Leapfrogs 


Let's say that if I am teaching a class, and my students need to meet the requirements that I have set for passing the class, then I am the authority concerning those requirements. However, there needs to be a device by which I communicate these requirements to my students. They cannot read my mind, and I am not capable of sending telepathic messages. So, I will write up the requirements for the course in the syllabus, but that does not do much good if I just keep the syllabus to myself. Whatever is contained in the syllabus needs to be conveyed to the students. Thus, I hand out the syllabus on paper, post it on the Internet, talk about it on the first day of classes, and hope that my students understand the requirements for the course. Still, there may be questions, and it is not at all unlikely that some things that I say on the syllabus will be misunderstood. Thoughtful students looking at the syllabus will attempt to understand what I tried to say by relying on various factors: what they know about me in general, what they know about me as a professor, what is a reasonable expectation in a course of this nature, the kinds of requirements they have known me to give in previous courses if they took any with me, and possibly other circumstantial factors. Regardless, though, of what they may conclude, my requirements as expressed in the syllabus, and as meant by me, remain to be authoritative. I might have decided to implement some new requirements in the course or to have changed the length or purpose of certain assignments. Thus, even though all of the other factors will have an impact on how a student interprets the syllabus, they will never be as authoritative as the syllabus as I intend it to be understood.

The application to theology becomes obvious. Even though, as we shall discuss over the installments of this essay, there are many factors that will influence us in how we understand the message of the Bible so that we can apply it sensibly, the Bible remains authoritative.

Some of the topics that we will address as we move through this complex subject will be: