How To Do Theology




 I hear the phrase "you must be sure of your theology of X" all the time. I've heard people say that we must have a "theology of marriage," for example. I now have a class assignment for hospitality to write a "theology of welcome." What are the elements of "a theology of.."? I'm assuming the Trinity should fit in there somewhere, but other than that, I'm at a loss to figure this out. Writing a theology of anything sounds like a massive project. Can you give me some of your thoughts?



What a huge question.  And what a good question!


Well, for starters, people should stop saying "you need to have a theology of X".  That's a dumb thing to say.  You don't have theology.  Rather, theology is something you do: you write theology, or think theologically, or work from a theological perspective.  You don't have it.  And I am not going to be cute and say it "has you" either.  It's not a thing to had by or to have.  It's an action and an attitude. 


So, with that in mind, you can write your paper not out of fear or anxiety, but with humility and imagination and joy.  Only in that kind of spiritual setting will be able to do theology with faithfulness and boldness. 


Well, here are some tips on doing constructive theology:


To write on the theology of X, you are being told to probe the theological depths with, in, and under a particular topic. 


In other words, you are to put it into a theological context.


Let X = a topic
Let Y = a belief regarding said topic
Let Z = the whole matrix of Christian doctrine


To believe Y about X is simply to BELIEVE. 
To ask WHY you believe Y about X is to THINK (a.k.a. being critical). 
To ask WHY you believe Y about X in light of Z is to THINK THEOLOGICALLY!


An oversimplified example:
1. I believe that abortion (X) is wrong (Y).
2. I believe it is wrong because it is a form of murder, and the Bible says that murder is wrong.
3. I believe that what the bible says is wrong is always wrong (Z)


Notice that saying that the 'bible says so' does not count as theological thinking.  #2 is only beginning to probe the basis for one's belief.  #3 is theological thinking because it hits the level of Basic Confession, in other words something that is not grounded on something else but is basic to your whole belief structure.


Of course, here I only set a belief in the matrix of only one doctrine, namely the Doctrine of Scripture.  A more thorough "theology of X" would think through a belief about a topic in connection with a few central doctrines. 


This CONNECTION is what you were getting at when you insightfully stated "I think it has something to do with the trinity."  Many would contend that the Christian community's most basic belief is the doctrine of the trinity.  So certainly any "theology of X" must make some connection to the trinity. 


To complicate my example:
1. I believe that abortion is wrong.
2. I believe abortion is wrong because it violates the belief that "God is Love"
3. The meaning of "Love" when ascribed to God is defined by God's nature in eternity.  Since God is in eternity three-in-one, there is otherness in God's oneness.  Love therefore is the desire and pursuit of the Other.  Abortion as murder denies the Otherness of the Other, and therefore violates the very nature of God. 


And yet, even the Trinity is never spoken by Christians in abstraction from other basic doctrines, like the sufficiency of the scriptures, the doctrine of Creation, Christology, Pneumatology, etc.  So other Connections can be made.  And that is the key word: CONNECTIONS.  Theology is the act of making connections between and among our beliefs. 


It is freeing, because you stop simply shooting bible verses around but rather deeply probe the inner unity of the cannon. 

It is risky, because we may encounter incoherence among our beliefs, and be inspired to reorient or even change.

It is beautiful, because we begin to see the vastness and mystery of our wonderful God and his works and ways, realizing that we do not just believe in a list of positions on particular topics, but really believe in God, to whose Way we can be faithful.


In light of this, it requires a context of prayer.  Don't get lost in the books or the logic [a temptation I face all too often].  I confess that I have had my greatest theological connection-making breakthroughs during or after times of intense prayer.  So pray, asking the Christ's Spirit to guide you.  He will not disappoint.


May God be glorified in your work,