What is Theology?

By Michael Patton

What is theology? Theology seems to be a bad word today. To many it communicates bigotry, arrogance, and exclusivism riddled with impracticality. Sure, people will allow you to have your theology, just don’t let it be know with too much conviction that you actually believe it. You can have your beliefs just don’t push those upon others.

Webster’s dictionary defines theology as “The science of God or of religion; the science which treats of the existence, character, and attributes of God, his laws and government, the doctrines we are to believe, and the duties we are to practice. . . the science of Christian faith and life.” Saint Augustine in the fifth-century defined theology as “Rational discussion respecting the deity.” A. H. Strong, the great twentieth century theologian said that theology is “the Science of God and of the relations between God and the universe.” Charles Ryrie, the popular dispensationalist theologian, says theology is “thinking about God and expressing those thoughts in some way.” (Basic Theology [Wheaton, IL: 1986], 9). Millard Erickson, a modern Baptist theologian says that theology is simply “the study or science of God.” (Christian Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001], 22).

Most simply put, theology is the study of God. It comes from the word theos which is Greek for “God,” and -ology which is from the Greek word logos meaning “word.” Most literally then the word theology means “words about God” or “the study of God.” If one were to use the term generically, it functions much like “philosophy” or “worldview.” People often use the word this way in secular venues. Many times it is used very specifically, speaking only about God. This is called “theology proper.” But generally speaking theology is a belief system that is built upon intellectually and emotionally held commitments concerning God and man.


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