How does theology connect to the Bible? Theology relates to the study of God originating from two Greek words, theos and logos. Theos translates from Greek as God, and logos as study. One can learn more about theology by examining its Latin derivation. Regarding the derivative McMahan explained “Latin textbooks use the word theologia to refer to the “knowledge of God and what God reveals to man about Himself and the world in which He lives” (1998, ¶ 3).
Joshua Harris suggested, “Theology shapes the way we think and live” (2010). His point lends well to thinking about theology. But, what constitutes theology? Theology possesses three qualities: it brings understanding about God; provides a body of reference for study; and serves as a framework for life experiences (See Figure 1). Together, these three qualities create a platform upon which believers can unlock truth about the Gospel. Take a closer look at the qualities to learn how theology’s nature informs one’s thinking.
Figure 1. Three Qualities of Christian Theology
Language That Communicates Who God Is
Theology forms a language of sorts, a dialect associated with a unique subset of culture. Cultures such as academic discipline, corporate business, and people depend on language as a means of expression to cross communicate. Further, people use language as a way to make sense of their inner thoughts and world around them.
The theology of God as a language communicates Christian tenets of faith. It reveals God’s identity and attributes in one Bible of two testaments. In the richness of its scriptural language, one finds foretold prophecy of the Messiah in the Old Testament and its fulfillment through Jesus Christ in the New. The Bible also progressively reveals Who God is with His ultimate and highest name as Jesus in relation to a believer’s own character. Upon study of the Bible, the Holy Spirit teaches through His inspired Word how to lead a sanctified life.
Theology Linked to Reflection
So then, what is theological reflection? With theological reflection, the believer seeks God’s presence through Scripture: discipleship in spiritual growth and formation, comfort from challenges, direction with daily choices or actions, clarity in purpose, and solutions in ministry. Theological reflection requires formulating thoughts based on conception of a particular action, testing against God’s Word, revision or validation of thought, support based on Scripture, and application.
One can view theological reflection as a process that creates faith connections. In the absence of faith connection, one traverses a spiritual journey without a compass. Life experiences from the Christian call, as Debeer and O’Connell stated, “invite reflection” (2002, p.1). Wearing the mind of Christ, His followers view and translate the world around them from their individual and collective faith connections. Abigail Johnson posed questions that take the believer deeper into reflection. She (2006) wrote,
Theological reflection is simply wondering about God’s activity in our lives. Where is God present? What is God calling us to do? By taking time to ask questions about what happens to us—seeing our experiences through the lens of faith—we become clearer about our connection to God. We all ask questions about relationships, our work, our children, our government, and our situation in life. We all reflect, wonder, analyze, think, assess, and discuss with friends as ways of trying to understand our life. Theological reflection simply refocuses all that thinking to encourage a stronger sense of relationship with God, asking, “Where does God fit into the picture?”
Body of Reference for Study
The Bible is God’s inerrant, authoritative Word. God speaks to believers, individually and communally, through His Word. Also, by means of the Bible, He calls them to come close and, by faith, experience the fullness of Christ Jesus in their hearts. “Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong” (Eph 3:17-19 NLT). A theology expounds on God’s redemptive love for His beloved and His purpose for their lives. One might view theology in terms of the art form of faithful persuasion. Reflection pushes an individual deeper into vertical fellowship with God by prayer and meditation on His Word, as well as strengthens the Body with horizontal edification through growth from collective study and application in spiritual formation. It enhances personal spiritual maturity enabling the Body to better view the world with a developed hermeneutical filter and consistent biblical worldview. And to leaders, it provides a foundation to guide church growth and renewal practices.
Writing a Theology
Writing a theology initially may appear intimidating to a student of the Word. However, the following tips based on my own experiences should ease the writer into the theological reflection process.
- Pray first for direction, knowledge, and wisdom. Stay closely connected to God and let Him guide you. Without the Holy Spirit leading the process, writing may depend on one’s own intellect. Start early. Give God time to reveal direction to you.
- Before researching a topic, think about its scope of research, intended audience, and presentation format. Seek to produce a narrow body of knowledge reflecting depth and thorough coverage, rather than broad spectrum and surface information.
- Write a clear research question to avoid wandering off track and losing time. Even with an assigned topic, the writer needs a research question to maintain focus.
- Organize the content. Some people follow a regimented outline, while others shape content during the writing process. Yet for a select group, they work off a mental image.
- Carefully gather your scriptures and fully exegete their text. This means moving beyond a simple word study and concordance definition to using various hermeneutical principles.
- Look at examples of theologies from other authors. Review their clarity of presentation, structure, and dissemination of information. Most importantly ask the question, Does the content found itself on biblical truth?
- Don’t forget to add your citations as you go along. If you think you’ll remember, you’re mistaken.
- Last, but most critical, connect reflections to calling and faith. A theology does not present a mere summary, rather a cohesive whole that integrates orthodoxy (right doctrine and study), orthopathy (right emotions and thinking), and orthopraxy (right practice with an end in sight).
Thinking About Theology
Thoughtful theology should make one hungry to learn about God’s Word, desirous to probe it, and eager to apply it in life. Its importance affects the very heart of God’s mission for the sent Church, serving as His hands and feet among the lost and hurting in a fallen world. Van Rheenan placed high value on thinking about theology in missional praxis. His (2015) missional helix begins with theological reflection “examining theologies which focus and form our perspectives of culture and the practice of ministry…” In the absence of theological reflection, the helix spiral with its other elements of cultural analysis, historical perspective, and strategy formation stand incomplete in their analytical interrelationship. So too, must the Body of Christ continually embed reflection into daily life and integrate it into everyday ministry– always seeking application of biblical truth as salt and light.
- Harris, J. (2010). Dug down deep: Unearthing what I believe and why it matters. Colorado, CO: Multnomah Books.
- Johnson, A. (2006, August). Theologic Reflection in Small Groups. Alban Institute, Alban Weekly. August 14, 2006, No. 108.
- MacMahon, M. (1998). The evangelical post-modern church. Retrieved from http://www.apuritansmind.com/historical-theology/the-evangelical-post-modern-church-by-dr-c-matthew-McMahon/
- O’Connell-Killen, P. & De Beer, J. (2002). The art of theological reflection. New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing.
- Van Rheenen, G. (2015, August). The missional helix: An overview. Retrieved from http://www.missiology.org/the-missional-helix-an-overview/.
- Yaghjian, L. Writing theology well: A rhetoric for theological and biblical writers. New York, NY: Continuum.