The word “theology” has different effects on different people. Some welcome it and have experienced the excitement and uplift of investigating their faith through the sharing of ideas both from the Bible and from life experiences. For others, “theology” may have overtones of the “ivory towers” of universities and they may fear being made to feel inadequate or ignorant in theological discussions. Again, there are others who may actually have been taught to despise “theology” and to see it as opposed to “Biblical Truth”.
But the word “theology” simply means “Thinking about God” and whether you’re listening to a sermon, or engaging in a Bible study, or thinking about how to apply your faith to your daily living – you’re doing theology. Who is God and what does God mean to my life and to life in general? That’s the basic question of theology. Of course that opens bigger questions like, Where is God? What is God’s agenda or big desire for things? Who am I in relation to God? What is God’s relationship to the universe around us? And so on. In fact we all do have opinions about these things – and so do many other people outside of church circles. Open-ness in discussing and debating about God is quite a powerful tool in evangelism as you can see in a number of places in the book of Acts –perhaps most clearly in Acts 17.16ff (Paul in Athens).
For many of us our introduction to theology began in Sunday School when we were taught the stories of Jesus and were told what they “meant”. Theology is about meaning. It’s about getting hold of God-concepts which inspire us and motivate our lives. Jewish rabbis would take passages of scripture and continually debate and discuss their implications and meaning. From this they formed a large body of tradition – in the same way that court rulings create “precedents” today.
One of the features of Jesus was that he “taught with authority and not like the scribes and teachers of the law”. This means that Jesus, as the greatest spirit-filled human, had fresh insight into the living heart of God and was able to bring out meaning in a new way. He often did this by his provocative stories (“parables”) which actually challenged people to think for themselves. There are two points here: one is the need for the Spirit of God to give you insight into reality (truth) and the other is the ability to speak the language and concepts of people around you.
My own experience of theology is of coming from a place of fear of not being able to do it, through a very particular experience of the Holy Spirit, through many years of discussing and contemplating and questioning and reconstructing.
Sometimes we need to allow even the most treasured old ways of thinking to fall away in order to embrace new ones which shed more light. Sometimes that’s like the various stages of making a jigsaw – you tip the pieces out on the table and you’ve no idea where anything goes. Then you might try and make the border. Then you might make little islands of picture as you find pieces that fit. Then the islands begin to fit – and sometimes you’ve got them in the wrong place and you have to move them! But as time goes on the picture appears and there’s a great satisfaction. (With God the search always goes on)
Some would say there is more satisfaction in “Living the Questions” than in searching for certainty. You can become more certain of God while becoming less certain of any particular description of God. But the process of theology is life-inspiring and motivating. Engage and Enjoy! (PS You won’t offend God!)