What is Theology?

Gateway is a theology school, so what exactly is theology?  Good question – one that academics and church leaders have pondered for generations – centuries even – and still not arrived at any consensus or unified definition.  In most people’s minds, it’s an ‘ology’ word (like psychology, sociology, or anthropology).  That alone puts it into the category of academic study, necessary for doing a university course, or for professionals, but not much good in real life, and little use for ordinary people.   Well, that’s a troubling misunderstanding.  Theology existed long before the academy or universities were invented. 

Some people have tried to strip the definition to its core: ‘theology is the study of God’ (theos = God). But this is also problematic.  God is not an object that we can study with a telescope or microscope, or design experiments for.  Neither can God be studied like other subjects, where we control the method and process, doing interviews or testing responses.  In fact, God is not an object nor a subject – and the only way we know anything at all about God is by God’s own initiative – his revelation of himself to us.  (Many would here insert ‘the Bible’, but theology existed long before the Bible.)  And God reveals himself in his world as much as in his word – and in many other ways as well.

Furthermore, God only exists in relationship: in relation to himself (Father, Son, Spirit), and in relation to the world – as creator, sustainer.  Therefore we can only study God in relation to the world – and in relation to ourselves.  God is love, and love is relational.  Anselm famously described theology as ‘Faith seeking understanding’, faith being relational.  But modernists questioned, ‘why should we begin with faith?’  Surely that’s already biased – after all, who determines what faith is?  So, where to begin? 

I propose that theology is primarily a participatory activity – one that involves us, yet we do not control. We do theology rather than study it.  It begins with how we think (and that’s we – plural, together).  So here’s a working definition: Theology is how we think about the world, ourselves, and everything – in relation to God.  ‘Everything’ includes work, family, science, business, history, feelings, life – literally everything!  But in relation to God.  That’s no easy task.