Welcome back to the fifth installment of the Systematic Theology series by Dr. J.P. Mosley, entitled, The Content of Theology.
While we have considered the source material for doctrine, we still need to recognize the content of theological study. We could address this subject from dealing with the word “theology” and move from there. Theology is a word which originates from two Greek words: theos which means “God” and logos which means “word,” or as we see here, could mean “study.” So, theology is the study of God. This is not hard to comprehend for many. We use similar terms to describe the study of life, biology, or the study of the soul, psychology, or the study of society, sociology, or the study of man, anthropology. All of these come from various Greek words combined with the word “logos.”
However, this only answers the question of content from a linguistic perspective of where the term originated, but it does not help us understand what makes up the study of God. We still need to know what makes up the content of our study. First, we must assume, as we have argued previously, God has revealed Himself, and He can be known by man. Therefore, we presuppose God’s existence, His self-revelation, and the knowability of God. It is because of this we can see that theology is a science, which needs to be studied.
Now, we need to define “science.” The word “science” comes from the Latin term for knowledge. In other words, science means the knowledge of a given subject. Therefore, we can have both hard and soft sciences. Hard Sciences are those things that can be held and examined in a laboratory, such as biology, chemistry, etc. The soft sciences are those sciences which are not taken in and put under a microscope, but studied, researched, and assessed with different standards such as psychology, sociology, etc. They still run experiments, but they are not as controlled as the hard sciences. One can still not control how a person will respond to a circumstance every time they face said circumstances. There are simply too many variables.
With the hard sciences we know, for example, at what temperature water will boil. It is not correct to say the hard sciences deal with objective truth while the soft deal with subjective truth. They both deal with both. It is with this said, many people still will not view theology as a science, but if we can say biology is the knowledge obtained over time through observation about life and organisms and sociology is the knowledge gained about a particular group of people over an extended period, then why it is incorrect to say theology is the science which collects the data from the Bible and Church History concerning God, man, Christ, salvation, the Church, and the last things? If science is simply the culmination of knowledge over a period to time, then we can see how theology does indeed fit into the category of a science. It deals with the knowledge of God.
There are three fundamental things one will need to properly study the science of theology: the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and faith. Therefore, many people get tripped up with calling theology a science. To properly study theology, one needs the source- the Bible. This is not just any ordinary book. The Bible is Special Revelation or God speaking to us through written words. It is in the Bible we have God’s revelation concerning how humankind came into existence (He was there in the first place), how the world got so wrong (the fall of man into sin), and how Jesus Christ came to save us from sin. This message is only found in the Bible.
This is an exclusive claim. Yet, many people can read the Bible and walk away with completely different conclusions. They can even use the Bible to interpret the Bible and still walk away with an incorrect view of God and faith. The reason for this is found with the second need for studying theology- the Holy Spirit.
It is only through the gentle illumination of the Holy Spirit that anyone can open, read, and comprehend the message of Scripture. We need the Spirit of God to help us understand the Word of God, like a baby needs his mother. It is the Spirit who will give to us the spectacles of faith through which we read God’s revelation. These spectacles of faith (as John Calvin put it) are given to us by the Holy Spirit at conversion and we learn over time how to use them. Just like will regular glasses, with a prescription, it takes time for the eyes to get used to seeing with better focus. So too with faith. It may take a lifetime for someone to see the clear testimony of Scripture. It may take days, months, but one thing is clear. Faith is a gift that is needed for one to study theology. Without faith, then one is not properly studying God. To study God, one must believe God exists, and in order to believe God exists, one must have faith.
With all of this said, we still need to recognize the content of theology. This takes us to the fourfold discipline of the science of theology. Over the next several articles, we will take some time to break down the fourfold discipline of the science of theology (I am referring to the Theological Encyclopedia). But to conclude this brief article, the fourfold discipline includes these subjects: Biblical Studies, Historical Studies, Doctrinal Studies, and Ministerial Studies. Each study contains multiple subjects for study, and we will break this down even more next time.