Lately I have been asked the question a few times (noticeably more times than usual) what Theology is. Here’s an attempt to articulate a much shorter succinct introduction to what Theology is than I have written before.
Theology is the science of God, from the Greek λόγος meaning discourse or science, and θεός meaning God. Theology is divided into two basic categories, the first of which is called ‘Natural Theology’, and the second of which is Theology proper, often qualified with something like ‘Christian Theology’. Natural Theology is Theology which appeals to the resources which are the public property of all mankind to discover what we can, without any appeal to revelation, about God. For instance, arguments which aim to prove the existence of God are all part of the enterprise of Natural Theology, and insofar as some arguments inform our conception of God these add to the richness of Natural Theology. Theology proper however looks to the resources of special revelation in order to dialectically work out what God is like and how man relates to God. Theology, therefore, makes appeal both to lower principles, and to higher principles, judging these to be consonant. This is why people say Theology is ‘faith seeking understanding’ or faith elaborated by reason, and reason illuminated by faith.
Christian Theology, therefore, looks first of all to the person of Jesus Christ, in whom the fullness of the character of God is revealed. However, it is impossible to look at the person of Jesus Christ without looking through the lens of the History of Israel, the Scriptures, and the Christian Tradition – to divorce the person of Christ from these is simply to misunderstand who Jesus was, just as much as pretending Jesus wasn’t Jewish (or pretending that Christianity isn’t Jewish) makes it impossible to correctly apprehend the significance of his sayings, his character, or his actions.
Therefore, Christian Theology is divided into a few parts. First Biblical Studies including textual-historical criticism, exegesis, hermeneutics and so forth. Second the study of the Church Fathers (Patristics), history of early and later Christianity, study of the development of the Church, Ecumenical councils, and so forth. Third, the articulation of Christian faith worked out in a Systematic Theology (including such subsections as Christology and Ecclesiology), and philosophical theology (involving questions of world-view implications, including everything from ethics to metaphysics and tackling problems such as Christian particularism or the problem of evil). Finally, the study of Theology will include a pastoral or apologetic orientation so that Christian Theology will direct all the aforementioned resources to the building up of the Church and to the proclamation of the ‘good news’ (Gospel).