Word of the Month

Theology

April 2008

The term “theology” has been surfacing lately in our literature. We talk about theological insights and knowledge, and even analyse our doctrinal statements from a theological perspective. I can well imagine that this has been received with some surprise here and there, because in the past our Church has tended to frown upon theological thought. Today we have a more differentiated view of this topic. I believe the time has come to say something about this matter.

Theology is defined as the “study of God”. Theology, which is widely acknowledged as a science, has developed exclusively within the context of Christianity. Important aspects of theology include discussions about the foundations of the Christian faith, especially Holy Scripture and the systematic representation of statements of faith. It is quite beyond dispute that theology is dependent on a particular denomination, as a rule. It thus considers the Bible and faith from the perspective of a particular confession. This should suffice to provide some preliminary explanations on this topic.

From this we can derive some important insights for ourselves: we say “yes” to theology when it comes to illuminating biblical context and sharpening doctrinal statements.

We are keen to understand as precisely as possible the teachings of the Lord Jesus – in particular His parables – in the context of His time. After all, Holy Scripture is the foundation of our faith.

Theology can also be helpful in analysing and articulating certain doctrinal statements. For instance, it was very helpful in clarifying our understanding of baptism. It was likewise very beneficial to draw from elements of theology in our discussion of original sin. But we must also draw a very clear boundary here. As mentioned, theological statements are usually rooted in an interpretation of faith that is bound to a particular confession. Often this interpretation is not consistent with our own. Caution is especially advised when undertaking theological evaluations. We cannot agree to such an evaluation if it is based on assumptions that contradict our New Apostolic faith.

Another barrier becomes evident to us in that theology is widely acknowledged as a science (although there are some differing views on this as well). Science always tends to develop its own system and language. Laypersons – and most of us, with very few exceptions, belong to this group – will no longer be able to understand many statements and lines of reasoning as a result. And yet the Lord Jesus expressly stated: “I thank You, Father … that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes” (Matthew 11:25). The Lord Jesus proclaimed the gospel. He did not hold theological seminars! The gospel is to be accessible to all human beings and should not be confused with a theological treatise. Even the Apostle Paul saw limiting factors here, because in 1 Corinthians 1: 21 he wrote: “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”

Of course we must also acknowledge that Apostle Paul had already in his time developed some admirable theological statements, which to this day constitute a foundation for our doctrine of faith. This shows he did not wish to stand in the way of a deeper study of faith either, but was nevertheless aware of how quickly one could run into limiting factors.

To summarise and simplify somewhat, we can say that theological insights and considerations are indeed very helpful for representing and exploring our doctrine, but that we must also recognise the limitations of theological thought. Theological insights cannot replace the gospel. And the gospel – the glad tidings – has been given to all human beings, regardless of their level of education. The important thing is and remains our conviction of faith in the death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ.

Wilhelm Leber