Theology is many things, but the purest definition is the study of God and his nature as it applies to religious beliefs. So Theology is a discipline of study that looks closely at how God “works” today, and in the past. Theology uses a lot of ancient texts, rituals, songs, and other cultural data to determine the nature of God.
Most people who study theology do so to earn a degree. There are Doctorate degrees, Master’s degree, Bachelor degrees, and even Associate degrees available in theology. Some people use their theology education to work in churches. Some become teachers. Others may work in a corporation or travel as a missionary. So the role that theology plays in the modern world varies a great deal. This makes a theology degree somewhat versatile.
No matter how you use your theology degree, it still comes down to understanding the nature of God. For most of us in the United States, the word God refers to Jesus Christ. However, around the world, the word God refers to many different entities. Worldwide there are over 4,000 different religions. There are theology programs that represent other Gods, but, for the most part, the education of theology is about Jesus Christ.
Church is a major portion of the Christian faith, but theology is not necessarily about the church. One of the greatest things we learn in a theology program is how to think about things critically and logically. After all, you may be studying a song that was written 2,000 years ago and trying to decipher its meaning then and how that meaning applies to the world today. You may be reading an ancient text that talks about an entirely different world than what we know of today. You may uncover differences such as how adultery was punished back then as opposed to today.
One of the things that theologies does is compare the past to the present. However, there is also a comparison of other faiths to Christianity both in the past and in the present. How does Judaism differ from Christianity in the modern world? What is the history of Christ? How does what Christ said to relate to this modern civilization? Those are questions that need answering, and those are the types of challenges that students in a theology program face.
Learning about theology is not indoctrination into a church. It is the learning of the ways of God so that as a member of the Christian faith you can help steer the church in the right direction. Take for example the role of the Pope. His role and visit recently to the United States was an attempt to correct that thinking of this great nation. He came and talked about the realities of global warming not because he is a political man, but because he understands the nature of God.
Open the bible and read the chapter of Genesis where it talks about man’s responsibility for being a steward of this earth. What does Christianity stand on the idea of Global warming? What of the nature of God and how he might address this? How does one answer those questions honestly if one does not understand the nature of God? Theology is not about championing one branch of Christianity over another. It is about learning how to understand — how to take knowledge and interpret it in a logical and rational way. The result is an understanding of how God works. It is a subjective process, but there are truths and obstacles alike along this journey.
God had disciples, and he preached to them, listened to them, and from them the nature of God rose. In today’s world, we have each other, other theologians, people who have learned to understand the histories, thought about the meaningful translations and how those translations fit into this world.
The learning of theology is something that never stops. You may graduate with a degree, but you continue to learn about Christ for all of your life. That is one of the most remarkable things that theology does for people. Along the way, you find fellowship. Companions who challenge your analysis, argue with you, and defend your work. It is one of the most glorious ways to live and learn. Comradery among theologians is almost sacred and certainly something to look forward to discovering.
For the first part of the program, you work on foundation type classes. This is a time where the essential Christian concepts are brought forth and learned through reading and discussion. You learn about Resurrection, creation, and incarnation. You build upon the idea of faith as you learn to recognize symbols. You experience revelation as key points begin to form a deeper picture. You move on to high concepts such as Salvation and Grace and, of course, the role that that churches play in all of this.
A second-year student is usually in the development mode. They have begun to learn how to think like a theologian, and they are putting to work the lessons they learned during their foundation period. It is here that topics begin to become heavier. You may delve into the Hebrew Scriptures as you begin to fathom the differences between the old testament and the new testament. That is a time of great opportunity for it is a documented change in religion. The world changed, and so the lessons from God must also change. That is the very core of what theology faces today.
The world has changed. The life of man has changed. Theology is a much-needed area of wisdom because religion is being left behind by the rapid expansion of man. An example of how man has changed is not always found in our behavior but in our ability. Technology has made a major impact on Theology and understanding how technology and modern culture exist in the same place as religion is difficult. It is also exciting.
There is also the comparison of other religions and different sects of Christianity. How are Jews different from Christians? What secrets are found in the Book of Revelations? Deeper theories of religion become a common language that you speak among your colleagues.
So what is theology? It is the deeper understanding of how what once was is applied to what is. It is the transfer of knowledge from ancient societies into a modern world. It is half excitement and half dread. It is a way to learn how to think and speak about things that are not always comfortable. That is the nature of God, and that too is theology.