INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY

By Russell R. Byrum

 


1. Idea and Contents of Theology

1. Definition. - Theology is the science about God and of the relations existing between him and his creation. Such a definition is in harmony with the sense of the two Greek terms theos and logos, from which it is formed, and whose primary meaning is a discourse about God. It is the science of religion.

2. Religion and Theology. - Religion is manís experience with the supernatural, with his Creator, and it is so grounded in the constitution of man that he is always and everywhere religious. Theology is the intellectual aspect of religion. Religion is spiritual experience, and theology is the rationale and explanation of it. Religion and theology are related somewhat as are the heavenly bodies and astronomy, the earth and geology, and the human body and physiology. As the stars and the earth existed before man had any knowledge concerning them, so men are religious before they formulate theology, and believe instinctively before they reason. Not alone Christianity, but every religion has its theology. Whatever reason the most degraded fetish-worshiper has for his religious actions, that is his theology, crude though it may be. And from that degraded form of religion all the way up through all the great ethnic religions and including Christianity itself, theology, or the intellectual aspect of religion, is a necessity of the mind.

2. Importance and Value of Theology

To speak flippantly or contemptuously of theology is to do so of "doctrine," concerning which the apostle Paul admonishes Timothy to "take heed." This erroneous attitude is doubtless the result of abuses and error in attempts at theology and especially a reflection of that disposition of modern liberalism and free-thinking which would reject every divinely given standard of truth and exalt human reason instead. The devout and wise Christian will beware of such an attitude and also remember that there are not only false theologies or doctrines, but also true Christian theology or doctrines from God.

1. Need for Clear Conceptions - The Christian minister or teacher especially needs a knowledge of theology. It is his message. He should know what is truth in order that on the one hand he may not omit the teaching of important doctrines necessary to the well-being of his hearers, on the other that he may not add to the truth that which is erroneous. He needs such knowledge that his message may be balanced and consistent with itself. He must not emphasize one aspect of truth or of the Christian experience to the excluding or obscuring of other equally important truths. The quality of the preacherís theology determines largely what will be the character of his congregation as a whole and the individual Christian experience of each member. It is the faithful preaching of sound doctrine that has affected all the great reformations of the church.

2. Needed for Strong Convictions - And not only the teacher of religion needs a knowledge of theology, but every one will have firmer convictions of truth and be more stable in Christian experience if he knows the Christian doctrines as interdependent and mutually supporting each other. A bringing together of the teaching of Scripture and a careful study in the light of Scripture of any of the great fundamental doctrines of Christianity can not fail to strengthen faith and enrich one in Christian experience. Such study will clear away confusion and will inspire to more earnest piety and service. It is true that in the early stages of such study doubts may arise as the mind is confronted with problems that were before not supposed to exist; but such doubts are not dangerous as they first seem, but are necessary to healthful progress. A blind piety that dare not think is certainly not of the enduring nature that can give permanence to Christian character. Neither will theological study deaden the affections, as has been wrongly supposed, if it is properly pursued. If the truth learned about God and his will concerning man is not merely held abstractly but applied to the heart and life, it can not fail to make one a better Christian. It has been well said that " the strongest Christians are those who have the firmest grasp upon the great doctrines of Christianity," and "the piety that can be injured by the systematic exhibition of them must be weak, or mystical, or mistaken."

3. Needed for Intellectual Satisfaction - Man has not only an emotional nature, but also an intellectual nature. God is that author of both, and designs that man serve him with both the heart and the mind. In fact, oneís emotions are largely controlled by oneís thinking.

But the question may be asked: Why a scientific arrangement of religious truth? Why may we not receive Christian truths as they are set forth in the Bible, and save ourselves the trouble of theological science? The human mind is constituted with an organizing instinct. The normal mind can not rest in confusion of known facts, nor endure their apparent contradiction. The tendency to systematic thinking and arrangement of known facts is proportionate to the degree of oneís mental culture and capacity. God might have given truth in a scientific form instead of in historical form as it is set forth to a great extent in the Bible, just as he might have provided man food and clothes or secular knowledge without human effort. But work is a law of life throughout the whole creation. And in religion effort is needful, not only for the development of a beautiful Christian character, but also in order to an adequate knowledge of things divine. The Bible furnishes us the facts that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and the these three are not identical, yet that there is but one God. These are the facts. Theology places the facts into proper relation to each other, and the result is the doctrine of the Divine Trinity. The doctrine of the two-fold nature of Christ is likewise a product of theology, and was wrought out only after centuries of struggle. Still another reason for theology is that God has been pleased in the New Testament to supply us with parts of a system of theology already worked out, which is reason for believing he expects us to work it out still farther.

As in other fields of knowledge the mind can not be content with a multitude of undigested facts, so it is with theology. It has been demonstrated often that only as the mind knows Bible truth in logical order can it know really. This is the reason why in all ages and among all religious systems of theology have been constructed.

 

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