What is theology? Theology seems to be a bad word today. To many it communicates bigotry, arrogance, and exclusivism riddled with impracticality. Sure, people will allow you to have your theology, just don’t let it be know with too much conviction that you actually believe it. You can have your beliefs just don’t push those upon others.
Webster’s dictionary defines theology as “The science of God or of religion; the science which treats of the existence, character, and attributes of God, his laws and government, the doctrines we are to believe, and the duties we are to practice. . . the science of Christian faith and life.” Saint Augustine in the fifth-century defined theology as “Rational discussion respecting the deity.” A. H. Strong, the great twentieth century theologian said that theology is “the Science of God and of the relations between God and the universe.” Charles Ryrie, the popular dispensationalist theologian, says theology is “thinking about God and expressing those thoughts in some way.” (Basic Theology [Wheaton, IL: 1986], 9). Millard Erickson, a modern Baptist theologian says that theology is simply “the study or science of God.” (Christian Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001], 22).
Most simply put, theology is the study of God. It comes from the word theos which is Greek for “God,” and -ology which is from the Greek word logos meaning “word.” Most literally then the word theology means “words about God” or “the study of God.” If one were to use the term generically, it functions much like “philosophy” or “worldview.” People often use the word this way in secular venues. Many times it is used very specifically, speaking only about God. This is called “theology proper.” But generally speaking theology is a belief system that is built upon intellectually and emotionally held commitments concerning God and man.
Speaking about theology in times past was not thought of taboo as it is today. It used to be called “the queen of the sciences.” It was understood to be the first among pursuits of knowledge, since it was believed that all other pursuits were vitally linked to its dictates. Morality was dictated by it. Philosophy was called its handmaiden. Why was it held in such high esteem then? Because theology itself provides a foundation for your philosophy and worldview, which in turn sets inclinations for your heart, actions, and decisions in all situations. Everything is affected by your theology. For example, if your theology denies the existence of God, then your morality is going to be affected since its basis is not a personal and timeless being. With a theology of atheism (i.e. belief that there is no God) morals become relative to the time and situation. In this case, what is true for one generation may not be true for another. If your theology denies the sinfulness of man, then a bloody sacrificial death to atone for sin becomes repulsive, since, according to your theology, men don’t need to have their sin atoned for. If your theology is polytheistic (i.e. belief in many gods), then you will constantly be trying to figure out which god or gods you should encounter, pray to, and/or appease in order to make their situation “right.” The implications are endless.
In short, theology is a set of intellectual and emotional commitments, justified or not, about God and man which dictate ones beliefs and actions. Neither the word itself is irrelevant, nor the concepts which it seeks to articulate. It is the first pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.