The Importance of Theological Study
Theology is an important study for Christians to greater understand the scriptures. The Bible is a gift given to the world to teach and train in righteousness, coming from God Himself (2 Tim 3:16-17). Theology, the study of God—his attributes, purposes, works, and His relationship with humanity, helps define the interpretation of scripture so that His word to us is more easily understood. Alister McGrath states that Christian theology proceeds from four sources: scripture, tradition, reason, and religious experience. While theology is developed from all these sources, McGrath notes that all the sources are not equal. Scripture is widely accepted as the most important source of theology; however, there is a caveat. If the source of scripture is found to be in error due to translation, the theology developed from scripture should evolve to reflect the discovery of the errors of scriptural understanding. Despite the possibility of human errors as such, which are rare, scripture exists to aid the Christian to strengthen their belief and to defend the faith. This has been the case since the early church up to the present.
Ian Barbour studied the parallels between scientific and theological studies. Just as scientific theories are revised regarding conflicting data, theological beliefs are revised to reflect new or differently understood information. Unlike mathematics, where proofs are the basis of principles, neither science, nor theology operates on proofs, but through models and interpretation through paradigms of understanding. For this reason, rarely can an understanding be absolutely infallible, but only as infallible as the current understanding of the data that supports the interpretation. For example, it is safe to assert that Jesus Christ is Lord within the context of Christian Theology, but the understanding of prayer for the deceased may change depending on the canonicity of writings such as Maccabees. If Maccabees becomes understood as canonical in the protestant community, then there exists reason to change and develop theology that supports this new data.
One theological view that is under attack is regarding how the Old and New Testament are viewed. Is God portrayed in the Old Testament different from the God portrayed in the New Testament? It is not a matter that it is a different God, but a change in God’s nature. Theologians like John Calvin argue that god is immutable so that the two testaments are essentially the same, continuous message. Such as statement is defendable through scripture as Jesus Christ is said to be “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8), but this would be altered through the understanding of who Jesus Christ is. From the trinitarian perspective, Jesus Christ is God, just as the Father is God, eternally existent, and thus immutable. A non-trinitarian view may argue that Jesus Christ is the only one that is immutable, but God could be dynamic in character, thus leading to different theological views.
The new perspective on Paul is a view gaining traction that states that the Jewish view of the Old Covenant was one of grace and not of works. Despite no new material having been discovered, this view is being propagated, which would indeed support the immutability of God, but we should be wary of such paradigm shifts. If you check out my paper, The Old Covenant Influence on Paul, you can read my defense of the historical understanding against the new perspective, but I did not avoid looking into this view altogether. We must recognize that church tradition and historical understanding can be in error, but we must not tear it down at the smallest disturbance like it’s a house of cards.
Our historical understanding of scripture has been built upon by great theologians throughout the ages, so minor changes may be warranted, but major evolutions are likely unfounded. Unless new data or material is discovered that is well verified, our differing views are more likely results of societal shifts in culture. If so, then we must examine how scripture speaks regarding this cultural shift. If the shift is not in line with God’s desires, then we are in the wrong and this new theological view is to be ignored just like the gnostic teachings.
While I do not support changing theological views at the whims of human emotions, we do need to admit when we are incorrect. Without disrespect to my Christian brothers and sisters, it is for this reason that I left Pentecostalism for Reformed teaching. There have been moments where church tradition was found to be incorrect, which led to the Reformation, but not all issues are so problematic to cause huge rifts in the body, but there are indeed minor, or secondary, differences. For instance, is baptism for believers that are at an age of accountability or is it for babies as well (pedobaptism)? Others have a disagreement on the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit (cesationalism vs. continualism). These are not issues that should divide the body, but they do have merit to have discourse regarding them. In all we do, our work should be to help our brothers and sisters grow so that the body is edified. Even when we disagree, be open to
“but test everything; hold fast what is good.”1 Thessalonians 5:21 (ESV)
. Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms (Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International, 2002), 483.
. Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology : An Introduction (New York, United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2016), 120.
. Ibid., 120.
. Ibid., 121.
. Ian G. Barbour, Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 1997), 136.
. McGrath, 126.