We gathered on August 10, 2014 in Marktplatz in downtown Fredericksburg and engaged this same topic.
Here are my notes, updated, from that first session.
Again, these are just notes. I will try to cite when I can and give credit where it is due. The foundation of this discussion comes out of the notes from my systematic theology class at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, led by Dr. Vitor Westhelle.
“What is Theology?”
Theology comes from two Greek words:
Theos - god
Logos - word, statement, message (This word has more nuances)
Put together they can simply mean “God talk.” Theology is simply how we talk about God.
From Frederick Buechner’s Wishful Thinking (Harper Collins: 1973); “Theology is the study of God and of God’s ways. For all we know, dung beetles may study us and our ways and call it humanology. If so, we would probably be more touched and amused than irritated. One hopes that God feels likewise (pg. 112)."
The concept of theology develops rather late in the life of the early church - around the 4th century of the common era. The early church fathers and mothers did not consider themselves theologians.
Theology (Theologia) is first used in Plato’s Republic - four centuries before the life and times of Jesus. The word theology was used by Plato to describe those who do “fictional work.” Theologia was not scientific or philosophical discourse and was opposed to philosophy - a subject that was highly regarded by the Greeks.
Eusebius - one of the early church fathers - is thought to be the first to use theology in connection to talk about God/Jesus. Theology then becomes the "currency” for all discussion and thinking about God.
The historical development of theology has many shifts. Some important words you may encounter:
Historical Theology - Documents that deal with the development of the Christian faith.
Dogmatic Theology - What are the teachings of the church for today.
Moral Theology - Ethics; putting into practice what faith requires.
So who do we listen to? Where does authority come from?
Irenaeus, a church father from the 2nd century CE (close to the life and times of Jesus), argues that authority is Apostolic - one who is an eyewitness to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Go to the source! The teachings of the apostles are the source and norm of understanding God for the early church.
Basil of Caesarea, a church father from the 4th century CE (farther removed from life and times of Jesus), argues that we need someone to interpret. Enter the bishops - educated folks who are educated and can guide us ordinary folks.
The system of bishops as academic authorities begins to break down when money and power became more important than education (sounds familiar!)
Martin Luther (and other reformers of 16th century) - “Sola Scriptura” - Word Alone. Scripture is our authority. Luther would argue that or authority should be derived from what points us to Christ. Luther encountered Christ most clearly in the manger and in the cross. Some parts of scripture - according to Luther - do not point to Christ. Luther would say, “Of course it is the word of God, but you are not the people.”
My systematics professor, Dr. Westhelle had this to say about theology:
Theology needs to have…
Mouth of Aaron (Exodus 4:10-17): Theology needs a voice. Theology needs someone to make the talk of God public. Someone to share the story. There are lots of folks out there who claim to speak on God's behalf, some of them are charlatans and should not be trusted.
This is where we come in. We are invited to study, learn, and grow in our understanding of God. This is best done in a balance of private study and group discussion. We should be informed about where our information is coming from - who are the sources. We should proceed prayerfully - the sharing of theology is ahumble task.
House of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42): We need infrastructure to provide for the hard stuff of sharing the Word. The community of those living out and proclaiming God's love and word needs a place to work and listen. A place of hospitality. A place where all are welcome at the table for nourishment, teaching and discussion. The work of theology needs a place to serve others. The aspect can be thought of in the following trilogy - serve, preach, provide.
Mind of Thomas (John 20:19-31): We need to ask the hard questions. We need to be the critical thinkers. We need to be able to voice our doubts and still remain at the table and in community with one another. Thomas was only asking for what the other disciples had already experienced. It was a reasonable request in light of what the others had already experienced. Thomas' request was a difficult one - but Jesus does not rebuke or shame him. Jesus invites Thomas' request and speaks words for us modern day disciples. And Thomas was with the others in the end - he remained in the community.
Theology is the response to God’s original address to Adam in the garden of Eden - “Where are you?” Where are we in the world when God is already looking for us? How do we respond to God’s desire to be in relationship with us?
These are the works of theology.
Blessings on the journey!