Sunday, 20 January 2013

Theology 101 - The Sources of Theology

We’ve so far concluded that theology concerns the speech of God and our speech about Him, as well as the various experiences that are said to derive from Him. We’ve suggested a variety of reasons why theological study is important. Now we turn to consider how Christian theology is done. What do theologians use to ply their trade? What are the sources of theology? [1]

Of course, theology is free to use any resource that proves helpful. The tools of psychology, sociology, philosophy, media and literary theory have all been used to craft theological conclusions. [2] However, you’ll often hear theologians refer to the “sources” of theology. [3] In this post I will briefly explain what these are.

First, revelation – God’s disclosing of Himself. We may further divide this into God’s ‘natural’ and ‘special’ revelation. The former refers to God’s ordinary methods. This may include the beauty and order of creation, the processes of human society as well as the events of our everyday lives. The latter, on the other hand, refers to God’s particular revealing of Himself, secondarily in Scripture and primarily in Jesus Christ. Special revelation in particular constitutes the very essence of theology, namely, the speech of God.

Second, tradition – the teachings of the Church. These traditions influence our experience and interpretation of faith, not least because Christians exist in fellowship. We find ourselves in a community that has a history, even if it’s only a very short one. This history bequeaths to us a way of thinking and a pattern of behaviour. Certain denominations place a greater emphasis on the role of Church tradition than others, but all of us are indebted to tradition in one way or another. Most Churches, for example, would regard the first four ecumenical creeds as authoritative. [4]. At Christmas, when we sing of Christ who is “Very God; Begotten not created”, we’re not repeating Scriptural language; we’re reciting creedal language. The vocabulary of tradition is employed as a source of theological truth.

Third, experience –
the lessons learned by reflecting on praxis. [5] We shouldn’t want to do theology ignorant of the world around us. Real people live real lives and have real experiences, and theological study seeks to reflect that. It may be that we need to engage with the experiences of those who are impoverished and persecuted, with those of the Church, or simply with the events of one’s own life. The theologian seeks to place these experiences in theological perspective.

Fourth, reason – the use of our cognitive faculties. Christian theology has traditionally sought to incorporate logical inferences, as well as valuing the pursuit of philosophical investigation. [6] Our cognitive faculties have not always been given a ‘free pass’ within this relationship; not all theologians have been uncritically optimistic about what human reason can achieve. Nevertheless, human reason has almost always had some role to play in theological reflection.

These, therefore, constitute the sources or ‘tools’ of Christian theology. [7] They’re what theologians have to hand when they work at their trade. All Christian theology is constructed via an appeal to one or more of these sources.

Next time: The Types of Christian Theology


[1] Alongside the question of what theologians use, there’s the related question of what kind of job they do. It may appear as if the theologian simply parrots what the Bible says about a particular subject, or that they only seem to ruminate on obscure creeds and figures of antiquity. Their vocation can mimic that of a librarian, whose habit is the recitation of ancient history. Like all stereotypes, this perception is only partly true. Whilst theologians do appeal to the Scriptures, they are usually aware that their interpretation and use of the Bible is a weighty task. The theologian isn’t just concerned with the repetition of Scripture. Rather, she must cultivate wisdom so as to handle the Bible responsibly. Moreover, although theologians do study unfamiliar creeds and personalities, they’re usually trying to answer questions of contemporary significance. The theologian isn’t just a caretaker of the past; she must employ creativity to inform the Church’s future. David Ford may prove helpful for those interested in this sort of discussion. (For example, take a look at Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love [2007].)

[2] Allow me to furnish this statement with several examples. With regard psychology, one may cite The Essence of Christianity (1841) by Ludwig Feuerbach, in which it was proposed that the idea of God constitutes a human projection. With regard sociology, the so-called ‘Context Group’ is especially notable. Counting Bruce Malina, John Pilch and Richard Rohrbaugh amongst their number, this group of scholars have sought to apply social-scientific theory to Biblical exegesis. Notable publications include The New Testament World by Malina (2001), DeSilva’s Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity (2000) and the Social-Science Commentary series written by a variety of authors. With regard philosophy, one can take one’s pick from two millennia of Christian history, although Aquinas and Anselm are amongst the most notable. With regard literary theory one may look to narratival Biblical exegesis. Notable publications include Gunn & Fewell’s Narrative in the Hebrew Bible (1993), Alter’s commentary on Genesis (1996) and Culpepper’s Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design (1959). Finally, with regard media theory, a notable example would be Kreitzer’s Gospel Images in Fiction and Film: On Reversing the Hermeneutical Flow (2002).

[3] Alister McGrath refers to these various sources as the “architecture” of theological reasoning. For more detail, consult his Christian Theology: An Introduction [2007], as well as Macquarrie’s Principles of Christian Theology [1977].

[4] These four authoritative documents would include the creed of Nicaea (325 AD), the amended creed of Nicaea-Constantinople (381 AD), the canons of Ephesus (431 AD) and the creed of Chalcedon (451 AD).

[5] Liberation theology takes praxis very seriously as a source of theological reflection. In the next post, we’ll briefly discuss how Liberation theory ‘fits’ into the wider typology of Christian theology. For now, take note of Gustavo Gútierrez’s A Theology of Liberation (1974), Leonardo Boff’s Trinity and Society (2005) and The Cambridge Companion to Liberation Theology, edited by Christopher Rowland (2007).

[6] Two famous examples of this integration of Christian theology and philosophy are Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God (taken from his Proslogion), and Aquinas’ ‘five ways’ (taken from his Summa).

Three cautionary notes before we move on. First, it should be noted that some would count more than four sources. For example, one may regard reflection on praxis as a source of theology distinct from experience. These four, however, should be more than sufficient to introduce you to the landscape of Christian theology. Second, not all theological traditions employ every source, and not all traditions employ them equally. Most Protestant denominations, for example, would regard Scripture (and therefore revelation) as the most important source of theology, whereas Roman Catholicism would place much more stress on the role of tradition. Finally, it’s crucial to understand that these are not just idle academic concepts. These four sources have had and still have real life consequences. The Reformation, for example, changed the world and yet it ultimately revolved around a debate concerning the competing authority of these four sources.

1 comment:

  1. One of the richest men in the World, Warren Buffet has remarked that marriage will be one of the most important decisions of any young individual’s life. A right spouse helps an individual to grow and flourish. It starts with understanding what to look for in a life partner. It is a long term decision so you must give it proper thought.
    As easy as it may seem it can be very confusing to choose your life partner. As an individual you need to know what you expect from a life partner. So, if you are trying to figure out how to pick your life partner or things to look for in a partner below are 5 recommendations to consider while choosing a life partner on Info matrimonial sites .
    1) Find the right Marathi matrimonial site:
    First of all, you should research a bit about Tamil Matrimony There are many sites, but a lot of them do not have a large data base of suitable brides/ grooms. You need one which verifies details of all candidates. This is the most important step. Another point to note - choose a site that is easy to use, as your parents will be using it regularly.
    2) Never judge a book by its cover:
    A person may be good looking, but what do they truly hold in their hearts? Basically people make a good looking profile, to attract many candidates, but a person can’t be judged on it’s basis. Every person who looks attractive does not necessarily match your wavelength. So be careful in choosing the right partner and don’t judge someone just by their looks.
    3) Research the person you are connecting with:
    One of the easiest ways of confirming if a profile is real or fake is checking their profile on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & LinkedIn or any other social media. If you find the profile picture and the data relevant then go for it and start connecting. Good info matrimonial sites always verify these details for you. Muslim Matrimony
    4) Ask the right questions about the other person:
    One of the best ways to clear any misunderstanding is by asking questions that are bothering you. Start with the basic questions and then go ahead with your future plans. Just make sure the questions that you are asking are relevant to the other person and he/ she is comfortable to answer those.
    5) Give your complete attention
    Giving your time to someone you are interested in, is the best way to show your interest in them. Just make them realize what they mean to you. In today’s world the biggest gift anyone can give someone is time. Just make a schedule of chatting so that your daily routine will be smooth and you can get to know the other person well and take a better decision. Christian Matrimony


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...