Monday, 14 August 2006

Theology for beginners (2): Theology

Summary: Theology is the attempt to express faith verbally in a responsible way.

We find ourselves, then, in the situation of faith. But faith is never mute. Faith speaks; it comes to expression. Speech, or confession, is of the very nature of faith. And when we discover that we believe, at once we begin to struggle to find appropriate speech with which to express our faith. What shall we say, now that we have been grasped by God? How shall we speak, now that we have seen our lives in the context of God’s reality?

With questions like these, faith naturally gives rise to theology. Theology is not the same as faith. In no sense does faith depend on theology. Faith depends only on one thing, and that is God. But the speaking of faith, the confession and communication of faith, requires theology. And theology is really nothing more than the attempt to give voice to faith. Theology is the struggle to give faith a proper vocabulary, a proper idiom with which to speak of God. Faith wants to express itself, it wants to worship, confess and witness, it wants to be heard. And so theology seeks to verbalise faith, to help faith to speak meaningfully and intelligibility – and above all faithfully – about the reality of God.

This means that theology is always responsible. It is responsible to the Christian community, since it exists to serve this community by articulating the faith of the community. It exists so that the community will be equipped to verbalise its faith in worship, confession and witness. Even more importantly, though, theology is also responsible to God. Theology cannot simply be the spontaneous creation of a theologian’s own imagination; rather, it must take the form of a response – a response to the reality of God as it is encountered in the life of faith. If theology is to be of any value, it must therefore fulfil this twofold responsibility: it must faithfully serve the Christian community, and faithfully respond to the reality of God.

Theology, then, is the language-school of faith. Its whole aim is to allow faith to speak in a responsible way. In other words, the true aim of theology is to make itself redundant – just as the aim of a school teacher is to become redundant and superfluous. Wherever a teacher has succeeded in her teaching, she becomes unnecessary. And in the same way, theology seeks to make itself redundant by teaching faith how to speak.

Theology itself, in other words, is not intrinsically necessary. Only one thing is necessary: the expression of faith in worship, confession and witness. But until faith has become articulate, theology has a vital service to perform – a service which must be performed again and again for each new generation.

Further reading

  • Barth, Karl. The Göttingen Dogmatics, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), pp. 3-41.
  • Ebeling, Gerhard. Word and Faith (London: SCM, 1963), pp. 424-33.
  • Jenson, Robert W. Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 3-60.
  • Nichols, Aidan. The Shape of Catholic Theology (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991), pp. 13-38.
  • Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), pp. 1-61.
  • Sauter, Gerhard. Gateways to Dogmatics: Reasoning Theologically for the Life of the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003).
  • Schillebeeckx, Edward. Revelation and Theology, Vol. 1. (London: Sheed & Ward, 1987), 95-181.
  • Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Brief Outline on the Study of Theology (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1966).

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