This weekend, we kicked off a new series called “30-Minute Theology.” PK invited Dr. Wayne Schmidt, the General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church (the denomination to which 12Stone belongs), to come and unpack what the church believes about sin.
Before we look at this specific topic discussed in this 30 minute session, many of us need to back up to see a little more of the big picture. We need to start with the question, “What is theology, anyway?”
Break It Down for Me
In its simplest form, theology comes from the Greek words “theos” (meaning god) and ology (meaning study of). So, theology means “the study of God.” In most modern academic contexts, theology is the study of gods and religion, with a heavy emphasis on the religion part.
But theology isn’t just an academic field of study. For every person who takes their religious faith seriously, theology is how we think and how we live. It’s the foundation of our lives.
No religious system operates without a set of beliefs. Those beliefs comprise the essence of that religion’s teaching. Whether a person follows Muhammad, Buddha, or Jesus Christ, each religion has a set of claims that it makes about life and how it works. Those claims are what make up a religion’s theology.
When 12Stone talks about theology, we are referring specifically to Christian theology, or the study of the Christian religion and the Triune God (triune being a fancy way of saying God is one God expressed in three persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). Christian theology is rooted in the Bible and in the historical evidence for the faith.
As a Wesleyan church, 12Stone believes and adheres to the Wesleyan Articles of Religion. These are the core beliefs of our church and they guide how we live out our faith in real life. But there are other Christian statements of belief beyond our own; each denomination will have its own theological statements of belief. In many cases, our beliefs and theirs align, but there are distinctions, some major and some minor.
How Do I Do Theology?
Now that we’ve set a very basic understanding of what theology is, the next question is how do we, as regular people, do theology? It’s one thing for trained professors and professionals to tackle heavy topics, but it’s another thing altogether for someone like us to give it a try.
To begin with, our first understanding of theology should come from the Bible. We need to read the Bible for ourselves, and learn to wrestle it through. No book of Christian theology will make a lick of sense to us until we at least understand the source of it all.
Once we have an understanding of what the Bible teaches, we can begin to move outward and look for other resources to help aid our comprehension. Now, before you flip over to Amazon and start searching away, a quick word of warning: very few books on theology are “consumer friendly.” In fact, most books of theology are academic and therefore difficult to tackle.
If you’re going to read a theological work, keep the following in mind:
Theology by its nature is precise and dense. Every word in a theological writing is specifically chosen and packed with meaning, which means you’ll have to take time to unpack them for full understanding.
Theology is often broken into specific areas of study. You will find theological books on everything from prayer to the Second Coming of Jesus, each written as if it were the definitive book on the subject.
Theology requires careful reading. If you’re going to read a theological work, go ahead and purchase it outright. You will need to read with your eyes, highlighter, and pen if you want to get the most out of the work. Don’t be afraid to underline, highlight, and flat out Google things that stand out to you or don’t make sense. Digging in and engaging with the text is the best way to develop a genuine understanding.
Theology is addictive. Few things in the Christian faith are as satisfying and rewarding as wrestling with a key concept and unlocking a deeper, more intimate knowledge.
Theology has rock stars, too. Believe it or not, even among nerdy academic writers, some folks have a popular style. You will find that some authors have more titles to their credit than others, but don’t mistake frequency of publication with greater authority.
Some Books You Should Read
Now that you have a general understanding of what theology is and how you can best begin exploring the subject, here are four basic theology books that offer a scaled-back version of systematic theology (a study of how theology ties together across all its subjects).
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Lewis is best known for his Narnia books, but the Oxford University don was also a popular theologian during his time. After being converted to Christianity out of atheism, Lewis became a public theologian who wrote and spoke about the faith in ways the average person could easily understand. Mere Christianity is a collection of radio addresses that Lewis gave over BBC radio during World War II, and it summarizes what Lewis called the essential (or “mere”) beliefs all Christians share. Though the book is intended for a popular audience, it still requires a careful reading, as Lewis packs a lot into its pages.
Theology: The Basics by Alister E. McGrath. Like C.S. Lewis, Alister McGrath is an Oxford University don with a deft British wit and a keen insight into making theology accessible to the average reader. Theology: The Basics takes McGrath’s substantive academic work, Christian Theology: An Introduction and condenses it into a smaller, more popular book. McGrath is a renowned speaker and thinker who brings his intelligence and insight to the page to make the subject matter accessible.
Basic Christianity by John Stott. A classic work by well-known pastor John Stott, Basic Christianity is a primer on the basic claims of the Christian faith. With insight and wisdom, Stott explains the person and work of Jesus, the need of all humanity to be saved from sin, and how Christ’s death and resurrection deals with that need.
Practicing Christian Doctrine by Beth Felker Jones. This introductory book walks readers through the concept and practice of Christian theology. Focusing on ten essential doctrines of the faith, including how to know God and the hope of the Resurrection, the book offers a straightforward look into the historical Christian faith.