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(c) Robbert Schefman

What exactly is theology? When we say we’re doing theology what do we think we’re doing? Breaking the word down is helpful, and so we have “theo” (God) and “logos” (word), and so you come up with “words about God” or “thinking about God” or “ideas about God”. And so everyone’s a theologian in that we all have ideas about God and it’s just that some of us are closer to the truth than others.

Often theology is spoken of as a summary or systematization of the Bible’s teaching on a particular topic, like church or temple for example. And so what you would do is find all the verses in the Bible that relate to that topic, read them in the light of some type of Goldsworthian Biblical Theological framework (or sometimes not), perhaps through the lense of the conclusions of some broader system or tradition, like Calvinism, and then come up with a summary that takes all the verses into account.

Mark A. McIntosh suggests that this sort of activity is at best only the beginning of true theology, or at worst might not even be theology at all.

Theology, however, does not really have a particular subject field. What differentiates it is rather that […] it inquires by means of divine teaching; it inquires regarding anything and everything by holding whatever it considers up into the divine light […] The material subject of theology (ie., the things it thinks about) might well include world hunger or economic justice or architecture as well as various Christian doctrines or practices. Any or all of these subjects could be the matter of reflection for theology or for a number of other disciplines. What makes Christian theology theology is not so much its matter as its form, the mode by which it reflects, namely the forms of thought we have been analogically calling the divine ideas.

“[…} Thus the goal would be to become so intuitively formed by the divine teaching that one is able in a new way to see its implications, i.e., what light it sheds, in any given circumstances. Theologians as sages are not simply learning to think about especially religious things, but are, rather, seeking to become accustomed to the divine principles and teaching at the heart of everything.”

Mark A. McIntosh, Divine Teaching, pp. 28-30

McIntosh’s point is that Christian theology is of course about understanding God’s ideas (I would say as “revealed in Scripture.” McIntosh doesn’t say that, he leans heavily towards mysticism, but he may have meant to say it and was just having a bad day.) But that’s only phase one. The real goal of theology is to think God’s thoughts after Him, to see the world how He sees it.

Christian theology isn’t so much a topic, that is thinking about particularly religious topics, but is instead a certain way about thinking about everything. Trying to think about everything the way God thinks about it, seeing it how he sees it.

And so McIntosh challenges us to switch around our definition of “theology”. Not so much “ideas about God” but rather “God’s ideas about stuff”. “Divine ideas” instead of “ideas about the Divine”.