2013-11-02

Why Studying Theology is good for EVERYONE



A colleague recently sent me a great article from the Atlantic on why everyone should "Study Theology, Even If You Don't Believe in God". I think it made several great points which I agree with wholly. I read it and it is very much in line with what I frequently tell people who ask me about theology and religious studies.

However, there are a couple of things I would also like to add about why Theology is for everyone, because everyone is a theologian (a point first brought home to me by Stanley Grenz in his book "Who Needs Theology?"). My standard schtick on the study of theology is this:


We are all theologians whether we like it or not, whether Christian or not, whether Atheist or religious. We cannot avoid being theologians because we cannot avoid asking the question "why".

Theology comes from the Greek words "theos" meaning "God", and "logia" meaning "rational discourse about and study of". And the first lesson of theology is that "God" is a contested term. God is a shorthand way of saying "Ultimate Reality".

Some make Ultimate Reality a transcendent personal entity (the common usage for Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc.). Others, including the Jewish philosopher Spinoza and the Jewish physicist Einstein use "God" to denote the totality of the universe, without transcendence, without personhood. Many Hindus use the term "God" to denote the "world soul" which inhabits the universe and it bound within it. And still others say that Ultimate Reality is that there is NO Ultimate Reality. There is only physical reality. And yet, this classically "atheist" view of "no God" is still a view on what God is not, and what Reality is.

All of us have a model of Ultimate Reality, and based on this we derive our Ultimate Values for life. And from these Ultimate Values we derive our ethics and politics and core motivations and life choices. This is because what we consider as "Ultimate" is intimately interconnected with all we do, all we think, and all we are.

And to understand these systemic interconnections between our "Ultimate" and how we think and act on a daily basis is precisely to do the work of "theology".

Unfortunately, many folks don't do their theology explicitly, consciously, or systematically. They muddle through their worldview and fail to grasp the interconnections. And as a result they invite a great deal of perplexity and confusion into their thought life and decision making, when they could experience quite a bit more clarity. And not only this, but understanding different models of Ultimate Reality and how they connect with ethics, politics, and aesthetics, can help one have a great deal more empathy for others who think differently from you.

And thus, theology is for everyone and can greatly help anyone in understanding what it means to be human, even if they don't believe in God. Theology done well is not seeking to convert others. Theology done well is seeking to elaborate and understand the ramifications of how different views of Ultimate Reality work. Or, put more succinctly by Saint Anselm, theology is simply "faith seeking understanding". Theology takes the explanation of Ultimate Reality we put our trust in (our "faith") and unfolds its implications for our science and spirituality, ethics and politics, arts and relationships, and everything in between (by "seeking understanding").
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.