What is theology?
Theology, basically stated, is the study of God. The term derives from the Greek term theos (God) and logia (subject of interest).
Are there different species, or kinds, of theology?
Post-Enlightenment thinking gave way to a fervent type of Deism in which it was claimed that God could not be known. God, it was thought, created all that exists as a clockmaker would create a clock. At completion, God simply wound the clock and set it free to tick. Deists do not believe that God has condescended to His creation in the Person and work of Christ. Deists conceive of a God who has created but has remained uninvolved.
Atheism differs from Deism in that is claims to lack reason for belief in God. Thus, the atheist could properly say, “God does not exist,” or “there are no good reasons to believe God does not exist.” While the deist conceives of a god, the atheist dismisses God altogether.
Pantheists believe that God is the world and that the world is God. There is no distinction between Creator and creature. God is all and all is God.
The Christian believes in the God as characterized by the Scriptures. God exists. God is, in fact, self-existent, and is in no need for anything outside of Himself to sustain Himself. He is, as some of the older divines used to say, wholly other. There is a fundamental way in which God is unlike humanity. He is not created, like we are. God is Creator, man is creature. God exists in Himself; He is necessary. Man relies on external factors for his existence; he is contingent.
For the Christian, God is one, yet He is many. There is only one God, but the divine essence of this God subsists in three distinct Persons. Thus, each of these three Persons are properly called God, yet are not all three different gods. These three persons are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
All religious systems proceed from the above mentioned three. There are deists, atheists, pantheists, and Trinitarians (Christians). All of these areas, even atheism, set forth a theology. There is given either a negative valuation of theology (atheism), in which something is said about God, namely that He has not given reasons for us to believe in Him. Pantheism advances a god that is one with the world; and deists make theological statements about a god that supposedly cannot be known (but then, one could ask how the deist knows God cannot be known if nothing, in fact, can be known of God).
Is theology possible?
After reviewing the broad variety of beliefs how could a person possibly say that theology is possible? How could the study of God be possible when it seems no one could know who the true God is? There are three reasons theology is possible. Not only is theology possible, but it is impossible not to do theology in one sense or another. All people either assume some type of theological truth or make theological claims (e.g. “God does not exist,” or “there are many gods,” or “there are no good reasons to believe a god exists,” etc.)
Just because truth is distorted doesn’t mean it is beyond possible apprehension. The name of an ice cream shop is subject to mispronunciation, but it doesn’t therefore follow that the ice cream shop is beyond the stretches of our knowledge. The variations found within the study of God can be explained by many different factors. Why not take the Christian explanation, that these variations are due to the noetic effects of sin? Sin has damaged our faculties of reason and so, while they are still usable and dependable to an extent, they are damaged and subject to fallibility.
Knowledge of the truth is not made impossible simply because truth can be distorted.
How can we know which theology, or study of God (or gods) is the correct version?
First, we must begin with the biblical claim that all people know God (Rom. 1:18-20). There is, in everyone, an internal sense of the divine or a sensus divinitatus. By this, all people know that God exists. Moreover, everyone knows God exists through that which has been made. Something exists; therefore, God exists. As simple as that sounds, it’s a completely logical line of reasoning. In fact, if anyone recognizes the existence of anything yet rejects the existence of God, they have become inconsistent.
Second, as mentioned above, there are certain truths of nature which force us, if consistent, to recognize the divine. One could begin with the simple law of causality. Every effect, says the law, requires a cause. If that is truly the case, this universe necessarily has a Creator. Nothing can create itself, which means there must have been a first cause of the universe as a whole. If this contention is challenged, one must either say one of three things:
- Everything is an illusion.
- The universe is self-created.
- Or, the universe is eternal.
In the final analysis, if everything is an illusion, this article isn’t worth reading; the universe cannot be self created because it would have to both be and not be at the same time and in the same sense, and this violates the law of non-contradiction; and the universe cannot be eternal because it is apparently contingent. Anything that changes is contingent. The universe changes. Therefore, it is contingent and, thus, cannot be eternal. The universe had to have been created.
Third, if God is the prime mover, or the first cause, then He necessarily exists. This means that God is self-existent. He simply is, eternally. Moreover, He must also be related to His creation (a personal God) in some sense. Why is this? First, we can know something of Him through a process of reason. Second, He decided to create in the first place. So, God can be and is known.
Fourth, creation exhibits intentionality. There is purpose to creation. Even atheists, as much as they don’t want to, admit this. When an atheist says that we should care for the planet or that Natural Selection did (a) in order to achieve (b), they admit of some sort of purpose. Intentionality cannot arise from unintentionality because that too would violate the law of non-contradiction. This all adds up to a self-existent yet personal God, the likes of which Islam rejects (because impersonal), pantheism misses (because God is distinct from His creation), and atheism ignores (because denial of sound logical reasoning).
Is the above a set of exhaustive reasons for the correct theology?
No. There could be many other reasons or arguments given in order to show the truth of the Christian position. Arguments from the consistency and historicity of the Scriptures are another area of apologetic work we have not yet delved into, for example.