Jannah Theme License is not validated, Go to the theme options page to validate the license, You need a single license for each domain name.

What Is Theology? How to Do Theology? How to Understand Theology?

What Is Theology? How to Do Theology? How to Understand Theology?

What Is Theology?

Many people, after hearing the word theology, roll their eyes and envision esoteric scholarly debates that have little if any bearing on real life. However, theology is much more basic, more foundational, than this, and it has everything to do with real life. The word itself comes from the Greek terms for “God” (theos) and “word,” “thought,” or “reason” (logos). So theology means: “that which can be said or thought about God—essentially, the study of God.” If the primary (though not exclusive) source of information about God is the Bible, theology can be thought of as the study of the Bible: What does it teach? What is true, according to Scripture?


What Is Theology? How to Do Theology? How to Understand Theology?
What Is Theology? How to Do Theology? How to Understand Theology?

A more formal definition might be something like this: “Theology simply means thinking about God and expressing those thoughts in some way.”1 Notice that this describes activity. Theology is not primarily something, but rather the doing of something, specifically, thinking and expressing. The term doctrine refers to the results of the thinking and the content of the expressing (though sometimes theology is used as a synonym for doctrine).
Furthermore, notice from the definition that theology is not simply a mental activity; it also involves communication. This is noteworthy because knowledge of God is too essential to keep to oneself. It needs to be passed on to help others understand God as well.

If this is what theology is, then it follows that theology is something everyone does, for everybody thinks and talks about God to some degree. Even atheists do; they just do so in negative terms. At some level, all people are theologians, whether they know it or not.2 The question, then, is not whether one is “doing” theology but whether one is doing theology correctly.
So how do we do theology correctly?

How to Do Theology?

First, one truth that Christians have long understood may initially seem counterintuitive: We must do theology in faith. Normally we would assume that after we thoroughly understand something, we decide whether or not we should believe it. But the Bible teaches another order. The apostle Paul says:

The person without the Spirit [the unbeliever] does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God [e.g., God’s Word, the Bible] … and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:14

In other words, only a person of faith—one who trusts in God and trusts in his Word—can truly understand his Word as he intends. Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) put it this way: “I believe in order that I may understand.” Or, as others have rephrased it, theology is “faith seeking understanding.” The belief, or faith, is to precede the understanding.

This does not mean faith is blind. It is not mindless or irrational. God will never ask us to trust in something for which there is insufficient basis for belief. It does mean we must do theology in dependence upon God, the subject of our study and author of our primary truth source—the Bible, his Word. Through his Spirit, he will guide us into all truth (John 16:13).
Second, we must do theology in humility. This should be obvious by the very fact that God is an infinite and perfectly holy being, while we are trying to comprehend him with finite minds that have been affected by sin. (See Jeremiah 17:9, where “heart” refers to the mind.)

“My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8–9

So we should do theology humbly, realizing we will fall short of perfection. This also implies that we should constantly be doing theology in order to be refining it so that more and more it purely reflects the truth.
Third, we must do theology with the right motives. Too often theology has been motivated by pride that seeks to show the superiority of one’s intellect and knowledge. This, of course, is the opposite of doing it humbly.

In contrast, God-pleasing motives include doing theology to magnify him—“Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31)—and to help others—“Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:26; see also Ephesians 4:15–16; Colossians 1:28).

Fourth, we must do theology in the right way. For instance, let’s say the subject of our pursuit is “What does it mean to be human?” Foremost, we must regard God’s Word as our primary source (more on other sources in chapter 2). Then we identify the biblical texts relevant to the topic. Next, we interpret those texts carefully, in order to understand them accurately, seeking to determine what the authors intended to communicate to the original audiences (on biblical authorship and related matters, see chapters 3–5). Finally, we synthesize our findings in order to answer, “What does the entire Bible teach about what it means to be human?”

How to Understand Theology?

Theology is also a more expansive term for a number of sub-disciplines (including, for example, biblical theology, historical theology, and natural theology). Again, this book’s approach falls under the category of systematic theology: the study of the Bible that attempts to categorize or systematize its teaching according to broad topics. Generally, ten categories are represented: What does the Bible teach about the Bible? God? Jesus Christ? the Holy Spirit? angels? humans? sin? salvation? the church? the future (or last things)?

The answers are hardly irrelevant or stuff to interest only academic types. They are thoroughly useful, profoundly applicable, even vital to our overall well-being. Paul demonstrated this by how he organized his letters. The first part, generally theological, explains what his readers should know and believe (e.g., Romans 1–11; Ephesians 1–3). The latter part, generally practical, applies the theology and illustrates how his readers should live as a result of their faith and knowledge (e.g., Romans 12–16; Ephesians 4–6).

The order is crucial: Theology (biblical truth) is the basis for Christian living. Paul also showed its relevance by repeatedly encouraging pastors (in his pastoral epistles: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) to teach people “sound doctrine.” The word sound means “healthy.” The point is that biblical truth is necessary, for without it we will be unhealthy spiritually and vulnerable to false teaching (a serious concern of Paul in these letters).

While this relevance and applicability of theology is not always readily apparent, we ought to assume that it is relevant and continue to ponder God-revealed truth, with God’s help, as increasingly we better grasp its relevance. God does not waste his words on trivialities. Theology based on the Word of God should not only affect our thinking (what we believe and understand) but also our behavior (how we live), and ultimately our character (who we are).

Therefore, and finally, to do theology correctly we must apply it to our own lives and help others apply it to their lives. God desires to use theology (biblical truth) to transform us into godly people. It is my prayer that he will work through the following chapters to continue doing just that.


What Is Theology? How to Do Theology? How to Understand Theology?
What Is Theology? How to Do Theology? How to Understand Theology?


Up until the last couple of centuries, theology was known as the “queen of the sciences.” The assumption was that since everything comes from God, nothing can be sufficiently understood apart from God. Therefore, you were not considered to be educated in any field of study unless you had also studied theology. Oh, for the good old days, when theology was given its appropriate and necessary place!

1 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago: Moody, 1986), 9.

2 This idea is developed well in Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson, Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996).


Aaron, D. (2012) Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, pp. 15–19.

What Is Theology?

Related Articles

Back to top button