Below is a copy of my first paper for Grace Theological Seminary
Theology is the single greatest area of study and the highest level of education which is available to mankind because it is the study of the living God. One can spend their whole life studying another field, but if they do not study theology, then they will miss out on the greatest knowledge made available to us by the very One who created us. Theology is the study of God and what we believe about God will affect everything about us — even the way we live on a daily basis. A. W. Tozer says in his book The Knowledge of the Holy that “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
As with any study, there are numerous branches within theology. In addition to the various categories of theology, there is also the process by which we form convictions, our own presuppositions to theology, and the sources we turn to when doing theology. Ultimately, the study of theology is personal and individual to each believer as there are many factors that contribute to one’s personal approach to theology.
According to Charles Ryrie, the study of theology is broken down into three main categories: era, viewpoint, and focus. Era emphasizes the beliefs of the general population of believers during specific eras of time while viewpoint aims more toward the philosophical beliefs within certain groups of believers. My personal approach would tend to gravitate in the direction of focus. The reasons for this observation are twofold. First, it was due by process of elimination as I am not naturally inclined to the first two. Second, my personality lends itself to focus as I have tended to camp out on biblical, systematic, apologetic, and exegetical theology since I have been saved. In the end, focus theology is my preferred method to study God’s Word for both myself and in ministry.
Another factor that contributes to doing theology is a two-step process by which I form convictions. The first step of this process is to start with who God is and to acknowledge and reflect on His character. By starting with the Lord then He can help me see, if what I am proposing as a conviction conflicts with God’s very character or His purposes. If it stands in contrast to Him or is not clearly stated in His Word, then that causes me to pause and seek Him more. The second step I take when forming a conviction is allowing God’s Word to have functional authority. If I want to avoid misinterpreting the Bible by forming unbiblical convictions, then I am required to perform two actions: I must first find evidence for my convictions and I must also search the Scriptures for any evidence against them. If I am unable to find evidence supporting my proposed conviction, I would not keep the conviction but label it as either wrong or speculation. If I find evidence which stands against what I think to be true then I must be willing to change for the sake of my walk with the Lord and for the health of my ministry.
The third area that affects theology is that of presuppositions. No matter our backgrounds, everyone comes to Scripture with a bias. It is impossible to not. Whether good or bad, and we are all using our life experience as a lens through which we study God. These presuppositions not only affect the way we study theology, but also how we do theology and thus impacts individual relationship with the Lord and those to whom we are ministering. Because presuppositions are often subconscious, they are difficult to identify until they are challenged. A presupposition I have is the infinitude of the Godhead. God is the meaning of infinite. I did not realize I held to this presupposition until I was having a conversation with another believer who expressed his belief that we will know everything about God when we are in Heaven. I strongly urged him to reevaluate God because his view of His infiniteness is limited if our knowledge will one day equal Him.
An example of a false presupposition that I have held at times is believing the lie that God is distant and unconcerned with my life. This false presupposition has always led me into discouragement and even apathy when I am not careful. To correct this false presupposition, I must choose to set aside these lies and ground myself in the truth of God’s Word even if I do not feel that He is near for He has told us that even when we feel alone that He is there.
The fourth aspect that affects how I do theology would be the sources to which I turn. When I study, I will always begin with the Bible as that is the ultimate source of truth. Following Scripture, I may seek guidance from my family, pastors, sermons, social media, books and commentaries, videos, and so on. Because God’s Spirit indwells believers, He can teach me through others apart from His direct revelation. God uses men and women to build up the body of Christ in areas such as teaching. This gives me the ability to look for assistance from my contemporaries and those who have gone before me and have spent a lifetime walking with the Spirit. These are all great resources which God has given the church and I believe it would be a great detriment for me to forsake these resources.
There are many factors that impact how I do theology. From the category and process by which I form convictions to my presuppositions and the resources I use, all of these work together to create my individual approach to theology. In the pursuit of studying God, I must be careful so as not to forget Him. It is not necessarily just knowledge of Him that I need but a thriving relationship with Him. After all, one could argue that the demons are the best theologians in existence because they were once in His very presence. However, they only have the knowledge without the relationship. It is my prayer that, by doing theology, I might grow more into the image of Christ and that my ministry would glorify Him.