Friday, December 02, 2022

What is theology and why does it matter?

You may have learned at some point that “logy” basically means " the study of" and “theo” comes from the Greek word "theos," which means “God.”

Webster’s dictionary defines theology as “ the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially: the study of God and of God's relation to the world."

Put simply, theology is our ideas about God and how God relates to us. But how we think about God also impacts how we see ourselves and our fellow humans. 

A lot of people don’t actively think about their theology but most people do hold different theological beliefs, so it’s important to examine what they are.

Our theology impacts everything because what we believe about God impacts everything:

  • How we think about ourselves and other people (value, worth, human dignity) 
  • Our politics. (“Politics is the single largest systemic tool that we have at our disposal with which we can love our neighbor. Simply put, politics for the Christian should be institutional neighborliness.” - Nish Weiseth)
  • Who do we care about?
  • How do we care about them?

Theology matters because our beliefs influence our actions, having real-life, real-world implications for how we live and love people or fail to do so. And if our theology is not making us more loving, we are missing the entire point. (Remember the greatest commandment? Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the second greatest? Love your neighbor as yourself. - Matthew 22:36-40)

So how do we know what is good theology and what is bad theology? In Matthew 7:15-17 Jesus says "You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit." The fruit of good theology is life, love, healing, liberation, and flourishing for all people, especially those who have been oppressed.

On the other hand, we see the fruit of bad theology that leads to the exclusion, marginalization, and oppression of people, bringing various levels of harm to people, including suffering and even death.

Here are some more specific examples:

Theology matters regarding mental health: Bad theology kills when it tells folks dealing with depression or other mental illnesses that all they need is God and to just pray more/read their Bible more/repent of sin and then they won’t be depressed anymore - that is terrible theology that can directly lead to people dying by suicide if they don’t get real help.

Theology matters for LGBTQ+ people: Bad theology kills when it says it’s a sin to be gay or queer or trans, and directly leads to parents throwing kids out of the house or cutting off relationships. This toxic theology has led far too many LGBTQIA+ folks to die by suicide or be murdered by other people.

Theology matters for women: Not just women’s ordination and equal rights, which is important, but again, bad theology kills when it tells women to always submit to their husbands and never ever divorce them, even if their husband is abusing them.

Theology matters because of the way it either works to tear down or is complicit in propping up white supremacy and racism. We've seen this blatantly over the past several years as Christian Nationalism has taken more center stage. And so many white Christians seem to think Jesus was white. Spoiler alert: Jesus was not white!

So why do I care about theology? I care about theology because I care about people. I have seen the pain and trauma inflicted on others by bad theology and I have also experienced a lot of the bad theology I talked about here and it has impacted me personally as I struggled with depression, with women's roles in the church, and eventually, finally being able to come out to myself as a gay/queer person. Like Broderick Greer and James Alison have said, theology for so many of us has been a form of survival. 

C. S. Lewis said, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” The same is true for theology. That is why I will be sharing brief introductions to the life-giving, liberating theologies I have been learning about in seminary.

THEOLOGY MATTERS Table of Contents: 

1. What is theology and why does it matter?
2. Introduction to Hermeneutics. 3. What is Liberation Theology?

Previous posts that may be of interest:

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