Have you ever had the experience of being at the doctors and they start talking to a colleague of theirs while treating you, using medical jargon that goes completely over your head? I know I have! In particular, I remember being at the dentist while my dentist and hygienist discussed things together as I lay there trying not to feel too awkward!
The other day I was talking to a friend at church whose wife is a doctor specialising in brain tumours. I told him I was about to write an article on theology and he inspired me with the idea that medicine and theology are a lot alike. They both used specialised language and can make people who don’t understand the language feel awkward, but they are also both essential for everyone!
Not everyone is a doctor, but everyone needs medical care sometimes; not everyone is a theologian, but everyone needs to understand theology to live a healthy Christian life! Theology can be thought of as something reserved for intellectuals in ivory towers, but at its core it is simply understanding who God is and what he has done for humanity.
What is theology and why does it matter?
The word ‘theology’ comes from the Greek words ‘theo’ (God) and ‘logia’ (study of) so it simply means “the study of God.” How do we get to know God? By studying what he has revealed to us about himself—the Bible, creation, and Jesus Christ (God the Son) who is revealed to us in the Bible.
Theology can be represented as a spider web—all of the strands are interconnected. Pulling one out of its place affects the others and will damage the spider web; pulling on the ones in the centre does the most damage and can completely destroy the web.
In the centre of the web are things such as Jesus being an equal member of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the reality of hell and eternal life, and Jesus having a bodily resurrection from the dead.
The further out the web goes the less damage is done by pulling on a strand but as they are still part of the web they are still connected to the structure and affected by being pulled out of their places. Such issues may cover whether baptism should be for believer’s babies or just for believers, and whether the Holy Spirit still gives the gift of tongues or not.
If we misunderstand who God is then we cannot worship him appropriately. For example, if we do not think that Jesus Christ is and has always been God the Son—equal with the other members of the Godhead—then we will be distorting the words of Scripture and changing the way we live out our faith. If Jesus is not God then we should not worship him and he cannot do things only God can do—such as forgive our sins. This idea is throughout Scripture but one particular passage on this is John chapter 1, verses 1–3, 14:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Acts chapter 4, verses 11–12 is also helpful:
This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
Why theology can seem confusing and complicated
Theology, like medicine, has its own language. Phrases such as “penal substitutionary atonement” may leave many of us scratching our heads and deciding to leave theology to the experts but they can be much simpler than they appear. Penal substitutionary atonement simply means that Jesus took our punishment so we could be made right with God.
One of the reasons for big words or phrases is for the sake of brevity—it is much quicker and easier for someone to refer to “penal substitutionary atonement” than to have to describe what it is every time. Much like it is quicker and easier for a doctor to say to another doctor, “I need a BNP done for this patient,” instead of saying, “I need to do a test for this patient to check how much Brain Natriuretic Peptide hormone is in their blood so I can see if their heart is showing signs of failure.”
However, problems arise when people only ever use big words and phrases and never pause to explain the concepts in a way that a broader range of people can understand. Understanding that Jesus is God and that he is the only one who can forgive our sins is not something just for full time theologians to understand but it is a concept that even small children should be taught.
Colin Buchanan does a marvellous job of this for children through songs. A favourite song of mine is the “Big words that end in Shun” song which goes through big words like ‘propitiation,’ ‘substitution,’ and ‘resurrection.’ It has a catchy and easy to understand phrase for each one—“Substitu-SHUN—Jesus takes our place.”
Theology truly is for everyone and as Christians we need to love theology and teach it to our children for through it we learn about God and can live in a way that he has intended for us.
Jessica McPherson lives with her best friend and husband, Eoin and their family of rescue animals in Christchurch. She loves reading, writing, photography and scrap-booking but most of all sharing God’s love and truth with a hurting world. Jessica is particularly passionate about encouraging children and building them up in gospel truth.