What is Theology? Definition, Importance, and Purpose

Theology is like a map, said C.S. Lewis. It guides our minds to a coherent, practical understanding of God. Learn more about the meaning, importance, and famous quotes on theology.

Updated Sep 07, 2023
What is Theology? Definition, Importance, and Purpose

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:1-5)

This passage from the Gospel of John is a summary of Christian theology. But what is theology? Discover theology's definition, examples, and importance for Christians and everyone seeking to know the truth and meaning of our existence and relation to God. 

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“Theology is like a map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God--experiences compared with which many thrills of pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further you must use the map.” ~ Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis

What Is Theology?

Simply put, theology is the study of the nature of God and religious belief. The word “theology” derives from two Greek words: "the study of God.” Theology comes from the word theos, Greek for “God,” and -ology, which is from the Greek word logos, meaning “word.” In its literal form, the term theology means “words about God.”

Webster’s dictionary defines theology as “The science of God or religion; the science which treats of the existence, character, and attributes of God, His laws and government, the doctrines we are to believe, and the duties we are to practice. . . the science of Christian faith and life.”

Why Is Theology Important?

Theology provides us with the answers to questions about the meaning of life: “Who am I?” “What am I doing here?” "How should I live?" and “Where am I going?” Theology is essential to have a likeness of mind and belief with fellow Christians. It is also crucial in providing a practical understanding of our relationship to God, human nature, and salvation through Jesus Christ. Here is a quick list of reasons theology is important:

  1. Deepen Your Knowledge of God 
  2. Defend Your Faith
  3. Gain Knowledge of Other Disciplines 
  4. Strengthen Community Bonds
  5. Learn to Live Your Faith

Examples of Theology

1. Biblical Theology. Biblical theology studies biblical doctrines according to their chronological and historical background. This theology shows the development of God’s revelation as it advanced through history. Biblical theology may seek to isolate and describe the theological teachings of a distinct part of Scripture, such as the theology of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) or the theology incorporated within Apostle Paul's writings. Or it may focus on a certain period of time, such as the theology and worship of the first temple kingdom. Another component of biblical theology may study a distinct theme in the Bible: a study of “redemption,” for example, will examine how that motif is presented and developed throughout Scripture.

2. Historical Theology. Historical theology is the study of the interpretation of Scripture and the formulation of doctrine by the church of the past. Such attention to the collected wisdom of the ages greatly benefits Christians and churches today as they seek to live faithfully and be devoted to Jesus Christ. Historical theology is closely related to but different from the domain of Church History, which is more concerned with the institutional history of the church and its position in social history.

3. Systematic Theology. Systematic theology divides theology into systems that clarify its various areas. For example, many books of the Bible give information about salvation. A single Bible book doesn't give all the information about salvation. Systematic theology takes all of the biblical knowledge about salvation and organizes it into a system called soteriology. Systematic theology essentially organizes the Bible's teachings and subjects into categorical systems. Systematic theology is an influential tool in helping us to understand and teach the Bible in an organized manner. Find examples of systemic theology below:

  • Paterology is the study of God the Father
  • Christology is the study of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. 
  • Pneumatology is the study of God, the Holy Spirit. 
  • Bibliology is the study of the Bible. 
  • Soteriology is the study of salvation. 
  • Ecclesiology is the study of the church. 
  • Eschatology is the study of the end times. 
  • Angelology is the study of angels. 
  • Christian Demonology is the study of demons from a Christian perspective. 
  • Christian Anthropology is the study of humanity. 
  • Hamartiology is the study of sin.

4. Practical Theology. Practical Theology is the component of Christian theology that concentrates on the modern daily applications of Christian theological beliefs. This scope of theology is often the priority of pastoral ministry students, missionaries, and Christian education supervisors in Christian colleges and seminaries. 

One well-known seminary defines Practical Theology as "Practical theology is the application of theological truth to all of life, particularly the life and work of the church." “Practical theology” describes the mutually supporting relationship between the theological study of seminaries and Christian communities' actual experience and needs. As its name indicates, practical theology is the study of theology in a way intended to make it practical or useful for all Christians.

How Is Christian Theology Unique?

Don Stewart explains the uniqueness of Christian theology, saying:

"While the word theology simply refers to the rational study of God, “Christian” theology is unique. It is the intelligent study of the “Christian” faith. It limits itself to the study of the living and true God of the Bible rather than the gods of other religions; for He is the only God who exists. Christian theology is thus to be distinguished from the theology of other religions, as well as the beliefs of the secular culture. It is what sets Christianity apart from all other belief systems."

Christian theology attempts to understand God as He is revealed in the Bible, God's Revelation to mankind. 

Theology will never be able to fully explain God and His ways because God is infinite and omnipresent. Thus, any endeavor to define Him will be lacking (Romans 11:33-36). However, God wants us to know Him as much as we can, and theology is the art and science of knowing what we can about God in an organized and coherent method. Some people try to avoid theology because they believe it is divisive. However, properly understood, Christian theology is uniting.

Quotes about Theology

"If you don't listen to theology, that won't mean you have no ideas about God, it will mean you have a lot of wrong ones." ~ C.S. Lewis

"Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit any of these things, not even science itself." ~ C.S. Lewis

"Theology is a science of mind applied to God." ~ Henry Ward Beecher

"As the grace grows nearer, my theology is growing strangely simple, and it begins and ends with Christ as the only Savior of the lost." ~ Henry Benjamin Whipple

"To downgrade the human mind is bad theology." ~ G.K. Chesterton

"The ultimate goal of theology isn't knowledge, but worship. If our learning and knowledge of God do not lead to the joyful praise of God, we have failed. We learn only that we might laud, which is to say that theology without doxology is idolatry. The only theology worth studying is a theology that can be sung!" ~ Sam Storms

"Whenever a person even slightly illumined reads the Scriptures or sings psalms, he finds in them matter for contemplation and theology, one text supporting another. But he whose intellect is still unenlightened thinks that the Holy Scriptures are contradictory." ~ Peter of Damascus

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