I’ll never forget my first semester of biblical theology in seminary. My professor asked us all for a concise definition of theology.
Answers rang out from around the room.
“The study of God and God’s truth” – “Sound doctrine” – “The harmonization of what we believe” and “biblical teaching” were some of the big ideas that were offered for consideration.
The next question was, “Are the words ‘truth’ and ‘theology’ synonyms?
The general consensus was, “No way!”
Though our theological conclusions often become shorthand for whole chunks of the way we understand the Bible and biblical ideas, theology and the Bible itself are not the same thing. The Bible obviously gives rise to theological ideas, and theological ideas are often (for better or worse) surrounded by bible verses, but the two things are distinctive.
The following model attempts to show the distance between the text of the bible and theology.
It is possible that you might even add your own components to the above model and it could be expanded, but I don’t see any way that it could be condensed.
UPDATED – 8/19/2014
After some great Facebook interaction with Dr. Michael Raburn and Dr. Jim Henderson yesterday, I have revised the model to include insight into the dynamic cycle between the text of scripture and how we ultimately and eventually talk about it.
The thing that is interesting to me with this model (and I think it’s pretty accurate) is that….
1. There is a HUGE distance between the text (as the starting place) and how we talk about the text, but…
2. There is very little distance (none) between how we talk about the text (as the starting place) and the actual text.
This is important, and here’s why…
When we hear someone talk about the text, we are usually assuming that everything before they start talking has been done carefully, thoughtfully, and correctly, but this is not always the case.
I wonder how helpful it would be to insert a reverse-cycle between the “talk” and the “text” circles that requires some level of demonstrating how we “did our homework.”
In academic work, this is where we would talk about and defend our research methodology. But interestingly, in the places where many Christians get most of their theological information (from the pulpit and preachers at church, from radio & TV preachers, and from popular Christian books) there seems to be a built-in assumption that this critical work was done, and that it was done correctly. I personally believe that this is one of the reasons so many Christians believe so many things that are simply not rooted in a true understanding of Scripture.
What say you?