An Overview of Theology
|St. John the Theologian|
Theology can be an intimidating, confusing field. What do we mean when we speak of theology? Sometimes, it is not always clear what is being spoken when theology is discussed. When we speak of theology we are always talking about things pertaining to the knowledge of God. Theology is a broad term that encompasses large connected fields of study. Frankly, theology can be used to describe the study of anything pertaining to God or the Bible or religion in general. Christian theologians usually operate within four branches of theological study: exegetical theology, biblical theology, systematic theology, and practical theology.
Exegesis refers to drawing out the meaning of a biblical text. Exegetical theology is the drawing out of meaning in a passage using lexical, grammatical, historical, and literary analysis. Studying exegetical theology includes examination of hermeneutics (theory of interpretation), the original languages, introductions, backgrounds, and exegetical commentaries. The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew with the New Testament in Greek, study of the original languages assist greatly in extracting meaning of a word or text. Bible introductions and backgrounds provide helpful material in historical and cultural analysis. Exegetical commentaries are invaluable tools in extracting meaning from the text.
Biblical theology is notoriously difficult to define, mainly because there is no standardized format for practicing it. In its essence, Biblical theology is the study of a specific book’s themes and message. This understanding can be broadened to studying a particular bible writer’s themes and emphasis throughout the books he authored. Another expansion of biblical theology is tracing the progressive development of a topic through the entirety of Scripture. What’s becoming increasingly more popular in biblical theology is the study of the overall story of Scripture as an apologetic metanarrative (place self in a larger, grand story).
Systematic theology is the study of the major teachings of Christianity logically synthesized. Sometimes it is called dogmatic theology. Unlike Biblical Theology, systematic theology is not confined to a particular book or author. It is the logical organization of broad teachings by category from the entirety of Scripture. The major teachings covered in systematic theologies are fairly uniform. Every systematic will include these major categories:
- Bibliology: The Study of Scripture
- Theology Proper: The Study of God
- Christology: The Study of Jesus Christ
- Pneumatology: The Study of the Holy Spirit
- Anthropology: The Study of Mankind
- Soteriology: The Study of Salvation
- Ecclesiology: The Study of the Church
- Eschatology: The Study of Last Things
Historical Theology is the study of how Christians throughout time have articulated Christian belief. There are three main approaches to doing historical theology:
- Systematic: Adopts the major categories of systematic theology and traces Christian thought in each category. The flow of history is not nicely preserved in this format.
- Personality: Recollects the theology of major Christian thinkers such as Augustine or John Calvin.
- Narrative: Traces the development of doctrine in chronological format while focusing on significant thinkers along the way.
Practical Theology is meditation and application of Christian belief in the life of the Church. Studies in pastoral theology (Christian ministry), missiology (missions) and Christian living are subcategories of practical theology. Practical theology often employs one or all of the previous branches of theology in its argumentation and application.
The Relationships of Theology
What should be apparent in our survey is that these branches of theology are all tied together. In fact, they progressively build upon each other. Theology begins in exegesis, getting at the meaning of a text. Biblical theology then builds upon the foundation a meaning of a passage and aims at discovering the message of a whole book or emphasis of a particular writer. Systematic theology does to the entire Bible what biblical theology does to a particular book: extracting broad themes and organizing them logically. Historical theology examines how the church has understood these teachings throughout its history. Practical theology is broad Christian reflection and application to current life. A seminary education, sometimes called theological studies, operates around these four branches of theology.
Modern Christians are rich with the astounding availability of theological resources. Navigating through the mass of available literature can be confusing. One of the benefits of sustained theological study on both the undergraduate and graduate levels is exposure to many helpful resources. Having access to thousands of volumes within walking distance is an opportunity that will pass upon my gradation from seminary. The following are books that I have found especially helpful in my theological studies. I own most of them with the exception of the commentaries which are multi-volumed and expensive. Those are long term acquisitions. Among the volumes below are both individual books and series. The works in series, commentaries specially, vary in quality. All are worthy of purchasing and study.
- A Handbook for New Testament Greek by BJU Faculty
- Hebrew Handbook by Michael Barrett and Robert D. Bell and Michael P.V. Barrett
- New International Dictionary Old Testament Theology and Exegesis,5 vol., ed. by Willem A. VanGemeren
- New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis,5 vol., ed. by Moisés Silva
- The Hermeneutical Spiral by Grant Osborne
- Invitation to Biblical Interpretation by Andreas Köstenberger and Richard Patterson
- A Survey of Old Testament Introduction by Gleason Archer
- An Introduction to the Old Testament by Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard
- An Introduction to the New Testament by D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo
- The Cradle, The Cross, and the Crown by Andreas Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarels
- Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (BCOTWP)
- New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT)
- New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT)
- Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT)
- Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT)
- An Old Testament Theology by Bruce Waltke
- Theology of the New Testament by Frank Thielman
- New Testament Theology by I. Howard Marshall
- The Drama of Scripture by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen
- New Studies in Biblical Theology Series, ed. D.A. Carson
- Biblical Theology of the New Testament Series, ed. Andreas Köstenberger
- Christian Theology by Millard Erickson
- Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
- Systematic Theology by John M. Frame
- Classic Christianity by Thomas C. Oden
- Historical Theology by Greg Allison
- The Story of Christian Theology by Roger E. Olson
- The Christian Tradition, 5 vol., by Jarislov Pelikan
- Ancient Christian Doctrine Series, ed. Thomas C. Oden
- Christian Origins and the Question of God Series by N.T. Wright
- Theologians on the Christian Life Series, ed. Justin Taylor
- Pastoral Theology by Thomas C. Oden
- The John MacArthur Pastor’s Library, ed. John MacArthur
- The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper
- Early Christian Mission, 2 vol., by Eckhardt J. Schnaebel
- Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
1 Of all theological study, studies in the original languages is my weakest field. I have not surveyed the literature available for learning the original languages. My only exposure is what I was taught from the ancient languages program at Bob Jones University. BJU's ancient language's program is well respected. Zondervan's A Reader's Hebrew Bible was edited by two BJU grads. Seminary faculty authored Bible Work's Greek diagrams for the New Testament. Preeminent expositor John MacArthur has expressed his gratitude for the Greek he took at BJU which prepared him for his focus on New Testament exposition (http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/80-33/john-macarthurs-life-testimony).