When discussing theology, we must be aware that there are different ways within Christianity of approaching and organizing theology. Here are the most common:
Knowledge about God which is derived primarily from nature. Natural theology usually places a heavy emphasis on reason and philosophy.
Knowledge about God which is derived primarily from the Bible. The structure will often be arranged around major events of people of Scripture (e.g., Theology of Early Israel, Theology of the Prophets, Theology in Psalms, Theology of Paul, etc.).
Knowledge about God which is derived from studying the development of ideas over time. The structure will often be arranged around the major periods of history which brought changes to theology (e.g., Theology of the Early Church, Theology of the Imperial Church, Theology of the Middle Ages, Theology of the Enlightenment and Reformation, etc.).
Knowledge about God which attempts to incorporate and combine all of the theological sources above. The structures is often arranged around major topics or categories of ideas which theologians have agreed upon over the centuries (e.g., Bibliology, Christology, Pneumatology, Ecclesialogy, Soteriology, etc.).
Knowledge about God which includes everything above, but with an emphasis on those teachings and ideas which have the authoritative stamp of approval from the church.
Theology which is built upon any of the previous types of theology, but which emphasizes the practical ways of living out these ideas in our own lives today.
What do you think?
You know what I find interesting? All of these types of thinking about theology are Western ways of thinking which stem primarily from Greek Philosophy and the Enlightenment. Cultures and religious systems which were not influenced as greatly by the Enlightenment did not develop “theology.”
Take Judaism for example. Jews don’t really study “theology.” Sure, they have thoughts and ideas about God, His Word, and His works, but they have never really attempted to arrange it in an orderly, systematized fashion. I have a few Jewish friends, and whenever I ask them if there is such a thing as an orderly arrangement of Jewish beliefs, they look at me like I am speaking another language. They don’t even understand the question. Why? Because they are not as concerned with what you believe, as with what you do. Judaism is not a system of beliefs, but a system of behavior. While Christians believe that right belief leads to right actions, Jewish people believe that right action leads to right belief. So if you ask them for a book which contains an orderly arrangement of Jewish actions, they have thousands.
In speaking with a Jewish Rabbi about this very thing today (to make sure I got it right), he said this:
When you were growing up, how did you know your mother loved you? Was it just something you believed, or was it something you saw by her behavior? And when you wanted to show her you loved her in return, did you just believe that you loved her, or did you do something to show it?
I see his point, but it seems that the emphasis on right action can lead to lead to legalism and an emphasis on outward behavior rather than the inner attitude of hearth, something Jesus and the Prophets frequently criticized.
So what do you think? Is our orderly arrangement of theology by ideas rather than by actions a strength or a weakness in Christian theology?