The Different Types of Theology

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Types of Theology

When discussing theology, we must be aware that there are different ways within Christianity of approaching and organizing theology. Here are the most common:

Natural Theology

Knowledge about God which is derived primarily from nature. Natural theology usually places a heavy emphasis on reason and philosophy.

Biblical Theology

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.).

Historical Theology

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.).

Systematic Theology

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.).

Dogmatic Theology

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.

Practical Theology

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.

Studying Theology

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?



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Comments

  1. says

    I would say that right belief precedes right action, and I feel that’s pretty important to the Christian life (as long as one rightly understand what belief is and doesn’t confuse it with raw emotion).
    However, I would say that an orderly arrangement of ideas isn’t necessarily essential. It’s helpful for us in processing the Bible, but I think that sometimes we put too much emphasis on the order of it all. Right theology is often more of a web than a ladder. To be thorough, systematic theologies will use all sorts of footnotes and references to other areas yet to come.

    • says

      Loren,
      I think I agree with you. I would put belief before actions, but actions can help “tweak” and adjust our beliefs. They are kind of cyclical, I think.

      I also agree with you about the Bible. If we really believe that God wrote it as He wanted it, then why do we cut it all up and rearrange it into neat little packages that better fit our idea of what is “orderly.” Great point you made.

  2. Elias Toscano on Facebook says

    one thought:Theology of James-Faith without works is dead, so is a lot of theological thought,.. stepping out in faith ( how can it be legalistic if you are making a leap of faith about a unique opportunity and unsure of the outcome) and then seeing God move is a real faith builder so the action precedes the knowledge/ wisdom gained. For Jews “theology” is a moving target where the connections/outcomes are more important than the definition. Shema Israel ” love the Lord He is One with whole heart, mind, and strength” “everything else is commentary.” rebbe MM. Shalom> PS. I guess I vote for biblical theology mostly just to avoid the moving target and be inerrant truth verified,..

    • says

      Elias,
      I was wondering if someone was going to bring up James 2. It is a tricky passage. A professor of mine, John Hart, pointed out that we can help make sense of the passage more if we translate “dead” as “useless” and understand works as what energizes faith. I think that was what he said anyway. I would have to go check my notes. Eventually, as I work my way through my notes, I imagine I will get to them….

  3. Mandy Daames on Facebook says

    What about people who cannot read or don’t have access to the bible?I think that most people live according to the bible without ever having read it…

  4. Elias Toscano on Facebook says

    re: James 2- Being a Zane Hodges Free Grace guy I see nothing soterialogical in in James 2. I refer you to Romans4:2 “Abraham was justified( sanctified)by his works, but not before God” He bore witness. Belief alone in Christ alone gives spiritual position which all who are saved may be a conduit regardless of their knowledge. I have seen a 6 year old accept Christ and the hair went up on the back of my neck ala the winds of the Holy Spirit. There were others there who knew something had happened,..’BELIEF ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE CONFERS SPRITUAL POWER IF IT IS APPROPIATED IN FAITH”

    • says

      Elias,

      I would agree with you on James 2, but only if you narrow the scope of your soteriology to recieving or possessing eternal life. I do think, however, that since soterios and sozo (translated salvation and saved) are very commonly used to refer to life after recieving eternal life, limiting your soteriology only to possessing eternal life misses much of the biblical intent.

      I would say that James is soteriological in that our salvation is not only saved from an eternal destiny of hell, but that our salvation is also from the present power and consequence of sin in the here and now. James is speaking of being saved, but not about getting into heaven. The fact is that soterios is rarely used to denote in or out of heaven. James, I believe, is pointing out that our salvation is not just about our future eternal destiny, but also about deliverance from sin here and now.

      Just for the record, I am also a fan of Hodges and consider myself “free grace”. I just believe that we should be careful in limiting our use of salvation and saved to a more narrow definition than the scriptures would support.

      FedEx,
      President,
      Men of Praise Ministry

  5. Elias Toscano on Facebook says

    FDXMOP You make a salient point. I have founded my ministerial efforts on 1Tim:13-16 especially 16. There is an inference implicit in 16 that outreach sets up a degree of accountability to walk the talk,I think in the message of “free grace” is wonderful call from the Lord”

  6. Elias Toscano on Facebook says

    ps I have seen so many turn away from christ’s forgivness and children of christian households turn away from the Lord because of legalism that I tread very lightly on issues which are well understood by more mature Christians,.. knowing sin can be overcome by the power of G-d and yet H-s forgiveness is paramount. thank you and Shalom>

  7. says

    Elias,

    I was raised a legalist in a very legalistic church, and I excelled at it. I lived more than twenty years of the Christian life believing that my performance made me acceptable to God in some way. Through a long painful process, God stripped away the legalism and brought me into an understanding of his wonderful love and grace.

    I once thought that I knew what the Christian life was supposed to look like. I could accept people who were messy as long as there was some evidence that they were looking to clean themselves up and look like “good Christians”. Now, some of the Godliest men I know have long hair, wear leather(even to church), and skip church to hang out with outlaw motorcycle gangs. And they have no desire to change, they are reveling in who they are and how God made them and reaching out to those who could not be reached by someone who looked like a “good Christian” in my old view.

    I still have much to learn about Grace, as well as what God desires of His children after recieving eternal life. Thank you for your response.

    FedEx,
    President,
    Men of Praise Ministry

  8. Elias Toscano on Facebook says

    As you may have surmised I am a messianic jew love TORAH, the law is a mirror that reveals our lowly status before a Holy G-d, looking in the mirror each morning we are shaved by grace. Have a delightful day filled with the joy of the Lord Shalom, Mishpacha(family)

  9. says

    Wow, a messianic jew and a free-gracer, you truly are a rare breed. God’s blessings to you as well my brother.

    FedEx,
    President,
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry

  10. Greg D says

    I believe in a healthy dose of both. I think right behavior can help shape our right actions. But, I have found the more action I partake in, it has helped reshape my theology. At first, I was all about right behavior until I began serving people on the mission field. This changed everything when I discovered that it’s not about right behavior and even right beliefs, but more about reflecting and expressing the love of Christ to others by loving them and serving them just as Christ would.

  11. Gary says

    Theology is a manner of ordering thought when discussing things that pertain to God. This is a very good list but not comprehensive although I doubt that was the purpose. The descriptions do reveal, somewhat, a bit of bias less by attack and more by slight. It is probably true that Western thought has a tendency to be more reductive but Christianity is hardly the only religion which has divisions. The Apostle Paul seemed to suggest that these differences helped prove who was right.

    • says

      Gary,

      Good points all. I know the types of theology above are not comprehensive, and are also based on Greek philosophical ideas for the arrangement of knowledge. I am not certain this is the best way to arrange theology.

  12. Terry Soltow says

    It would seem that right action is actually preceded by right being, and being right must be preceded by being made right. The actions of a being that is not right is not right action. If I read the recorded written words of Jesus correctly the reason God had to send a Savior was based on this very idea. If man were capable of right action on his own then Christ died for nothing but that all have sinned and are godless seems to put the right action beyond our ability in our natural state (or fallen state). Right belief cannot be the cure either for even the demons believe but are not any better off by it. Paul in Romans 7 declares he believes but can’t perform. All of this leads us back to something so deep and life changing that is can only stem from the Voice of God which alone can declare us free and clean. Sadly our current understanding in the “Christian” teachings falls miserably short of anything close to a supernatural manifestation by a Living God.

    • says

      True points. Since that supernatural manifestation of God in our life is so difficult to put into “7 steps toward Godliness” we resort to something that sells and is “teachable.”

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