10 Feb Making Sense of Our Theology
Theology (thee-ol’-uh-jee): Greek, theologia, from theos, “God,” and logos, “speech”; thus, theology is “speech or language about God.”
Did you know that there are just slightly less than a bazillion categories of theology? For example, cataphatic theology, liberation theology, pastoral theology, doctrinal theology, natural theology, feminist theology, liturgical theology, process theology, monastic theology, dialectical theology and apophatic theology, just to name a few. I am sure you are salivating to know what all of these mean! Okay, maybe not….
As the definition above implies, theology boils down to how we talk about God. Theology helps us make sense of what we know about God, what we think we know about God, what we wonder about God, and what totally confounds us about God. I think humility and an open mind are probably the two most important attributes for us to bring to the work of theology. It is important that we acknowledge from the “get-go” that we will never be able to explain God very satisfactorily. Our human minds are finite and limited. God is infinite and unlimited. The result is a gap we will never be able to fully cross. There are just some truths about God that will remain a mystery.
However, that is no excuse for being lazy. It is important that we wrestle with questions of faith and seek to increase both our understanding and trust. As we continue our study of the Apostles’ Creed this month, one theological question that invites our engagement concerns the doctrine of the Trinity. This is the church’s belief that God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit are three Persons in one Godhead.
Christians believe in one God. We also believe the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. The Apostles’ Creed mentions the Father, Son and Spirit but provides no explanation for the interrelationship among the three. Compounding the challenge, the word “Trinity” never appears in scripture, even though the idea of the Trinity is implicit throughout the New Testament. How do we make sense of this? Christians spent more than 400 years trying to clarify what they believed and then articulated those beliefs in the church’s creeds. Yet, more than 1500 years later, the answers can still be confusing.
As pastor and author Adam Hamilton states, “The work of theologians seeking to make sense of the Trinity might be compared to the work of physicists trying to explain how the world works at the subatomic level. In both cases, words have been created to explain something that the most intelligent of people struggle to comprehend.” (Creed, p. 92) For their part, theologians have come up with words like homousias, substancia, persona and perichoresis to talk about the Trinity. (Try saying that list 5 times fast!)
The doctrine of the Trinity is important to Christians whether or not we can fully understand or explain it. First, it tells us that community, interdependence, and love are part of the very nature and character of God. Thus, it should come as no surprise that as human beings who are made in God’s image, we, too, long for community and love, and our lives are intertwined and interdependent. Second, it tells us that when we look at the life and work of Jesus, we are seeing God’s life and work. When we experience the power of the Holy Spirit, we experience God’s power. When one “person” of the Trinity is at work, they all are. And finally, the doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that when we pray, we are speaking to one God, regardless of whether we address our prayer to God or Father, Son or Jesus, or Spirit.
One final thought: when you ponder the nature of God and faith, remember, you are a theologian!
Yours for the Kingdom,