The following is adapted by Keith Whitfield from “Theological Method: An Introduction to the Task of Theology,” by Bruce R. Ashford and Keith Whitfield in A Theology for the Church, Revised Edition (B&H Academic, 2014).
What is the task of Christian theology? We claim the task of Christian theology is to reflect on God’s self-revelation for the purpose of equipping the people of God to know and love God and to participate in his mission in the world.
Theological reflection entails the aspects of life that we like to think of as the head (cognitive), heart (affective), and hands (dispositional). The discipline of Christian theology answers question such as: Who is God? What is his character and what are his purposes? What does it mean that God is a Trinity? Does God speak to humanity, and if so, how does he speak? In light of human sin and rebellion, how can our relationship to him be restored? What is the nature and mission of the church? How are we to live in light of God’s commands and promises?
The task of Christian theology considers various issues like the priority of revelation over reason and the relationship between the theological disciplines. But what does the Bible have to say about the nature and function of Christian theology and how theology should be conceived? We assert three answers to this question, the first being that Scripture anticipates the task of theology, which we will focus on below. Our second and third answers will follow in succeeding blog posts.
Scripture makes clear that God’s ultimate purpose is to be known as Lord by his creation, and this is the starting place for the task of theology. We find this purpose expressed in demonstrative statements such as “I am the Lord” (cf. Gen 15:7; Ex 6:2, 6; 12:12).
First, Scripture anticipates theology because it reveals truth about God and furthermore provides the true story of the whole world. God’s self-revelation, therefore, provides the foundation, the trajectory, and the parameters for approaching the task of theology.
Second, Scripture anticipates theology because it invites humanity into the drama of redemption by provoking change in the people of God and calling them to know and love him. In other words, Scripture engages humanity, demanding that they be theologians. Scripture is not an end in itself, a collection of facts to be observed for its own sake. Rather, it is a revelation, a guide to true and personal knowledge of God. Divine revelation entails human apprehension, right knowledge of and response to that which is revealed. This human apprehension, and its conceptual articulation, is “theology.” The very existence of this dramatic divine revelation anticipates the human task of theology.
Scripture provokes change in the people of God. It corrects our thinking and the direction of our lives (Ps 17:4; Ps 19:1-7). It offers assurance, encouragement and hope (Ps 119:49; Rom 15:4; 1 John 5:13). It strengthens and equips (Ps 119:28; John 17:17; Acts 20:32; 1 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 2:2). Through the Scriptures we can come to know and love God, and this right knowledge results in life change. God initiates this change through biblical revelation, aids it through illumination, and further enhances it through our obedient reflection. The practice of sustained and disciplined reflection on the narrative and truths of Scripture for knowledge of and love for God is what we are calling “theology.”
Scripture calls for us to both know and love God. Doing theology is the cultivating means of knowing and loving God. It is through sustained reflection on Scripture that we are sanctified (John 17:17) and renewed in our minds (Rom 12:1-2) that we might have hope in God (Rom 15:4).
Scripture, the Word of God, has always had an indispensable role in the formation of the people of God, regardless of covenantal context, for by it the character and works of God are revealed and explained and through it people are called to a life of faith, devotion, and obedience. In his final words to Israel, Moses held up the commands of God as the sustenance of Israel’s very life (Deut 30:15). Moses, however, did not consider it enough for Israel to merely possess the Words, nor enough that the Words were accessible. Rather, the Words had to be known with a heart of understanding and eyes to see and ears to hear and feet to walk in the way of obedience (Deut 30:11-20).
In other words, the point of theology is not the mere acquisition of facts about God; the point of theology is to know and love God, and to be transformed by his Word so that we can take our part in the ongoing drama of redemption. ___________________________
Keith Whitfield (@kswhitfield) is Assistant Professor of Theology and Associate Vice Presedent for Institutional Effectiveness and Faculty Communications at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Bruce R. Ashford (@BruceAshford) is Provost and Dean of Faculty, Associate Professor of Theology and Culture, and Fellow for the Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Check out the link below for the previous Theologica Post: