Category: (01) What is the definition of theology?


In Europe during the High Middle Ages, schools of higher learning utilized the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) of classical liberal arts. It was in this environment that theology was named “queen of the sciences.”

Theology as Science

When we think of “science,” we usually think of the study of the natural world and that which can be quantitatively measured—subjects such as biology and physics. Historically, though, of the “natural” sciences, only geometry and astronomy were part of the standard university curriculum. So what was a science? Augustine defined it as anything to do with knowledge of the temporal world. Thomas Aquinas considered theology a science because it encounters special and general revelation.

The tradition of Wissenschaft provides a bridge to our modern understanding of science. Wissenschaft was the ideology of learning in German universities during the 1800s. Within this system, a science is “a legitimate area of study oriented to a particular object, and possessing appropriate methods of investigation.” This is similar to the concept of “science” in the Medieval era, yet has endured into the 21st century. According to this definition, theology is a science with an object of study (God and His actions on earth) and a means for study (the Bible and general revelation).

Theology as Supreme

So, theology was seen as a science in the Middle Ages. How, then, was it supreme over, and therefore “queen of,” the other sciences? In the Medieval universities, it was understood that the various branches of learning required an overarching standard. That standard was the Bible. Because the Bible was seen as the source of all truth, theology became the natural standard by which other scholarship had to abide. The scholars of the day rightly saw that one’s view of God and the Bible affects every other area of life. A scholar’s theology is the foundation of his worldview and shapes his study of philosophy and other fields. Theology, then, was the “queen of the sciences”; that is, God’s Word is the majestic source of knowledge that informs all other knowledge.

The Bible and a Theological Standard

Although the scholastic standard has changed in our world, a Christian’s belief in biblical inerrancy supports theology as “queen.” The Bible warns us to avoid “the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20). Rather, we should strive to “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Theology truly is the starting place for learning. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).

The word “theology” comes from two Greek words that combined mean “the study of  God.” Christian theology is simply an attempt to understand God as He is  revealed in the Bible. No theology will ever fully explain God and His ways  because God is infinitely and eternally higher than we are. Therefore, any  attempt to describe Him will fall short (Romans  11:33-36). However, God does want us to know Him insofar as we are able, and  theology is the art and science of knowing what we can know and understand about  God in an organized and understandable manner. Some people try to avoid theology  because they believe it is divisive. Properly understood, though, theology is  uniting. Proper, biblical theology is a good thing; it is the teaching of God’s  Word (2 Timothy  3:16-17).

The study of theology, then, is nothing more than digging  into God’s Word to discover what He has revealed about Himself. When we do this,  we come to know Him as Creator of all things, Sustainer of all things, and Judge  of all things. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things.  When Moses asked who was sending him to Pharaoh, God replied “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). The name I AM  indicates personality. God has a name, even as He has given names to others. The  name I AM stands for a free, purposeful, self-sufficient personality. God is not  an ethereal force or a cosmic energy. He is the almighty, self-existing,  self-determining Being with a mind and a will—the “personal” God who has  revealed Himself to humanity through His Word, and through His Son, Jesus  Christ.

To study theology is to get to know God in order that we may  glorify Him through our love and obedience. Notice the progression here: we must  get to know Him before we can love Him, and we must love Him before we can  desire to obey Him. As a byproduct, our lives are immeasurably enriched by the  comfort and hope He imparts to those who know, love, and obey Him. Poor theology  and a superficial, inaccurate understanding of God will only make our lives  worse instead of bringing the comfort and hope we long for. Knowing about God is  crucially important. We are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world  without knowing about God. The world is a painful place, and life in it is  disappointing and unpleasant. Reject theology and you doom yourself to life with  no sense of direction. Without theology, we waste our lives and lose our  souls.

All Christians should be consumed with theology—the intense,  personal study of God—in order to know, love, and obey the One with whom we will  joyfully spend eternity.