In college, I was asked to answer the question “what is theology?” My response was ridiculous.
I think it was something along the lines of “thoughts, actions and/or feelings towards God or about the idea of God, religion and/or religious practices.”
Now, I have long believed that everyone is a theologian.
That any average Joe on a street corner with a thought about God is as much a theologian as Stanley Hauerwas or Clark Pinnock.
So, theologians, for me, were people with thoughts about God. Whether those thoughts were developed or not was irrelevant.
I still think this initial definition of theology is true, though I’ve realized through the course of my life the past few years how incredibly lacking it is. It’s far too ethereal and shallow to accurately represent the rigorous demands and discipline involved in the work of theology. It does express how widely accessible and inclusive theology can be but fails to show that truly doing the work of a theologian is for an exclusive crowd; a crowd of folks who are willing and able to execute this labor.
Anselm was a man in this crowd.
This respected Church Father defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.” He approached theology as something that sprouts from the faith of a person who is already in pursuit of knowing God. Anselm’s primary objective was not understanding itself, but rather that his preexisting faith would be strengthened by being led to its own understanding. He wrote from the perspective that any correct understanding, or knowing, of God cannot possibly be attained without a preexisting faith in God.
Thomas Aquinas was also a man in that crowd.
He referred to theology as a scientific study of the divine; that in theology, God is the ultimate subject of scientific study through God’s given revelation. Aquinas sought to interrogate the universe in a theological fashion. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas carries out the work of the theologian through an deliberative argument style approach that is largely done in four parts: he gives the objection, on the contrary (sed contra) statements, answers, and finally his reply to the objection.
My guess is that you probably don’t care much about St. Thomas or St. Anselm… but as I’ve reflected on their ideas, my answer to the question “what is theology?” has been profoundly reshaped.
Theology is a deeply worshipful process of spiritually pursuing God with one’s mind. I understand now that theology truly requires discipline; it is more systematic and methodological than I once thought. Though it is available to every average Joe on any street corner, it is also paradoxically esoteric.
Theology is an eternal funnel that allows the increasingly proficient, faithful theologian more and more understanding depending on how deeply the theologian is willing and able to seek.
Now as I give my newest answer to the question “what is theology?” I believe I am further down in that funnel than I have ever been. However, I must assert the principle of fallibility by acknowledging that I am still very inadequate in giving a proper answer.
I still think theology is thoughts, actions and feelings relating to God and religion BUT more importantly, it is the intentional labor of a believer pursuing God in order to know and serve God well.
I think theology is found everywhere, in everything and it is left up to the theologian to find it, recognize it and cultivate it.
Nothing is un-theological. (I love using double-negatives).
And that seems to be the work of the true theologian, to make everything into something in which his or her faith can seek understanding.