Every time I prepare to write a piece on theology – whether for an online platform or to share from the pulpit – I feel incredibly inadequate.
I mean, it’s not like I’m writing about my own personal experience or opinions – I’m writing about God.
As passionate as I am about the topic, when I sit in front of my keyboard to write, I get knots in my stomach and my head starts to spin a little.
The voice inside my head starts to scream that the many thousands of dollars I spent on my degrees were just a waste.
And that’s exactly why I choose to write about theology.
While I haven’t lived for a long time, I have been around long enough to know that the extremely hard things are often the most worthwhile.
As much as I love writing about mom and ministry moments on my blog, I start to come alive when I get the opportunity to share insights about God, who He is, and why learning about Him matters.
So, despite much internal debate & doubt, I’m relaunching #theologytuesday! Over the next few weeks, I hope to hit on some big theological topics. Why?
Because I believe, simply put, that theology matters.
While many people view theology as an abstract field of study, I believe that theology actually impacts every part of our everyday lives. In the Merriam-Webster definition, theology is “the study of religious faith, practice and experience, especially the study of God and His relation to the world.”
Theology then, shouldn’t just be about definitions, theory and textbooks. While those are important elements (that this studious heart loves), theology is just as much practice and experience. What I believe about God and how He relates to the world impacts how I parent, how I live out my marriage, what I believe about work, money and sex, and what’s important to me.
If I believe that God is sitting in heaven prepared to shoot lightning bolts at me every time I make a mistake, you better believe that will impact how I live! Every decision and action will be informed by that belief (and fear) in who God is.
If, on the other hand, I believe that God is absent – He doesn’t care much about me or the world – that will influence how I live too. The “God-factor” will have little weight on the things I do day-in and day-out.
That is why theology really, truly matters.
That is why I am so passionate about seeing everyday, ordinary people – who spend their days in offices and cafeterias and classrooms and family rooms – growing in their understanding of God. I am convinced that good theology is essential to living a godly life and interacting well with the world we live in today.
So, let’s dive in.
I want to start this series with one simple question –
Where does theology come from?
Or stated another way – where do we get about our beliefs about God?
Should they come from Internet posts like this one, random articles in our Facebook feed, or videos on YouTube?
Do we just believe what our parents or friends believe?
Should we all download the latest Bible software and get our views from there?
In today’s world, there is no shortage of sources to get information. We are actually bombarded.
In the amount of time it’s taken me to write this blog post, my phone has buzzed a number of times. I’m resisting the urge to check it, because I know when I do, I’ll get lost in a swamp of articles, comments & thoughts on my various social media feeds.
When it comes to theology, the Internet, television and Christian media are kind of like an “all you can eat buffet.” Whatever you like, you can find with a quick Google search.
Want to listen to someone who will give you an exact time and date that Jesus will return? You can find that.
Want to find a book that tells you the Bible is all metaphors, and nothing about it is true? No problem! There are lots available.
It can be absolutely overwhelming!
A tool that I’ve found helpful when trying to figure out what I should believe and where those beliefs should come from is what scholars refer to as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a concept that was drawn out of John Wesley’s theology, but was not formally introduced until the 1960s by a man named Albert Outler.
He argues that there are four sources that should inform our theology, or what we believe about God. Here they are:
- Scripture – This is perhaps the most obvious one. As Christians – irregardless of tradition – we believe that the Bible is God’s Word. Much of what we know about God and His character comes from these words compiled over centuries and inspired by the Holy Spirit. When we start to ask questions about God, the Bible should be the primary source that informs us.
2. Tradition/History – I’ve often heard it said that if a belief is brand-new, that should be concerning! Church history is filled with great men and women who studied the Bible, history and the culture around them to create eloquent works of theology. When we are attempting to figure out what we believe about a topic, history or tradition is always a helpful place to look. It also reminds us that we are not somehow in the golden age of knowledge – people who have went before us were inspired, connected to God & had great insight into who God is and how we should live in response.
History is also a helpful place to look to see what mistakes have been made, what issues have been present in church history, and how we can avoid them.
3. Reason – This is always a tricky one, but simply put, you shouldn’t do theology and check your brain at the door! Theology requires a sense of reason and rationality. You need to ask questions, use your mind and have common sense. However, reason alone cannot lead to an understanding of God. Listen to these words:
To the consideration of what reason cannot do, Wesley again offers three things: “First, reason cannot produce faith. Secondly, reason alone cannot produce hope in any child of man: I mean scriptural hope. Thirdly, reason, however cultivated and improved, cannot produce the love of God.” Wesley made a clear distinction between what reason could and could not do. He valued reason greatly, however he realized that without God it was useless speculation.
4. Experience – This one is really important to me, as a Pentecostal. Essentially, what you believe should actually WORK in real life. For example, if I believe the gifts of the Spirit are active in the world today, they should show up in church when we meet together! My experience should verify what I believe to be true.
When all four of these sources work together, I believe they can allow us to have a rich theology. One without the other isn’t enough, but when all four are at work, they create an incredible dynamic that allows us to more about who God is and what that means for us today.
So – I’d love to hear from you! What do you think of the “Wesleyan quadrilateral?”
Does it make sense to you? Do you have issues with it?
How can you apply it to your theological journey?