Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Where did theology come from?

Date: Tue, 6 Aug 2013 09:23:35 +1000

Subject: [anztla-forum] Where did theology come from?

Hi Everyone,

Here's a question I've been asked and I'm just not sure where to find an answer... Can you help?

Where did theology come from? i.e. where did early theologians get their ideas for their theological thoughts from? Theology = study of God but are their ideas from their own personal revelations or is there somewhere they can be traced back to?

I know it's a bit of a weird question, but any help would be appreciated.

Thanks, have a great day.

Kerrie Stevens

And here is my reply to the anztla-forum, the e-list of the Australian and New Zealand Theological Library Association:

Where did theology come from? The very simplest answer to this question is that it came from people talking about God. In the Torah itself we read that the people of Israel know lots about the gods being worshipped in their area and that Moses has to get them to focus on the one true God. This in itself seems to me to be theology at work.

The word is Greek, from theos for God  and logos for meaning, so theology as a Greek practice comes into play a little later in geological time than Hebrew practice, but before Bethlehem. Aristotle, Plato and other Greeks did theology to explain ultimate Mysteries. This would have included subjects asked in Christian theology, though Galilee and its discontents were not on their radar. Theology in the sense of an intellectual discipline in the way we know it, and which our libraries serve, is not formally defined until the 12th century. This is helpful to know when we ask where did theologians get their ideas from, because people in the early church were not practising theology in the way we do now. One of the best ways of knowing how they did theology was through their worship. We know too that they were moved by the Spirit and not all of the theology of the spirit survives because it was judged unorthodox by later generations.                                                                 
Scripture itself is theology at work and certainly in normative Jewish and Christian tradition, Scripture (however defined) is essential in our ideas about theology. Scripture is both Revelation of God, there to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, but it is also an incredible compendium of models of how God works. The parables, for example, awaken awareness and meaning within the individual, you and I wherever we are at. The ideas of early Christian theologians came first from their knowledge and experience of the miraculous and powerful life and works of the person Jesus. But I say ‘came first’ because from the start they are carrying around any amount of baggage, some of it highly durable, some of it lightweight, some of it made out of old weave. Much of this was cultural, the two largest influences being the Jewish and Greek traditions in which they were brought up. Even the Gospels and Epistles testify to the living encounter that Jesus and his followers had with the dominant paradigms of their society: ancient Judaism and the might of the Roman Empire. Theology is what they have to do to talk to others in a language that those others will understand.

The question of where we get our ideas from is a question too big to answer in plain prose. Out of our heads? It just popped into my mind? Blame it on our parents? There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. Is that true or was Hamlet just having a bad day? We can track the history of an idea, sometimes over millennia, but where it came from or even how it changed is frequently mystifying. But tradition, again, is about the best answer to why ideas survive. Early Christians all had their personal experience of life, just like us, yet we must conclude that when it came to the revelation of the Gospel they all responded, making what they could of it, and generally agreeing about the main messages. The differences were, as today, on the emphasis. Another word for all the talk about eucharist, spirit, and the other manifestations of this way of life was Theology. It is a practice in process.

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