Theology seems like such a hard topic to enter into. Even if you are interested in a deeper knowledge of God, where do you even begin? It seems like a nearly impossible task to just jump into studying God when literally thousands of books over thousands of years have been grouped under the category of theology. We here at the Fire Escape love theology, and we want people to be excited to talk, debate, and study what people have said about God in Christian history. So where do you begin? Hopefully this post will be a good beginning, and we do mean just a beginning, a short guide with which to start diving into theology
What You’ll Need (We’ll get into all these in a moment…):
- A Bible
- A Catechism
- A Group of People
These are a VERY bare minimum of resources. After these resources you could get into other theology books by many and various authors: Bible commentaries, histories of the Church and the world, resources on spirituality, and etc… These four things are really just meant to be the very beginning of what you’ll need. Let’s take a look at all four of these resources in greater depth:
1. The Bible
As Christians, Jesus Christ is the very beginning and very end (“the Alpha and Omega” phrase found in the New Testament) of theology. Jesus Christ is the beginning and the way in which we know the nature, character, and story of God. The Gospel of John sums all that up by saying that Jesus Christ is the “Word of God.” Jesus came among us and proclaimed something that theologians call “the gospel” which means the good news. That good news is the story of salvation, the end of which is the established reign of God, which Jesus also foretells and foreshadows in his earthly ministry. This is the story that tells us that we are forgiven and loved by God. It begins and ends in Jesus Christ.
If you are with me so far than we have an issue: Jesus is not walking around, talking to us, and telling us story in the exact same way that he was with the disciples. So how do we know the story? Well, that is where the Bible, Scripture, comes into play. The Bible is collection of written testimony about God’s love and action toward God’s people and the world. That written testimony then is where we begin.
But the Bible is really big book. Actually it’s a collection of 66 relatively big books. So am I saying that you need to read cover-to-cover the whole Bible before we can begin? Well, not really, although we commend you if you do. As Lutherans, we here believe that Jesus Christ is the center of the story that Bible is trying to get at, don’tcha know? So we think that a good place to start is with the Gospel Mark. Mark has a lot of advantages, but perhaps it’s best advantage is that the Gospel of Mark is short, sweet, and to the point. Try beginning with that Gospel and work your way to the other books, and while you do, remember that Jesus Christ is both the beginning and the end of everything. In a way, Jesus Christ is the measure of all things.
2) A Catechism
Catechism comes from the Greek word which means to teach. Catechisms are usually summaries of what a particular church body believes. Most denominations have catechisms. The Catholic Church does, Presbyterian Church does, and etc…
As Lutherans, we recommend Luther’s Large Catechism. The Large Catechism is Luther’s attempt to help people learn theology. It was originally used to educate clergy, but it is accessible for all people. It is solid in its theology, but it is not esoteric. It goes over the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed while at the same time explaining the heart of Lutheran theology. It’s a good – no, great – place to start
3) A group of people
Individual people have their own theologies, but the study of theology is really a group enterprise (more on that here). Jesus doesn’t call just one disciple, but a lot of disciples. You need someone other than yourself to really learn theology. This is partially why Catechisms are important; they represent the theology of not just an individual but of a collective group of people.
To be clear: we are not saying that you have to go study theology at a seminary with a group of students. That is all well and good, but theology can be done in a group in a lot of different ways. Worship at a Church is a way to study theology for example. You can even study theology by talking about God at a bar. Some of the best discussions about theology have been accomplished over drinks. In summary, it doesn’t have to be a group in a class, but a group is important (the more diverse the better, as Mike points out) Just find your group and start having a discussion. (And have some fun with it too.)
Also, your group doesn’t have to include only people who are alive (although it should include some). Theology is partially about having a conversation with what faithful people of the past have thought. In fact, one of our authors thinks it is especially important to pay attention to theologians of the past (read here for more on that). All we are saying here is that theology involves a community of people from both the present and the past.
Please pay special attention to the worship part. Worship is an incredibly important way to learn about and do theology. Worship is also where we hear that story we talked about previously. Theology needs worship.
John Calvin argues that all theology begins with two things: the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves. Theology isn’t just sitting around thinking about about what God does on Tuesdays (though it’d be really interesting to find out). Theology is thinking about God, how God comes into our lives, how God interacts with God’s people, and what all of that means for our world and our lives. You are an important part of theology! You can do it! (And in many ways, you probably already are!)
Whole books and doctorates have been written on this subject, so this is not a complete guide. There are a million different directions you can go from here, but maybe (and we hope this is the case) this guide will give you a starting point at least. We hope to continue these guides to theology so please tell us if there is anything that we missed. Thanks for journeying along this road called theology with us!