Reading the Bible Is Not Enough Part 3: Doing Theology

“…making good sense of the Bible and applying that sense wisely to our lives is a hard thing to do.”[1]

Everyone Does Theology

Theology is a word most people reserve for academics, those who study and teach about God as a profession. However, have you ever thought about who God is, considered God’s will, wondered how God is present and active in our world, pondered your life as a believer in God? Then you have done theology. You are a theologian, my friend. And the Bible is an important tool for doing theology.

Theology is Important

When we do theology, especially Christian theology, we are in “a continuing search for the fullness of the truth of God made known in Jesus Christ.”[2] Doing theology matters. Here are three reasons why.[3]

  1. Doing theology equips us to speak about our faith. We ought to give reasonable answers to those who inquire of us as to what we say we believe. Questions like why do you believe in God, how are we saved by the death of Jesus, and how does God work in the world and in the life of the Christian aren’t satisfied with a bit of facts or the recitation of a scripture passage. Rather, these questions require a thought process that moves our knowledge about the Bible into ideas that help us make sense of life or set us toward right action.
  2. Doing theology develops and supports in us spiritual health. Life is hard. Being human means that we will experience times of crisis. Friends and family will get sick and die. We will encounter tragedies that cause undue suffering and pain. Just by being aware of and sensitive to the events of the world, we will see injustice and social upheaval that displaces and traumatizes people. No one is immune to the difficult questions provoked in these situations. What we believe matters in these moments.
  3. Doing theology draws us closer to the One we claim embodies all truth. We become more in tune with God’s way of thinking, shaping us into God’s way of being, moving us in God’s way of doing. The experience of the grace of God in Jesus Christ transforms our thinking and our hoping such that we want to see and understand everything thing through this filter, through this light.

Theological Reflection

So how do we “do theology”? For starters, we want to do more than just “do theology”; we want to do theology well. To help us do that we take on the exercise of theological reflection. This is the task of navigating between what the Bible says and our life experience. In the words of the quote at the top of this article, it is “making sense of the Bible.” To do that requires some questions.[4] But before we get to the questions, we need to acknowledge the role our life experience plays in reading the Bible. Three factors that shape the perspective we bring to the Bible:

  • The Christian tradition. We come to theological reflection as Christians, with the whole 2000-year history. But we also come within our own specific church tradition. This tradition shapes our perspective in certain ways that are different from other church traditions.
  • The surrounding culture. We come to theological reflection as people living in the 21st century, in the United States, in Texas, in Fort Worth, etc… This, too, shapes our perspective in this exercise.
  • The human experience. We come to theological reflection within the larger story of being human, but also one with a personal history, a unique set of experiences—good, bad, and neutral—that shape our perspective.

Our experience is an asset. It enables us to see things that others may not see. However, our experience is also a liability. The same things that open our eyes in one sense, also act as blinders narrowing our view. As long as we are aware of both the value and limitation of our experience and the perspective it shapes, we bring an honest and authentic heart to the task of theological reflection

Here are the questions we bring to the scripture text:

  • What does the text say about who we are as humans?
  • What does the text say about who God is?
  • What does the text say about the kind of world we live in?
  • How do our personal stories contribute to the understanding of this text?
  • How does our church’s story contribute to the understanding of this text?
  • How does the text interact with what is happening in our culture/society? What does it challenge? What does it support?
  • How does our Christian tradition guide our understanding of this text? Does this help or hurt what this text has to say?
  • How does our church history (Churches of Christ) guide our understanding of this text? Does this help or hurt?

Write down your answers to these questions. Note any themes or patterns. Identify various ways to put what you are observing into action in the normal rhythm of your life. Identify various action steps that might call for a change in that normal rhythm.

Theological reflection is a process in which we explore the events of our lives through the filter of the Bible looking for the ways in which God is working so that we might respond with missional action—the third task we bring to the Bible.

Read the rest of the series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4.

[1] Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays, The Art of Reading Scripture (Eerdmans, 2003), p. xv.

[2] Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding (Eerdmans, 2004), p. 1.

[3] See Holloway, Harris, Black, Theology Matters (College Press, 2000), p. 10-11 and Migliore, p. 5.

[4] While the focus of our work here is making sense of the Bible, there are a number of other things that can act as a starting point for theological reflection, such as a personal experience, a dilemma or decision, a cultural issue, or something like a quote, speech, book, movie, work of art, etc. that moves you in some way. For starting points other than scripture, a key question is asking what the Bible has to say about this.

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