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Introduction to Theology: What is Theology? Origins, Nature, Crisis in Theology

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What is Theology?

Theology describes the study, writing, research, or speaking on the nature of gods, especially in relation to human experience. Typically the concept includes the premise that such study is done in a rational, philosophical manner and can also refer to specific schools of thought — for example, progressive theology, feminist theology or liberation theology. The study of theology is usually done in religious institutions where the promotion of religious beliefs is part of the mission.


Origins of Theology in Ancient Greece & Early Christianity:

Most think of theology in the context of modern religions traditions, but the concept dates back to ancient Greece. Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle used it in reference to the study of the Olympian gods and the writings of authors such as Homer. The earliest theological works in Christianity were written by church fathers trying to construct coherent frameworks through which people could better understand the nature of God’s revelations to humanity through Jesus. Read More...


Theology as Science and Religion:

As the term is generally used today, theology refers to the systematic formulation of ways to think about God, talk about a religion’s distinctive symbols or concepts, and bring it all together into a coherent system of thought. It shares much in common with both philosophy and religion, often straddling the borders between the two. They aren't quite the same, though, because theology typically involves efforts to defend or explain beliefs that are assumed to be true. Read More...


Modern Theology, Religious Pluralism, and the Problem of Legitimacy:

The modern world of increased religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue has undermined the effectiveness of traditional apologetics. This is referred to as a “crisis of theology” because theologians are forced to come up with new ways to legitimize the entire religious program from the ground up. Developments within religion (pluralism) and in the surrounding society (secularization) have challenged earlier foundations to the point where they no longer support religious beliefs. Read More...


Theology, Apologetics, and Religious Philosophy:

The line between theology and the philosophy of religion and theology isn't always sharp because they share so much in common, but the primary difference is that theology tends to be apologetical in nature, committed to the defense of a particular religious position, whereas Philosophy of Religion is committed to the investigation of religion itself rather than the truth of any particular religion. Read More...


Natural Theology vs. Theology of Nature:

Natural theology assumes that one can begin from a default position of no particular religious belief and argues to the truth of at least some (already accepted) religious propositions. Going in the other direction is the “theology of nature,” which assumes the truth of religious scriptures, prophets, and traditions. It then proceeds to employ the facts of nature and discoveries of science as a basis for reinterpreting or even reformulating traditional theological positions. Read More...


Negative Theology:

Also known as Via Negativa (Negative Way) and Apophatic theology, negative theology is a Christian theological system that attempts to describe the nature of God by focusing on what God is not rather than on what God is. The basic premise of negative theology is that God is so far beyond human understanding and experience that the only hope we have of getting close to the nature of God is to list what God definitely is not. Read More...


Global Theology:

Philosophers and theologians have compared various religions to elucidate both their similarities and their differences. Today, though, there is something called ‘global theology’ or ‘world theology’ which is the attempt to compare two or more religious traditions from the perspective of one in particular. Also sometimes called ‘comparative theology,’ it is often a self-consciously partisan enterprise pursued by theologians with specific faith commitments (and agendas). Read More...


Liberation Theology:

Common Themes:
During the late 1960s and early 1970s a new and important trend in Christian theology developed. Known as liberation theology, this perspective arose in a number of different contexts, but all forms were united by a common interest in using Christian principles to ‘liberate’ people oppressed by problems such as racism and poverty. Read More...

Catholic Liberation Theology in Latin-America:
The primary architect of liberation theology in the Latin-American and Catholic context is Gustavo Gutierrez. A Catholic priest who grew up in grinding poverty in Peru, Gutierrez employed Marx’s critiques of ideology, class, and capitalism as part of his theological analysis of how Christianity should be used to make people’s lives better here and now rather than simply offer them hope of rewards in heaven. Read More...

Black Liberation Theology in North America:
The primary architect of Black Liberation Theology in North America is James Cone. A Protestant minister who grew up in Arkansas under the heavy hand of segregation, Cone observed first-hand the way white Christians treated blacks - even after desegregation was ordered by the federal government. The Christian messages of peace and brotherly love contrasted sharply with Christians’ bigoted behavior, and this left a lasting mark on Cone’s thinking. Read More...

Feminist Theology of Liberation:
There is no one person who can be described as responsible for the development of feminist theology. Many women as well as a few men contributed to the growth of critiques of traditional, patriarchal attitudes within Christianity and Judaism that have served to repress women and keep them in a second-class status, not only within religious institutions but in the rest of society as well. Read More...

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