What Is Theology – Part 1

Question: can someone who is not a Christian teach Christian Theology truthfully and accurately?

This is a question that began in the 12th century when the first University was set up – the university of Paris. Some said no, you need to be committed to God while others said that Theology was an academic discipline that required detachment and impartiality.

Both have good points to back up their arguments. Those who say you must be detached argue that in order to find truth scholars need to be totally detached and free from presuppositions so that they will not be prejudiced in their evaluation.

Also, Theology must be prepared to ask the hard questions about it’s intellectual credibility, it’s methods and it’s ideas.

The argument for commitment is equally compelling. If something is true, then detachment should, indeed must, be impossible. If it is true, you should be committed to it.

Academic study is not neutral and nobody comes to a topic free from presuppositions. And lastly, Christian Theology is also connected to faith, prayer, worship and proclamation of a message to the world – Christ crucified and the forgiveness of sins.

Of course Theology can be studied and studied well by non-Christian’s. It can be an academic discipline. But true Theology should never be made into an academic discipline. It would be like studying Shakespeare without ever watching a play.

Theology should demand discipline, and it should ask the hard questions of itself. But the discipline must be in a context of faith and worship as well as a living relationship with God. For only in this context can the study of Theology produce results that no book or lecture or teacher can produce. Only the through the Holy Spirit can our meditation on Theology reach a place that is beyond words, or systems, or ideas. It touches that place where knowledge becomes reality within our very beings.

Orthodoxy And Heresy

What exactly is orthodox theology and what constitutes heresy? Both orthodoxy and heresy have been greatly misused over the centuries, where now orthodoxy means simply dogma imposed upon people by a coercive authority.

The meaning of Orthodoxy is simply RIGHT OPINION.

Similarly, heresy has been seen as suppression by an intolerant church or state. It has often been used to marginalize smaller groups such as the Anabaptists.

F Schleiermacher has an excellent understanding of orthodoxy and heresy. He argues that orthodoxy evolved around the foundational events which took place in Jerusalem: the death, resurrection, accession of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Schleiermacher says that heresy preserves the appearance of Christianity, yet contradicts it’s essence. So what is Christianity’s essence?

The distinctive essence of Christianity is that God has redeemed us through Jesus Christ. It follows that the Christian understanding of God, Jesus Christ and human nature should be consistent with this understanding of redemption.

Hence, for Schleiermacher, rejection of this principle is the rejection of Christianity itself. Also, the distinction between what is orthodox and what is heretical, lies in how this principle, once conceded and accepted, is understood

Heresy is not a form of unbelief. For heresy to be heresy it arises within the context of faith itself. For Schleiermacher heresy is a misunderstanding or a re-reading of the essence of the faith. Therefore someone may accept that God has redeemed us through Jesus Christ, but re-interprets this to mean that Jesus was totally God and only appeared to be human (a heresy known as Docetism.)

For Schleiermacher there are four major heresies. Docetism, which over emphasises Jesus’ divinity, Eboionitism which over emphasises Jesus’ humanity at the expense of his divinity; Pelagianism which says that humanity can redeem itself and the Manichaen heresy which says that humanity has lost the chance of redemption because they would not accept it when it was offered to them.

These are the four natural heresies of the Christian faith which arises through an inadequate interpretation of the doctrine of Justification by faith. It is no accident that these were by far the most important heresies to be debated in the early church.


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