How to Start Studying Theology
Written by Pastor Alex Early
In our Everyday Theology for the Everyday Christian series we have established that all Christians are called to be theologians and that if we do not seek to develop a proper understanding of God we will end up with bad theology. With these truths established, let us look into how we can begin to take on a more formal study of theology.
Studying theology is no simple task. In fact, it is one of those fields of study that are simply inexhaustible. The Apostle Paul’s famous doxology (a term for a hymn of praise to God) in Romans 11 makes some jaw dropping, worship-producing statements and repeats some weighty rhetorical questions that show up in the Old Testament:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” Romans 11:33-35
So even before we dive into theology, we have Paul demonstrating that God’s ways are unsearchable, beyond tracing out perfectly. That’s not to say we cannot know a lot of things about God. Thanks to the doctrine of Revelation (which is different from the Book of Revelation) we can!
We simply cannot know everything about God, for He is infinite and we are finite. He is omniscient (he knows all things), we only know some things. He is omnipresent (everywhere at once), we can only be in one place at one time. He is omnipotent (all powerful), we are only so big, so strong, and can only muster up so much strength. He is Creator, we are creation.
So, how or where does one “start” studying theology? As stated in the first post in this series, without even knowing it, you have already entered the world of theological thinking by simply learning about God, yourself, the Bible, and so on.
What You Can Read
The Scriptures are the infallible Word of God and our theological studies must always begin here. Still, there is much to be gained from the wisdom of others and there are many options when it comes to reading theological texts. Some helpful places to start include:
The Early Church Fathers (Patristics)
Many of the writings of the early leaders of the Christian church have survived to today. Here are a few areas you can begin looking into, as well as some helpful resources:
- The Apostolic Fathers
This collection of the earliest known writings of the church includes the First and Second Epistles of Clement, the Didache, the Epistles of Ignatius, the Epistle of Polycarp, the Epistle about Polycarp’s Martyrdom, and the Shepherd of Hermas.
- The Writings of the Early Church Fathers
The Writing of the Early Church Fathers is a collection of writings from the first 800 years of the Church. This collection is divided into three series, Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene.
Understanding Reformed Theology
Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Protestants initiated a movement known as the Reformation. Reformed Theology holds to the theological truths they adhered to, such as faith being by grace alone, through faith alone, through Christ alone among others.
- What is Reformed Theology, a video series by R.C. Sproul is also available as a helpful book
- What is Reformed Theology, a concise introduction from GotQuestions.org covers the basics of Reformed Teaching
An Introduction to Systematic Theology
Systematic Theology arranges the many aspects of Biblical beliefs in a complete and self-consistent way as much as is possible.
- Introduction to Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
There is an abundance of books available, and Grudem’s is among the best. It is very readable and understandable (it is, however, over 1,000 pages).
- Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know Edited by Wayne Grudem’s son, Elliot
This is a much shorter version of the above text (under 200 pages). I’ve used this edition in my churches over the years and have found it to be very helpful when it comes to helping others as they begin dipping a toe in the vast sea known as “theology.”
Study In Community
Theology may seem overwhelming, and sometimes it is. The field speaks to more than just God. It influences our anthropology, sociology, psychology, and so forth. As you begin, go in prayer, and go study in community!
It’s best to have a couple of people you can think out loud with, ask questions of, and pray through your discoveries and challenges together.
After all, God is a community (the theological word is “Trinity”) and created us in his image (Latin: Imago Dei), and has designed his revelation not to fall into isolated individuals alone but has poured out his presence, blessing, and knowledge of Himself through the Holy Spirit in the Church that Jesus bought with his blood.
This is the third post in the article series titled
- What Exactly is Theology
- Good Ways to Develop Bad Theology
- How to Start Studying Theology
- The Importance of Studying Doctrine
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Article written by Alex Early. Early has a BA in Christian Studies from North Greenville University, an Mdiv from NOBTS, an MA in Aspects of Biblical Interpretation from London School of Theology and begins his Doctor of Intercultural Studies this fall at Western Seminary.
Follow him on Twitter at @Alex_Early.