By Catherine A. Deddo
Isn't Theology really just speculation?
"I like to think of God as..." Ever hear anyone say this? “I like to think of God as kind and
loving”, “I like to think of God as not judging me”, “I like to think of God as kind of
grandfatherly.” Somehow when we are dealing with God, people often don’t see the
absurdity of these statements. We can recognize their fallacy when we use the same kind of
thinking in relation to other people. I could say that “I like to think of my husband as being
tall and blond”, but my thinking that way doesn’t add up to anything. He doesn’t become
tall and blond just because I think of him that way. When people say they like to think of
God a certain way, then what they are really saying is that they like a god who doesn’t
really exist, who is on the same level as an imaginary friend. A god who merely lives in
I think that even as Christians we can be prone to do this--to believe in a god that is more a
product of our thoughts or our fears. We start with ourselves (after all where else would
you start?) and through our reason and perhaps comparing that with what others think, we
try to work out what a “God” we can approve of might be like.
This may be why we are tempted to think that theology is not much better. It's just a bunch
of ideas and concepts that intellectual people have thrown together, some times with the
help of the Bible, some times not. Mere speculation, often abstract and disconnected with
real life. But why go through all that effort if that's all you get? I can easily come up with
my own favorite ideas and thoughts about God without going through all that rigamarole.
While much of what passes for theology isn't much more than that, it shouldn't be and
doesn't have to be. That's bad theology (if it is theology at all) and no one should be
interested in that. I have said that theology is the actual study of God and that it must begin
with the “who” question. When begun that way we head off into a whole new direction.
So, we're not just making up ideas and concepts and pictures of God as we please. But
rather seek to know God as God really is.
So what's involved in the study of God, to discover Who God is? When I say study, I
mean study like we do in the sciences! Real scientists don't just give us their favorite
thoughts and speculations about how they'd prefer things to be. They don't just make up
imaginary pet rocks. They find ways of describing how natural, created things really are.
So how is theology a science?
Well, science, good science, must conform its study of an object to the nature of the object
itself. In other words, the object under study must dictate how it is studied—otherwise you
are not going to be able to come to any real understanding of your object. For instance, how
you go about studying a rock would be very different than if you were going to study a
human. You would not break the human down to its mineral components and believe you
now understand humans. You can't learn much about the moon through a microscope. It
takes a telescope (or traveling there if you can get there!) So, theology must be done in a
manner that conforms to the One being studied, that is, God. You have to approach the
divine Subject matter in a particular way and using the right "tools" if we are going to really
known something about God.
Now you might be thinking, but God is not a rock. In fact God is not a piece of creation at
all. You can't put God in a test tube. And you'd be exactly right. God, the
Christian God, is not a material creature at all. So how can we study God? Well, only if
God has made himself available to us to study, in time and space, where we live. We have
to know God according to the way he has made himself knowable to us. Otherwise all we
can do is speculate and make up ideas about our favorite view of God. But, at least in the
Christian faith, we're not stuck like that. God has made himself knowable to us in a very
particular time and place. In fact, in flesh and blood as well. God gave himself to be known
in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God with us, Immanuel. Jesus is God's own self-revelation. This
is part of what we mean by Christ's divinity. To know Jesus is to come to know the Father
and the Spirit as well, to know the whole God. So the scientific way of knowing the
Christian God is to know him at the exact place where God, who is not a creature, has
revealed himself in time and space, in flesh and blood, in and through Jesus Christ within
creation. Without this particular and personal self-revelation of God, we could not really
know God. We could only speculate.
So, Christian theology has to start with the Christian God, the God who reveals Himself in
His relationship with Israel and finally and most completely in Jesus Christ. Far from
starting with us and trying to head out and find “God”, Christian theology is a response to
the fact that the God who is, has come to us, has confronted us with Himself and revealed
to us His character and purposes. Abram was not out looking for a god. He already had
one. He was already worshipping the local moon goddess. God broke into Abram’s life.
And notice that in the very act of speaking with Abram, God demanded a response. Abram
had to respond to what he heard — he had no choice. He had to either reject or accept the
proclamation and therefore, the God who proclaims.
In Christian theology, we are seeking to understand the God who is not a creation of our
own imagination, or a product of our thinking or of the study of creation or other people's
thoughts. But rather, we seek to understand and know the God who is utterly above and
Other and yet who has come to us, has addressed us in person. Theology is the pursuit of
seeking to understand who this God is who has spoken to us in Christ. Theology has been
described, therefore, as “faith seeking understanding.” We are seeking to know, more and
more and in particular, the heart, the character, of this God who reveals Himself and so
confronts us in Jesus Christ. Theology, as the study of God, directs its "Who" question about
God to Jesus Christ for that is the place where God has give us His answer to that question
before we even asked.