Why study theology? New answers to old problems

This is the second of three articles on why formal study of theology is valuable. Thomas O’Loughlin is Professor of ­Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham. He hopes these articles will be a useful resource for those trying to ­recruit students to the subject

‘Theology’ is not some body of information that one ‘downloads.’ In the past it was often confused with ‘the information needed by a priest’ or some set of codes that could be used to explain everything as if ‘theology’ were the religious equivalent of basic geometry. Theology does involve knowledge about how Christians live, how they worship, how they have presented their faith in doctrine, about how they read the texts they cherish, and what it is that makes them the community of followers of Jesus. But most of this is already known to some degree to most Christians who take their discipleship seriously. So what is special about theology? It is having a developed, trained skill in thinking about the Christian life, reflecting on what we are doing, why we are doing it this way, and asking if the great purposes of God could be better served by acting differently. Let’s see this by looking at some old problems and some fresh answers.

Situation 1: Living with other Christians: Can we share a table?
Meet any group of Christians and the likelihood is that there will be individuals from more than one tradition: a few Catholics, a few Anglicans, maybe a Methodist or Baptist, and one or two others. All claim to be followers of Jesus, all pray to the Father, all acknowledge the Spirit within them. All have been baptised and have set out on the Way of Life which makes them fellow disciples. So far, so good – and we rejoice that we no longer call each other nasty names (or worse) and appreciate that God, and the divine love and mercy, is unlimited.

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