The “Rules” of Theology
Some very good questions have been asked about how theology is done. First, I would point how it’s NOT done. Theology isn’t like science, although there is certainly some overlap, as you will see. Second, like science, no one has set down rules and said, “thus how you doeth theology”. But, what I’m about to outline is fairly widely accepted in Christian circles, with some degree of flex, or room to “evolve” if you will.
The nature of theology is that it’s a hybrid of a number of different disciplines. This is why modern people have such a hard time with it. Modern people think in hard and fast categories. This can’t be that and things shouldn’t mix. We want everything in nice, neat compartments to analyze, disect, and lock into little knoweldge compartments we can bring out to show everyone how smart we are.
But, real life isn’t like that at all. As many of the posters here have pointed out, we can’t be sure about many things. Things crash together, catergories are often meshed and many times, things are more than one thing. Theology recognizes that complexity and tries to address it from all angles. It tries to take seriously God, philsophy, science, history and human experiences.
Yet, in spite of that messiness, there are boundaries in theology, as in science. There are certain considerations that are taken into account when a person does theology. Of course, these considerations are unconscious. But, if you look at the history of theology, you can see what I’m going to argue in this post.
The way it has done that in the history of Christian theology (I’m certainly not presuming to speak for any other religion here), is by considering three categories: The Bible, Church Tradition, and Reason/Experience.
The Bible- Easily one of the most talked about, revered and reviled books in human history. And, a book that Christians of all stripes, Orthodox/Catholic/Protestants take seriously. I’m not going into a huge explanation of why this is the case, that’s a many post topic in of itself. I’m only concered with the Bible this point as it applys to how theology has to be done. Every Christian theologian takes the Bible as their starting point. And the way they tease out meaning from the text is as follows: 1) What does the text ACTUALLY say? 2)What did it mean to the original hearers? 3) What does the rest of the Bible say about said theological topic? 4) How can we apply it to today using the first three rules? Nearly every Christian theologian has followed those rules to one degree or another. But, very few would argue with what I just laid out. Anyone who doesn’t at least pay lip service to the above are usually dismissed because they aren’t taking the text seriously and bringing their own meaning to the text. To be sure, that still happens, but very rarely if the above rules are followed.
Church/Tradition- Even some of the most rabid protestants follow church tradition of a type. Granted, its often their own warped view of things, but it’s still a traditon. Human beings, no matter how rebelious we try to be, can’t get away from tradition. And in theology, this is no different. Theology is bound by the history of the church, its fathers and its mothers. When a theologian sets out to “do” theology, he/she must always take into consideration what has gone before, even if it’s to challenge established notions. It’s what allows us to not fly off into all directions and it acts as a check and balance. It’s perfectly analogus to peer review in science. If you think scientists are rigourous in their challenges, you should see how much theologians get tried and sifted with their theories.
Reason/Experience- Believe it not, Christian theology places a high value on human reason and experience. We believe that we are created in the Image of God, and even though that image is broken by sin, there is still a glimmer of the glorious and the true. Further, as Christians believe that God Himself became man, the logos, as John says, we have the power to use our reason and experinece. Indeed, God invites us to just that in the Bible (one day I’ll post my talk on this). So, theologians must wrestle with Reason and experience in the process of doing theology.
So, let’s apply this to an example, such as Benny Hinn. In the first area, Benny take scripture and wrenches it out of context. He doesn’t follow any of the rules about the text and therefore he can make it mean whatever he pleases. Second, Benny essentially give the finger to the church and it’s history by doing what ever he wants, calling people who question him as false teachers and “traditionlists”. Third, he uses what amounts to hypnotic techniques such as hand waving, repetitive chanting, and blowing on people to make people they think God is moving. It’s completely contrary to reason and experience.
As I read this, I realize this is a very cursory and nondetailed post. But, my intent is to give the basics and then let the discussion flow from there.