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  • Writer's pictureShea Watts

What (Good) Is Theology?

Theology is a daunting word. When it is uttered, it conjures up pictures of highly educated people, mostly men, writing with quills in leather-bound books. It seems names like the Apostle Paul, Thomas Aquinas, and Augustine occupy the bookshelves of heaven's library.

Sure, this is theology. But this is not all that theology is.

Simply defined, theology comes from two words: theos (meaning god) and logy (meaning a subject of study or discourse). Put these two together and we get: the study of God or God-talk.

But not all theologies are created equal. You are free to choose which theologies are helpful and which are harmful. Theology, like many fields, is subject to malpractice. It often speaks of gods with egos, jealous hearts, bloody hands, and male genitalia. This does not have to be the case.

Herein lies a simple, powerful truth: you don't need theology degree or leather-bound book to practice theology. In fact, you are practicing theology daily, likely without being aware you are. When you pray, when you dream, when you consider who God is (or is not) to you, you are practicing theology!

This is good news, because theology must not be contained in or confined to historical doctrines, creeds, and writers. It is alive, always being refined and made new. And you are a part of this unfolding process. Therefore, you can practice theology as you see fit; what do you need God to be for and to you? How do your experiences, needs, and hopes shape the divine voice and message? What ancient wisdom from the prophets, poets, and divinely-inspired teachers can you glean from your tradition?

This is not relativism, but relationality. It is God in the subjunctive, an open-ended divine dialogue of possibility. Without this imagination, theology becomes stale and stymied, impotent to speak to the exigencies and crises of our day. Because, ultimately, if God has nothing to say to or about the hurts and pains of our world, then theology is futile and useless.

A wonderful seminary professor of mine teaches that "good theology begins where the pain is." I think this is a helpful hermeneutics (interpretation strategy) and guiding principle for God-talk. Think of it as a prompt or challenge.

As you practice theology, may you find goodness and Godness at every turn.

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