This short book aims to introduce you to the basics of Christian theology. The phrase "Christian theology" is used throughout this volume in the sense of the systematic study of the fundamental ideas of the Christian faith - in other words, a disciplined exploration of the contents of the Christian revelation. This way of thinking about theology is reflected in a number of definitions of theology offered by its leading practitioners, such as Karl Rahner (1904-84, Catholic), John Macquarrie (1919-2007, Anglican), and Karl Barth (1886-1968, Reformed).
"Theology is the science of faith. It is the conscious and methodical explanation and explication of the divine revelation received and grasped in faith"
"Theology may be defined as the study which, through participation in and reflection upon a religious faith, seeks to express the content of this faith in the clearest and most coherent language available"
"Theology is science seeking the knowledge of the Word of God spoken in God's work - science learning in the school of the Holy Scripture, which witnesses to the Word of God; science laboring in the quest for truth, which is inescapably required of the community that is called by the Word of God"
Each of these descriptions of the nature and tasks of theology is helpful in getting a sense of its identity and focus. (Note that both Rahner and Barth are using the word "science" in the sense of an "intellectual discipline.") While they differ in their emphases, these three definitions have a lot in common. You might like to spend a few moments reflecting on them, as you may find them useful in developing your own views.
There are many reasons for wanting to think about the Christian faith in more detail. It allows Christians to have a deeper grasp of the foundations, contents, and consequences of their faith. As the eleventh-century theologian Anselm of Canterbury (ca. 1033-1109) once remarked, theology is basically "faith seeking understanding." Part of the inner dynamic of the life of faith is a desire to understand what is believed. Theology can be thought of as the Christian's discipleship of the mind. Yet theology is of importance beyond the Christian community. Those who are not Christians will be interested in learning what Christians believe, and why.
For Christians, theological reflection can lead to personal enrichment, and a deepened appreciation of their faith. For the great Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo (354-430), there is a genuine intellectual excitement to wrestling with God. He spoke of an " eros of the mind" - a sense of longing to understand more about God's nature and ways - and the transformative impact that this could have on people's lives. Other Christian writers have stressed the practical importance of theology, noting how it is essential for the ministry of the church. Preaching, spirituality, and pastoral care, many argue, are ultimately grounded in theology. This business of "thinking about God" takes place at many levels - in church study groups, in Bible studies, through preaching, and in academic seminars. Yet the study of theology has relevance beyond the Christian church. At least a basic understanding of Christian theology will be invaluable to anyone studying western cultural history, literature, or art.
It is important to avoid thinking of theology in terms of the study of insulated intellectual compartments - such as the doctrine of creation, Christology, and eschatology. Christian beliefs are not a collection of individual, unrelated ideas. They are interconnected, like a web, held together by the coherent vision of reality that lies at the heart of the Christian faith. Theology involves understanding the relationship between doctrines, not simply the doctrines themselves. For example, the Christian understanding