Classifications of Theology
Theology is simply organized thinking about God. Different ways of organizing those thoughts has resulted in different types of theology, each with its own merit. Christian theology presupposes the existence of God (theology proper) and His revelation of Himself in the Bible (bibliology). These presuppositions are not without firm intellectual foundation; in fact, they comprise two large categories of doctrine in their own right. Theology proper and bibliology form the starting point and foundation for true Christian theology. The more the doctrines are studied, the more certain the foundation becomes; but they are necessary presuppositions if the student of the Scriptures is to start correctly. As the adage goes, “Well begun is half done.”
Doctrine is the summation or description of the truth found in the Bible. Theology is the process of arriving at that doctrine. The major ways to approach the study of theology are biblical theology, historical theology, systematic theology and practical theology.
Biblical theology concerns the unfolding of truth in specific books and passages of Scripture. It recognizes the progressive revelation of God (defined below) and therefore does not necessarily aim to present the whole of a biblical doctrine, but to establish that portion of doctrine taught in the Scripture under consideration. The different books of the Bible were occasioned by specific circumstances and needs. Therefore, often the intent of the author was not to develop a doctrine fully, but rather to teach the truth necessary to accomplish a purpose that the occasion required.
Historical theology deals with the theological perspectives set forth by Christians through the centuries. This approach looks at the teaching as it has developed over time. Studying the way that the Scriptures have been understood helps the modern seeker of truth to clarify his or her own thought concerning many important doctrines.
Systematic theology is the organized presentation of the various doctrines, with full consideration of both biblical theology and historical theology. Doctrines are developed and articulated as a part or subset of the total structure of systematic theology. This does not mean that tradition has equal weight with the Bible in development of doctrine. Rather, it humbly respects the fact that other thinkers through the ages have wrestled with the same biblical truths, aided by the illumination of the same Holy Spirit. The conclusions and thoughts of the people of God through the centuries can contribute to the present understanding of the Scriptures.
Practical theology emphasizes the correlation of theology to life’s needs. It shows the connections between doctrine and application, paying attention to the ways in which theology pertains to issues concerning ethics and society, the interaction of people and the mission of the church.