Friday, January 18, 2013

Studying God

I recently read a short article written by Sarah Sumner, PhD, professor of Theology and ministry at Haggard School of Theology at Asuza Pacific University. The article begins:

“The word theology literally means “the study of God.” But if you think about it, no one can study God per se. We can study God’s words. We can study God’s actions. But we can’t study God himself [sic]. All we can study is God’s revelation of himself. So a better definition of theology would be ‘the study of the revelation of God.’”

She goes on to say that God is personally known despite our inability to study Him: we pray and hear, we praise, interact with His Spirit, are even comforted by Him--”we would never know him if he did not reveal himself to us.”

Initially, Sumner correctly defines the word theology in its literal sense; however, she suggests further thought on the matter, concluding that God alone cannot be studied. We can only study the evidence He gives of Himself through general (or natural) revelation and special revelation. How is the suggested definition better?

If one thinks about (and we should follower her suggestion), God intends to be studied as evidenced by the fact that He is personally known; converses through prayer; makes praise glorious; guides, convicts and regenerates through His Spirit and so on. Sumner admits that God can be known--but the study of Him is not possible? Once the Christian searches through general and special revelation, what then does he or she do with what is found? These are the means He gives us to think theologically! How are we to enjoy Him if He cannot be studied?

If all that can be studied is evidence, then creation is reduced to residue and the Bible becomes a block of paper, prayer is empty and praise is expressive noise.

I take Dr. Sumner’s words as an encouragement to use creation and the Bible to turn my eyes further up, to find Him who is personal. Yes, He is huge; yes, His thoughts are far above mine; but, He can be and must be studied.

When we “do” theology, we meet a person with attributes that He shares and some He does not share. We find THE individual with character and a specific nature. We “do” theology because He reconciled us through His accomplished purpose of redemption--we are reconciled for a reason.

Creation and the Bible should be studied, but the goal is to know Him. If we remain focused on lower things, our worship is skewed.

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