One of the biggest misconceptions of theology is that we think that there is such a thing as “theology proper.” Actually there isn’t. All theology is contextual; all theology is historically and culturally determined. I’m not saying that it’s not true; I’m just saying that all theology that we have came because the church was facing a certain challenge. What’s the nature of Christ? We wondered that in the early days of the church; well, we came up with the Nicene Creed to kind of explain that. And by the way I define theology (I use Dr. John Frame’s definition of theology): the application of the Word of God by persons in every area of life, or the application of Scripture by persons in every area of life. I think that’s such a great definition.
All theology is contextual; all theology is historically and culturally determined.“The five points of Calvinism.” Those aren’t the five points of Calvinism. Those are the five points where Calvinism meets the challenge of Arminianism. Again, that’s theology. So since all theology is done in context, it tends to be addressed to issues that we face. So if there is an issue that the church isn’t facing, the church tends not to do theology concerning it. Now I realize that we do theology to understand salvation and all of that, but in what context?
I tell a story in an article I wrote recently. I was teaching a course in a leading Reformed seminary, and I kept mentioning African-American theology, and this one student just objected. He said, “There’s no such thing as African-American theology. This is only theology.”
And so I asked, “Would this seminary put a book in its library that talks about theology from a contextual point of view?” He said, “No.” And so at after the next break I went to the library, got the book, and I held it up in front of the class and it was Scottish theology, and that ended the discussion.
So all theology, then, is that way, and so what we need to do in every situation and every time we need to do theology ourselves, we need to directly apply Scripture to the issues and the concerns that we have at that time. The Westminster Confession of Faith is one of the finest documents of theology ever written, but it is not the Bible. Because the Scripture can take it, the Scripture is rich, but the problem I think today is that we have slipped into what I call “theological welfare.” We depend on other people at other times do our theology.
And I’m not saying it’s a bad theology. The Westminster Confession of Faith is one of the finest documents of theology ever written, but it is not the Bible. It doesn’t cover everything; the Bible covers everything. Out theology only covers in part. There is no theological system that can account for everything that the Bible says except the Bible itself.
If we can begin to have a more realistic view of theology and recognize that all theology that can be done has not been done. That’s the mentality I get: a lot of people think that all theology that can be done has been done, but it has not. There are all kinds of directions that the Bible speaks to, all kind of issues the Bible speaks to that we haven’t even begun to discover. So let’s appreciate the theology that we have today, provided that it’s biblical. But let us also be ready to continue to do theology.