Theology is not doctrine. Doctrine is what the church teaches. The New Testament actually refers to doctrine as apostolic teaching, thus they are synonymous in the biblical text. But doctrine inevitably develops through theology and theological reflection. Orthodox theologians thus believe that all theology is inevitable, even necessary, so long as it is properly done as deep and disciplined "human" reflection on divine revelation. This means, of course, that we have never completed the work of true theology. 

TheologyConservatives can easily fall into the mistake of believing that theology is about finding a "tradition" and "confessional formula" and defending it as if this is the best (even last) good word on biblical teaching. Liberals can call in the opposite direction, believing tradition and history has little bearing on the present except as a marker to how wrong the church got it before now. Both make the mistake of an overweening pride in their own insights and conclusions. 

Good theology always begins with the acknowledgment that the Christian is conscious of his or her faith and thus desires to transmit that faith by confession and clear teaching. To share the experience of belief, and to edify others, we need theology. We may not be professional theologians but we need theology, thus theologians. 

Within the Christian community theology has always been present in three forms. First, in the preaching of the good news. Second, in the confession of the faith (catechism and confessional statements). Finally, much more than most evangelicals realize, it is present in the expressions of faith found in liturgy (of one sort or another). 

Good theology is really the disciplined reflection of the entire Christian community on the meaning of their faith. Not every Christian is called to be a well-taught theologian. But every Christian must think about the faith (we are commanded to love God with "our minds") and thus all of us must do some kind of theology. The problem for so much of the church today is that we do not know how to do good theology. We find a school, a favorite teacher, or a respected theologian (living or deceased) and make them the gold standard. This invites major problems that have deeply practical ramifications. 

The discipline of good theology is necessary for the life of the church. Without careful and faithful theology the church will languish in confusion and unbelief. But how we do this reflection varies. In the five faith families of the global church (e.g., Catholic, Orthodox, (historic) Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal) theology certainly creates differences, even divisions. But ecumenical theology, which is a primary interest for ACT 3, seeks to further the proper role of theology by drawing our focus back to the center, to the two great truths that we all confess: one Lord, one faith. This is the center. We do best to get to the center and then work out from our common core of faith and experience. 

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  1. T. Webb January 6, 2012 at 8:38 am

    I find precious little on the topic of theological reflection. Can you point me to some readings, and/or perhaps make this an occasional series about how to think theologically / how to reflect theologically? It would be much appreciated.
    Thanks in Christ, Tim

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