Steven Hunter joins us today as we continue this series. Steven has been someone I’ve known for some time. I followed him as the pulpit minister in Tompkinsville, Kentucky and he served as one of the ministers where I grew up attending in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Now, he currently serves as a pulpit minister in Murray, Kentucky where my wife attended during her time in college at Murray State. Needless to say, our past is quite intertwined without having actually crossed for longer than a few moments. I’m thankful for his knowledge and scholarship and willingness to write about theology. I promise, you won’t be disappointed in this article entitled The Soul of Theology.
Theology isn’t a term you’ll read in Scripture because the inspired writers didn’t use it. However, if you lived when the New Testament was written, you would know what theologia was. Were you raised in any part of Greece, you knew it was the study of the gods, and the premier source were men named Homer and Hesiod. But now you’re a Christian, so you don’t believe in those gods anymore. You’ve learned that they are demons masquerading as God, but He alone is God.
Once unknown to you, this God, the Creator of heaven and earth, has been made known to you through the Son He sent to the world to die for the sins of humanity. You’re now saved. What is salvation, you ask? Salvation is eternal life in Christ Jesus. Greek mythology and philosophy had a variety of beliefs. One of the most unforgettable views was that once you died, that was it. Poof! You’re gone forever. Yet, you’ve learned differently: because Jesus is God come to earth, His death and subsequent resurrection changed everything.
If you have faith in Jesus, you can be saved … you can have eternal life through Him. “Faith,” that’s another weird notion to you. When you worshiped the old gods of Greece, all you had to do was perform the prescribed rites at the appointed times. You didn’t have to believe in anything. You didn’t have to trust. Just do what the cultic priests told you to do in the liturgy, and you’d hope the gods would smile upon you. This is all so new and different. Yet, it’s also so invigorating.
Everything I just said above about God, Jesus, salvation, faith, and other such matters is theology. I’ve spoken or written about God and Jesus. That’s theology.
Good theology is useful in glorifying God and honoring Him, and it also helps lead others to Him.
There are various types of theology: biblical theology, historical theology, covenantal theology, and on and on it goes. Despite the term itself not being used in Scripture, we can see how the earliest Christians did theology. Of all things, they did theology through song.
Biblical scholars use a method called “form criticism” to classify portions of Scripture into literary patterns so that they can trace each type to an earlier period of oral transmission. Using this method, scholars have identified several passages as early Christian hymns which were likely sung, or chanted, in worship: Philippians 2:5–11; Colossians 1:15–20; First Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:1–3; and First Peter 2:21–25. Just read and appreciate the richness of the theology found in one of those passages (Hebrews 1:1-3):
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:Hebrews 1:1-3 | KJV
When one reads these passages, especially in the King James Bible, they have poetic prose. Of course, in Greek, it’s more noticeable than English, but we can pick up on it a bit in our language too. Since music was the typical learning method then as it is now, these hymns were the church’s theology that they could commit to heart and even answer for the hope within them when asked. That they’re recorded in these books suggests that they were in use before they were written down and only served to aid the church in her confession of Christ as Lord.
I’ve said for some time now if you aren’t sure how to answer a person about the Christian faith, begin reciting a hymn to them. There’s much good theology in hymns, and the early Christians knew that too.
The soul of theology is what we say about our Lord to Him as well as our confession of Him to a watching world.
That theology tells of His excellences and majesty, so the more we know about Him, the better we are at theology. Furthermore, we better learn what matters in our focus of study’s grander scheme by understanding some of the early Christians’ central texts and statements. The few hymns above are concerned with the Person of Jesus the Christ. They don’t concern themselves with some of the day’s peripheral issues with which we affect ourselves. Jesus is central. Jesus is the answer. Jesus is enough.
Steven Hunter is the pulpit minister for the Glendale Road Church of Christ in Murray, Kentucky. He is a graduate of Faulkner University. He is married and the father of two children.