Christianreligions have various denominations. These denominations havedifferent perceptions about Christian theology. Theology is definedas the study by which Christians seek to understand the content offaith in the clearest way by use of the most available language.Understanding of God is achieved through participation and reflectionin the faith. There are slight differences in the ways variousdenominations view Christian theology. Even though there are somedifferences, the majority of the Christian groups agree that thereexist sources of theology. These sources include scripture,experience, tradition and natural theology.
Thescripture comprises of books that were written a long time ago. Thesebooks have different genres such as poetry, letters, and history. TheBible comprises of two sections. The first section is the OldTestament that talks more about the Jewish while the second sectionis the New Testament that talks about the story of Jesus Christ1.It is important to note that the Catholic Bible contains 14 moreadditional books in the Old Testament which is contrary to otherBibles. Christians have different beliefs on the Bible. SomeChristians believe that it is a word of God while others see it asliterature that explains more about moral growth.
Theologiansuse the scripture for various reasons. A Bible plays a verysignificant role in theology. It is considered to be authoritative innature. Through the scriptures, the Christians can have a clearunderstanding of God and His true picture. The Bible is said to havea single origin. For this reason, it is taken as a normative sourceof faith. The Bible shapes the faith of an individual by transformingthe person. Also, the scripture is taken as the light of the church.It is supposed to give Christians directions on the right way tofollow. Besides, the Bible is used as the platform where any religionstands. The Bible is used as a center of reference when solving anychurch dispute.
However,nowadays the scripture has its downfalls. In the current society,some people are underestimating while others are overestimating theBible. False prophets have emerged they mislead the people bymisinterpreting the Bible. The Bible has stopped serving its purposeof transforming the people of God. Some religions such as the RomanCatholic view the authority of the Bible to be weaker as compared tothat of the church. Even though the scripture is facing someopposition from some religions, the fact will remain that it waswritten by the people who were inspired by God. For this reason, theBible must be respected as the word of God.
Besides,theologians use tradition as a source of understanding God.Initially, tradition referred to the beliefs that were passed downfrom Jesus Christ through His followers to Christians today2.Nowadays the meaning has somehow changed. Theologians argue thattradition includes those approaches that guide Christians in theinterpretation of the Bible. Catholic denomination argues thattradition should be emphasized more when interpreting the Bible. InLatin, the word tradition means handing over. For example in 1Corinthians 15: 1-4, Paul reminds people that he was teaching themwhat he had learned from other people.
Whyshould Tradition be used as a source of theology? Tradition isconsidered to be the Faith of the Church in action. Through thehistorical events of the suffering, death, and resurrection of JesusChrist, Christians maintain and preserve their faith in Christ. Asthe history is passed on from one generation to the other, theexperience of faith is passed as well through the assistance of theHoly Spirit. Moreover, through the tradition, Christians canunderstand the saving power of Jesus. In the New Testament, there arevarious historical events that the followers of Christ underwent thatare used to show the power of Jesus. For example the healing power ofJesus, the calming of the storm and the raising the dead. Thoughtradition has served a big role in saving and transforming humanity,it has some weaknesses.
Oneof the weaknesses is that tradition can become dead anytime.Tradition may stop to have its meaning if it cannot constantly berenewed as well as being interpreted in the right way. Also,tradition can become too formal. It can come up with its ideaswithout maintaining the real roots of Jesus Christ. Indeed traditioncannot be handed over but rather can be used as a way of reflectingthe past and concentrating on the present. Interpretation must bemade over and over again to preserve the tradition.
Anothersource of understanding God is through experience. Most of thetheologians use experiences which include the five common senses as asource of theological understanding of God. In Latin, experiencemeans traveling through life. For example, when one speaks of anexperienced pastor the implication is that the pastor has learned hisor her skills through first-hand application. Experience issubjective it is real in that the Christians can be able to explainthe happenings in their life. However, in Christianity, theexperience becomes more real when it is combined with other sourcesof theology. Christianity is not all about ideas but rather thetransformation of the inner life of an individual. J.G Davies arguesthat it is wrong to say religious experience is different fromordinary experience. The reason is that experience is something thatpossesses a dimension of holiness3.
Experienceplays a very crucial role in theology. Theologians use it as anauthoritative source. It is through experience that the theologicalreflections are derived. According to Martin Luther, theologywithout human experience is considered to be an empty shell that iswaiting to be filled. Schleiermacher argues that experience variesfrom one community to the other and from one individual to the other.The aim of theologians is to interpret this experience. Experiencehas a weakness in that it exposes the downfalls of an individual aswell as the interests vested behind the interpretation of texts andtraditions.
Finally,natural theology is considered as a source of theology by sometheologians. Natural theology is a study that is based on observingthe nature being distinct as opposed to revelation theology. Unlikerevelation that depends on other sources of theology in understandingGod, natural theology involves human philosophy. It involvesreasoning as a way of knowing God. For example John 3:16 talks aboutthe love of God, by analyzing this context one can get to know howGod is generous. This is revealed theology. The idea of natural andrevealed theology was brought out by a Catholic theologian by thename Thomas Aquinas4.Aquinas believed that man had the ability to know more about God justby observing the nature alone.
Lateron, the idea of natural theology was spread by other theologians suchas William Paley and Samuel Clarke. Natural theology is useful inthat it still recognizes God as the creator. Likewise, naturaltheology gives more information about revealed theology. Naturaltheology has some weaknesses. One of them is that it explains thatbasic understanding of God cannot lead one to salvation. Besides,natural theology cannot teach the love, mercy, and judgment of God.
Inconclusion, the sources of theology that have been discussed abovehave shed some light about God. Christians should not politicize theword of God. God should be respected as the sole creator, and Hiswork should not be challenged. The knowledge and wisdom people have,comes from God. Furthermore, Christians should ignore the weaknessesof the sources of theology and work on the strengths.
Alan, K. "Theological Sources: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience, And?" The Assembling of the Church, February 26, 2010: 22-29.
Norman, L. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Bloomington: Bethany House, 2011.
Paul, E. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.
United Theological College. "Theological Epistemology: The Role of Scripture, Tradition and Experience and Their Authority in Christian Theology." Theology, July 29, 2013.
1 United Theological College. "Theological Epistemology: The Role of Scripture, Tradition and Experience and Their Authority in Christian Theology." Theology, July 29, 2013.
2 Alan, K. "Theological Sources: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience, And?" The Assembling of the Church, February 26, 2010: 22-29.
3 Paul, E. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.
4 Norman, L. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Bloomington: Bethany House, 2011.