In almost all of the modern textbooks as well as available courses regarding theology, they call theology a science. Charles Hodge makes claim that we grapple with the Scriptures as a scientist would grapple with facts. While this sounds good, and it does lead to the implication that the Scriptures are facts, I disagree. Is theology a science at all? What do we mean by science? And what do we mean by theology? If theology is a study of God and His relationships, then the question is begged, if not fully pleaded, “What can science say in regard to God and His relationships?”
It is very true that we have our own “textbook” of sorts, which is of course the Bible. Yet, should we reduce the Bible itself down to being labeled as a “textbook”? And should we reduce the study of God Himself down to a mere analysis of a certain book, no matter how significant that book might be? Can one study God and His relationships from simply studying the Scripture, or must this person also have relationship with God?
Notice here that I’m attempting to point out that science itself is not a proper medium for theology. When we think of science, we think of the scientific method. It is a method, or a “system”, by which we can study and understand the world around us. Theology simply cannot have that same method of study and interpretation. Even Hodge proclaims, “Facts… do not constitute science. Nor does the mere orderly arrangement of facts amount to science… In every department the man of science is assumed to understand the laws by which the facts of experience are determined; so that he not only knows the past, but can predict the future… If, therefore, theology be a science, it must include something more than a mere knowledge of facts. It must embrace an exhibition of the internal relation of those facts, one to another, and each to all. It must be able to show that if one be admitted, others cannot be denied.”1
I do wonder, are these facts something that relate only to one another, and not also to the one studying them? Even in science the scientist knows these observations effect him as much as the “test subjects”. Can we have a theology that is somehow outside of our own experience so that we might have an unbiased opinion? Or, maybe that is precisely the point. It is God Himself that is the theologian, and we are merely the pens. Study of the Bible will not give us any correct conclusions. It is not from persistent penmanship that we author revolutionary oracles. Nor is it from the labor of devoted hours that we read the Scriptures as well as other authors in order to comprehend a subject. The comprehension of biblical subject matter stems solely from the apprehension of that subject matter. We must not be the ‘apprehendors’, but the apprehended.
Unlike science, theology cannot be concocted at a desk with a concordance and a lexicon. It is to be fashioned on your knees, praying with diligence to hear the voice and heart of the Father, and then to be lived out in real life. We herald our message as men from heaven, because we have experienced it in the presence of God. With that kind of relationship to God, to know Him, and to walk with Him, there must be evidence of that relationship in the life of the theologian. They will be an embodiment of the message they speak, and their life will tell whether the words they proclaim are true.
Our evidence is not a demonstration of miraculous power and healings, as if we can somehow make merchandise of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have repeatable and demonstrable observations to exercise, as if we’re somehow scientists in the lab just waiting for our opportunity to show all of our findings. No, for the theologian, our demonstration of what we speak is our own lives, and the lives of our students. As Paul would say, “You are our epistle”.2 Paul preached the Gospel “εν πειθοις σοψιας λογοις, αλλ εν αποδειξει πνεθματος και δθναμεως” – not in persuasive wisdom, but in the demonstration of Spirit and of power.3
Theology, as such, is an enquiry. It is a longing. It is a method of lifestyle, and not of study. I don’t fall into the realm of believing that theology is a science, simply because I don’t believe that theology is a pursuit of knowledge. We aren’t looking for knowledge or wisdom in theology, but rather for God Himself. While scientific endeavors might be made to speak on biblical subjects, it has little to do with theology, and even less to do with God revealed. Theology used to be heralded as the mother of all sciences, that all other scientific acquisition must bow the knee to theology. Such is not the case any longer. Our science doesn’t bow the knee to theology, and our theology certainly doesn’t bow the knee to science.
Science is loosely known as a systematic body of knowledge on a certain field of study or enquiry. More commonly, science is the study of the physical and natural plane. Even if we went with that first definition, theology separates itself simply because theology itself is not a systematic body of knowledge. While many have systematized it, and therefore made it a bit more accessible, the truth is written in the pages of Scripture. God did not leave for us a systematic theology. He left for us stories, prayers, prophecies, songs, and letters. He left for us salvations as well as judgments, history as well as predictions, tears of joy and tears of grief. Theology can be comprehended on no other basis. Until it is living in our lives with the same veracity that those saints of olde had known, our theological enquiry is nothing more than dead words on a dead page to dead men with dead intellects. The great Theologian of us all still asks, “Can these dry bones live, O son of man?”
1 Hodge, Charles “Systematic Theology” Volume I pg 2
2 2 Corinthians 3:2
3 1 Corinthians 2:4