The term has its origin in Christianity, and its use is most commonly restricted to that context, and to closely related religions such as Judaism or Islam. Sometimes, however, the term is extended to any study of a religion which begins with the assumption of that religion's truth. Yet, it is questionable whether its application to religions widely different from Christianity is appropriate — the term itself assumes God, yet not all religions revolve around God. For example, in Buddhism, God does not play a major role; yet some will still speak of Buddhist theology.
Theology can be distinguished from the philosophy of religion — theology starts by assuming the truth of a particular religion, such as Christianity, and seeks to discover the consequences of that assumption. Philosophy of religion claims to base itself on neutral principles which persons of any religion or none could endorse, and then seeks to analyse and evaluate religious claims from that base.
It encompasses an array of beliefs and doctrines which come to society by Scripture or tradition. Different theological views have been sufficient grounds for believers to divide from one another. Catholics do not accept much of Protestant theology, and Christians in general do not accept Mormon theology.
There are actually several broad categories of Christian theology, some of which also encompass several broad areas of study.
Biblical theology is the use of exegesis (the process of determining what a particular scriptural text correctly means) to facilitate a general study of scriptural revelation presented in the Bible. Biblical theology encompases a number of different approaches: such as trying to understand the teaching of the Bible as a whole on a particular topic; or a study of how the approach to that topic has changed from book to book; or an attempt to analyse in depth the teaching of one particular book, or a set of related books (eg. Paul's epistles, or the Synoptic gospels, or the Pentateuch)
Systematic theology attempts to produce a systematic presentation of all that is known about a specific theological topic. This will include an analysis of all relevant scriptural teaching on the issue, across the entirety of the Bible. In the Catholic and Eastern approaches, it also will include consideration of Tradition and the teaching of the Magisterium. In any case, the resources of philosophy, and all relevant of fields of human thought, will be brought to assist.
There are several areas of study in systematic theology.
|Name||Area of Study|
|Mariology||The Virgin Mary (primarily in Catholicism and the Eastern Churches)|
|Sacramental theology||The Sacraments (primarily a Catholic discipline)|
Practical theology is the study of how to apply theological truths to the life of the individual, the Church, and the world. Subdivisions of practical theology include:
- apologetics: The study of theological topics for the purpose of defending Christian doctrine. The purposes of apologetics are to answer criticism, correct distortion and provide evidence of the credibility of Christian doctrine.
- ascetical theology: the study of Christian asceticism
- homiletics: The study of preaching, including how to best fit the Christian message to one's audience. Includes also the study of rhetoric as applied to preaching
- hymnology: the study of hymns, including their theological aspects
- missiology: the study of missions
- moral theology: Christian moral teaching, and its application to the pressing ethical questions of the contemporary world
- mystical theology: the study of Christian mysticism
- pastoral theology: The study of the care and spiritual formation of believers, especially as this is a duty of those called to ministry
- political theology: The application of Christian teaching to the field of politics
- liturgiology (or liturgical theology): Study of liturgy, especially when that is perceived a theological rather than purely historical discipline. (The term liturgics can be a synonym, but can also imply an approach seen as more historical than theological.) This discipline is primarily restricted to the liturgical denominations (Roman Catholicism, the Eastern Churches, Anglicanism and Lutheranism)
Practical theology draws on systematic, biblical and philosophical theology as its sources, and then seeks to apply those findings to practical matters of Christian life.
Philosophical theology is the study of theological topics through the use of philosophical tools and methods, and through the study of nature apart from revelation presented in the Bible (this concept is called general revelation).
Historical theology is the study of how believers throughout history have understood theological topics. Historical theology is useful, both as a study in its own right, but also for the help it can provide to systematic theology — a knowledge of the historical origins and context of various theological doctrines can be helpful in understanding them — and a knowledge of the controversies and heresies of the past can be invaluable in understanding the present, due to history's habit of repeating itself. Essentially, historical theology is the study of the post-biblical history of Christian thought, while biblical theology is the same study with respect to the biblical period. It is closely connected to, but not identical with, the field of church history.
- heresiology is the study of heresies, of doctrinal deviations from the truth, both in the present-day and throughout the history of the Church