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on the study of theology

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV)

“Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.’” (Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

Our goal in studying theology is not speculation nor is it a detached scholarship unrelated to life and love, but it is to think clearly and personally about all that God has revealed to us, so that we may glorify him by our faith and obedience.  Since every biblical truth is connected or related in some way to every other biblical truth, serious study is needed.  God's revelation to us is a consistent and comprehensive whole, and so we are called to a knowledge of God which is personal, moral, and integrated to every area of life.  

William Ames (1576--1633), English puritan pastor and theologian, lived in exile (during the period of persecution of non-conformist clergy) in Holland and became Professor of Theology at Franeker.  In his inaugural address at the college, he stated his goal as a professor: “To see whether at least in our University I could in any way call theology away from questions and controversies, obscure, confused, and not very essential, and introduce it to life and practice so that students would begin to think seriously of conscience and its concerns.”  Theology was directly related to living.  His definition of theology might be summarized as the art of Godward living.  

Below is a slightly abridged chapter from The Marrow of Theology (or, Sacred Divinity), first published in 1629, which became the primary theology textbook used in the colleges of Harvard and Yale during the colonial period. 

The Marrow of Theology (1629), by William Ames, overview of chapter 1 -- Of the Definition or Nature of Theology 

1.  Theology is the doctrine or teaching of living to God. (John 6:68; Acts 5:20; Rom 6:11)

2.  It is called doctrine to mark it as a discipline which derives not from nature and human inquiry like others but from divine revelation.  (Isa 51:4; Matt 21:25; John 9:29; Gal 1:11-12)  

3.  The basic principles of theology, though they may be advanced by study and industry, are not in us by nature.  (Matt 16:17)  

4.  Since living is the noblest work of all, there cannot be any more proper study than the art of living.   

5.  Since the highest kind of life for a human being is that which approaches most closely the living and life-giving God, the nature of theological life is living to God. 

6.  Men live to God when they live according to the will of God, to the glory of God, and with God working in them. (1 Pet 4:2, 6; Gal 2:19-20; 2 Cor 4:10; Phil 1:20) 

7.  This life in essence remains one and the same from its beginning to eternity. (John 3:36; 5:24; 1 Jn 3:15) 

8.   Although this life may include both living happily and living well, yet living well is more excellent than living happily. What primarily ought to be sought is not happiness (which has to do with our pleasure) but goodness (which looks to God’s glory).  Theology is that good life whereby we live for God.  (1 Tim  6:3) 

9.  This life is a spiritual work of the whole man, in which we are brought to enjoy God, and to act according to his will.  Therefore, the first and proper subject of theology is the will, or heart.  (Prov 4:23; 23:26) 

10.  Since this life so willed by God is truly our most important practice, it is self-evident that theology is a practical, and not a speculative discipline.  

11.  Nor is there anything in theology which does not relate to the final end or to the means to that end, all of which refer directly to practice rather than speculation. 

12.  This practice of life is so perfectly reflected in theology, that there is no precept of universal truth relevant to living well in family, morality, civic life, or law-making which does not rightly relate to theology.  

13.  Theology, therefore, is to us the ultimate and noblest of all teaching arts.  It is a guide and master plan for our highest end, sent in a special manner from God, treating of divine things, and leading man to God.   It may be called “living to God”, “working towards God”, or “speaking of God”, as well as “theology”. 

~ Adapted from The Marrow of Theology, by William Ames (United Church Press, 1968; Labyrinth Press, 1983)


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