Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | August 24, 2008

Queen of the Sciences

I was puzzled the first time I learned that, during the middle ages, theology was called the “queen of the sciences.” I remember thinking “theology isn’t a science, it’s part of the humanities.”

I wondered about it for years. Then one day it dawned on me: Science is an attempt to describe the nature of reality – and so is Theology:

Each observes and draws conclusions about what is real and what is not real – and attempts to make accurate statements about the nature of reality.

Each can observe correctly or incorrectly and each can draw true or false conclusions, but both are still engaged in the same task: attempting to correctly describe reality.

It’s true that Theology uses revelation as a source of information and Science uses only observation by the five senses, but they are still each attempting to correctly describe the nature of reality.

At a fundamental level all Christians believe that Theology is a Science:

We believe that God, humanity, and the universe can be described in ways that are more accurate or less accurate.

We believe that there is a reality about the nature of Divine and human existence that can be described correctly or incorrectly.

We don’t believe that our descriptions of this reality cause it to come into being or to change. We believe that God is God, humanity is humanity, and Christian Theology is describing what it sees – not creating it.

That’s why it’s so strange and, really, anti-Christian when we use subjective language to describe the gospel. For example:

A scientist would make an objective statement about reality: “the earth orbits the sun.” He would never make a subjective statement about reality: “if you believe the earth orbits the sun, then it does; if you don’t believe it then it doesn’t.”

Likewise, the gospel makes an objective statement about reality: “God the Son has become flesh and blood and adopted humanity into the Triune Life.” It should seem ridiculous to us to say “if you believe you are adopted into God’s life then you are and if you don’t believe it then you’re not.”

Why have we tolerated such language? Because even though we do believe in the scientific nature of Christian Theology – i.e. that Christian Theology is attempting to describe reality – we have not fully understood the reality it is describing.

We have thought that it was describing a real potential: the reality that we can potentially make ourselves children of the Father by our belief or action.

In fact, Christian Theology is describing the real nature of existence: the whole creation exists in and through the Son of God and in the Son’s incarnation the Father has adopted humanity as his children (Acts 17:28, Col. 1:17, Eph. 1:5, Col. 1:20, Rom. 5:18, Heb. 2:14-15).

This is a scientific statement, not a subjective feeling. Jesus is the revelation that, in and through him, we are adopted children of the Father. Our feeling or belief doesn’t make it true or untrue any more than our feeling or belief makes it true that the earth orbits the sun.

Either humanity is adopted into the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit – and therefore Christian Theology’s description of reality is correct – or we’re not adopted and Christian Theology is incorrect. But the one thing that Christian Theology is not is an invitation to magically change the nature of reality by thinking the right thoughts or saying the right words. That’s superstition, not science.

And that’s why Christian Theology is good news! It’s a description of reality that says we are all safe and at home in the Father’s heart through Jesus.

In my next post I’ll talk about how the Science that we call “Theology” is a necessary subject of study for all people.

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Responses

  1. Thank you for this. I just want to say AMEN. The describing of what is real. Where do I ask for prayer?

  2. 3 things that struck me about what you wrote.

    1). Anyone who has a PhD is a Doctor of Philosophy no matter how specifically scientific or technical the field is. This is because that all fields start as a philosophy and once enough knowledge is gained or technology evolves to accurately measure the fields subject of study, then it becomes a science.

    2). I find it intriguing that the Omnipresent attribute of God has already been mathematically demonstrated in M-theory by Physicists. Omnipresence is now a quantifiable scientific fact although not necessarily attributed to God by the scientists. M-theory is the successor to string theory and heavy grav theory. One of the things M-theory states is that there is a thin membrane that connects all matter in the universe together. It exists in the 11th dimension. Thus some of the more mysterious attributes of theology are becoming measurable and quantifiable.

    3). I find it absurd that there are those in modern evangelical circles that label trinitarian theology as existentialist. There is nothing more existential than thinking a created being beliefs can change the very objective nature of God by that creations belief or deeds. Further, not only that God’s objective nature is changed, but that God altering belief comes in uniquely different ways, at uniquely different times, and uniquely different amounts that are unique to every individual believer. Belief or belief and deeds to be saved theology (legalism) is the epitome of theistic existentialism.

  3. Thanks for the encouragement, Franco!
    Wow, Tim, thanks for the great insights!
    I especially like your third point. Standard evangelicalism is totally existential and won’t yet admit it, but I think the day is coming.

  4. I appreciate the discussion of theology as a scientific pursuit to describe reality with revelation as it’s database. Another thing I’d like to add about the true value of thelogy. A friend of mine, who disagreed with Trinitarian theology, told me: “we go to a church that studies the Bible, not writings.” This astounded me. The implication was that she and her family were studying in a Bible-bubble without any human involvement. However, everytime we apply the scriptures to life, everytime we give or hear a sermon, we are doing theology, or, in her term, “writings.” I see theology as the conversation the Christian world has been having for the last 2000 years. The difference: the Holy Spirit guiding us into all truth. God loves it when we do theology! Whenever we speak or write about God to one another, he writes it down in a book of rememberance (Malachi 3:16).

  5. “Another thing I’d like to add about the true value of thelogy. A friend of mine, who disagreed with Trinitarian theology, told me: “we go to a church that studies the Bible, not writings.” This astounded me. The implication was that she and her family were studying in a Bible-bubble without any human involvement”

    This is a helpfully placed comment for me. I think I fall into a camp that could be accused of bible worship. I just read this weekend from an article about the living Word. My companions and I were so quick to jettison anything before 1511 and Justification. (except for Augustinianism), we saw church history justifying our system as recovery of the “Truths” that we were coming to mine out of the Scriptures. Looking back at it all; most of us were pure amateurs. There is so much to mine out of the “writings” of men who know the human heart and how it gets twisted around by the darkness. Earlier writings in “church” history are so steeped in describing to us the nature of reality from God’s viewpoint of us in HIS SON. I am in need of all the “writings” that tell me the who, what, why of my life. We need writings because of the ease with which we stray. I am the one who needs them at least. Write on my friends!

  6. I agree with Franco, Jerome, you make a very good point. It is all too common for Christians to claim they don’t do theology – they just believe the bible – but even the act of reading the bible is an act of theological interpretation. It is an act of determining what letters and words mean and how they fit together to form a coherent overall meaning. To be alive and be human is to have a theology! Everyone believes something about God, even if they believe he doesn’t exist. The question is not whether we will do theology but whether we will do it in a Christ-centered way or not.

  7. Jonathan,

    “To be alive and be human is to have a theology! Everyone believes something about God, even if they believe he doesn’t exist. The question is not whether we will do theology but whether we will do it in a Christ-centered way or not.”

    That is one of the most concise and clear statements I have ever read about theology! 🙂


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