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THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF THEOLOGY.
1. Christian Theology is based on the great fact of Christianity in the world. Its specific materials are found in the whole history of God's redemptive and lightgiving self-manifestation, and the truths involved and established in that divine movement. The scope of its inquiries and formulations, therefore, embraces the essential facts and meaning of the most unique and wonderful phenomenon that the records of time present, the mightiest and most beneficent power that proves itself to be not only the spiritual salvation of men, but social regeneration and advancing civilization to the nations.
This scope is only partially indicated in the etymology of the term, as derived from Béos and Loyos, meaning, literally, discourse concerning God, or the knowledge of God. Though sometimes used in this restricted sense of designating simply the particular discussion. concerning God,” it is usually employed to denote the whole science which treats of the doctrines of religion: Theology may, therefore, be defined as the doctrine concerning God and the relations between God and the universe. Some specific things should be noted : (a) The term comes over from pagan into Christian
It was employed by various heathen writers' to denote the views entertained with respect to the Greek
1 Pherecydes of Syros (B. C. 600-550); Epimenides of Crete (B. C. 550-500); Plato (B. C. 427-348); Polit. Lib. ii., Republic, 379. A.,.
Aristotle (B. C. 384-322); Metaph. xi. 7.
gods and their doings in the world.
Writers who gave accounts of the gods and taught concerning their nature were called “theologians” (Deodóyou). Aristotle termed the highest branch of philosophy “theological” (Deo oyuń)."
(6) The earliest Christian use seems to have been the very peculiar and narrow one of denoting the Deity of Christ, according to John i. 1, "And the Word (ó Móryos)
i was God” (éos), and also the doctrine of the Trinity. It was from his assertion of this doctrine that St. John was called “the theologian," and Gregory Nazianzen was afterward honored with the same title. This special sense passed away after the Nicene period.
(C) From the fourth century Christian writers appropriated the word, according to its etymological sense, to denote the discussion of the nature, attributes, and works of God; but it was not until the twelfth century that it assumed the comprehensiveness of its modern meaning, as including the entire circle and sum of Christian doctrine or religious truth as completed in the redemptory revelation. But from the time of Abelard's Christiana Theologia this has been the scope of its signification.
(d) Among Protestants generally the sense of the term has been deepened in import, so as to mean more than a cold speculative view of God and the truths of the sacred Scriptures. It implies, and carries in its method and content, the living insight of the regenerate mind, the clarified vision and appreciation of the Christian consciousness, in accordance with the word of St. Paul concerning Christian verities: “They are spiritually discerned." This conception correctly assumes the
1 Metaph. xi. 7. Luther held the maxim: “Oratio, meditatio, tentatio faciunt
principle that it is only through the experiences of a living, obedient faith in Jesus Christ that the realties of redeeming grace and the truths of the Christian life can be rightly and profoundly understood. The true theo logian, therefore, must be a genuine Christian, into whose innermost life the subject-matter of theology has entered with its self-explaining and guaranteeing power.
The practical aim of theology, as well as the clear, deep insight into its spiritual verities, implies this same qualification. Its end is not realized in the mere pro duction of a theoretical system. Though no range of thought is in itself more replete with mental interest, it, nevertheless, properly looks beyond itself to the religious and moral service for which the knowledge with which it deals has been given. It stands for the efficient exhibition and vindication of the truth designed for the life of the world and the holiest interests of humanity. Its value is not in its speculative import, but in its relation to the divine utilities of the kingdom of God. It is unvitalized and dwarfed if attempted apart from its Christian spirit and as a mere intellectual dialectic. It attains its proper relations and dignity only when it keeps loyally and steadily in view the great practical service for which Christianity itself exists in the world. Were it not so often divorced from this practical mission and held as having its end in simple theoretic interest and the exploitation of fresh system-building, it would not so frequently appear in speculative misconstructions or modifications which obscure and confuse the divine adaptations. The sacred truths
theologum ” (Prayer, meditation, trial make the theologian). Melanchthon says:
“ Pectus facit theologum (The heart makes the theologian).
of religion are for more serious use than display of everchanging theological pyrotechnics; and nothing short of a genuine experience of their living power and object will suffice to mould and hold all the theological explanations and systemization in true focus of power for the accomplishment of the great purposes which form the reasons of the existence of Christianity.
Combining in a single statement the ideas thus suggested, theology, in the fullest sense now used, denotes the entire body of truth ascertainable concerning God, and especially the doctrine embraced in Christianity, as taught in the Holy Scriptures and apprehended and developed into accepted view by the sanctified mind and heart of the Church under the training of the Holy Spirit.
2. The subject-matter is scientific, and theology is a science. The method of theology is the scientific method of thorough investigation, exact definition, and logical conclusion. " Wherever observation establishes a group of facts, visible or invisible, linked together by internal relations, forming a distinct class in the midst of others, there is room for a special science.” This is the case here. The disclaimers on this point by a few Christian writers and the denials often made by scientists are alike based on misconception either of the necessary constituents to science or of the actual data of theology. Phenomena become subjects for science, not by reason of their source, but by reason of their existence—not by virtue of their class, but by virtue of their occurrence. The phenomena of religion, especially those of Christianity, are among the most outstanding, indubitable, and operative in the history and experience of the world, and as truly open for investigation, elucidation,
and theoretic view as any facts that form the subjects of the most fully recognized sciences. The distinction between material and spiritual phenomena, or between natural and supernatural, cannot legitimately be pleaded against a possible science of theology. For the plea is but an assumption, prejudging the very question involved, when it assumes that the universe, of which this world is a part, includes and manifests no spiritual or supernatural reality, purpose, and movement. The notion could be of force only after its advocates had shown the falsity of the whole teleological conception of the world, which holds to the existence of God as Creator and Moral Governor, who seeks moral ends through an historical movement of creation, providence, revelation, and redemption-ends which form the divine reason for the existence and order of the physical cosmos.
There is no reason why God may not be a God of order in the sphere of spiritual and supernatural activity as well as in the sphere of material movements—especially if the order be the higher and supremely authoritative one of moral relations, necessities, causation, and manifestation. As long, therefore, as it is recognized that there are spiritual realities embraced in human life and well-being, and that there is a God over and in the world, whose absolute supernatural reason, love, will, and power hold and subordinate to their divine aims the whole system of nature and the course of history, so long the phenomena and teachings of Christianity must be entitled to the careful and comprehensive consideration and formulation which mark the genuine scientific spirit and method in its loving search after the truth. And when this method is justly applied, the result reached, and logically validated by the actual facts, forms an organized knowledge which has a