Theology is the systematic study of the nature of the divine and, more broadly, of religious belief. It is taught as an academic discipline, typically in universities and seminaries. It occupies itself with the unique content of analyzing the supernatural, but also deals with religious epistemology, asks and seeks to answer the question of revelation. Revelation pertains to the acceptance of God, gods, or deities, as not only transcendent or above the natural world, but also willing and able to interact with the natural world and, in particular, to reveal themselves to humankind.
While theology has turned into a secular field [according to whom?], religious adherents still consider theology to be a discipline that helps them live and understand concepts such as life and love and that helps them lead lives of obedience to the deities they follow or worship. Theologians use various forms of analysis and argument (experiential, philosophical, ethnographic, historical, and others) to help understand, explain, test, critique, defend or promote any myriad of religious topics. As in philosophy of ethics and case law, arguments often assume the existence of previously resolved questions, and develop by making analogies from them to draw new inferences in new situations.
The study of theology may help a theologian more deeply understand their own religious tradition, another religious tradition, or it may enable them to explore the nature of divinity without reference to any specific tradition. Theology may be used to propagate, reform, or justify a religious tradition; or it may be used to compare, challenge (e.g. biblical criticism), or oppose (e.g. irreligion) a religious tradition or worldview. Theology might also help a theologian address some present situation or need through a religious tradition, or to explore possible ways of interpreting the world.
There are different ways of approaching the study of theology, depending on the focus, method, and purpose of the inquiry. Some of the common types of theology are:
Biblical theology: This type of theology is the critical examination and interpretation of theological texts, especially the Bible. Biblical theology aims to understand the meaning and message of the biblical authors in their historical and cultural contexts, as well as how they relate to the overall canon of Scripture. Biblical theology also explores the themes, motifs, and patterns that emerge from the biblical writings.
Historical theology: This type of theology is the study of how Christian theology has changed over time, and how it has interacted, shaped, and been influenced by historical events across the world. Historical theology traces the development and diversity of Christian doctrines, movements, traditions, and institutions throughout history, and examines how they reflect and respond to their social and cultural contexts. Historical theology also evaluates the sources, methods, and validity of theological claims in light of historical evidence and criticism.
Systematic theology: This type of theology is the attempt to formulate a coherent system from the doctrines of Christian theology. Systematic theology organizes and synthesizes the teachings of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience into a comprehensive and consistent framework that addresses the major topics and questions of Christian faith and practice. Systematic theology also engages with other disciplines, such as philosophy, science, ethics, and culture, to articulate a Christian worldview and apologetic.
Practical theology: This type of theology is the application of theological insights and principles to various aspects of Christian life and ministry. Practical theology focuses on how theology informs and transforms personal spirituality, worship, ethics, mission, leadership, counseling, education, social justice, and other fields of practice. Practical theology also reflects on how Christian practices shape and challenge theological understanding and expression.
These types of theology are not mutually exclusive or isolated; rather, they are interrelated and complementary ways of exploring the rich and complex reality of God and God’s relation to the world.