For many of our students, this is their first foray into theological study. A majority of students have some connection with the Church, and many are motivated to study theology out of the desire to serve the world and human flourishing. Some may have grown weary, frustrated, or bored with Christianity. And in every year, we receive a few students new to the Church or Christian faith.
The term theology can be used both for the broad discipline of theological studies and for the specific sub-discipline sometimes referred to as Systematic Theology (a form of theology in which the aim is to arrange religious truths in a self-consistent whole.)
Essentially, Theology is the study of God. It is “faith seeking understanding”, in the famous words of Anselm of Canterbury. In studying theology, we seek to understand who God is and how God relates to our world. It can often be grounded in an active love of God, and as such is therefore rarely done in isolation from other spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, sacraments, charity, and commitment to community and justice. It is a discipline like no other because it often brings together life, faith, thought, and study.
And it is a discipline — there is an emphasis on intellectual honesty and academic rigour. The study of theology is not the same as a devotional study of the Bible. It encompasses interrelated sub-disciplines including Biblical Study, Church History, Systematic Theology, and Practical Theology. It doesn’t shy away from difficult questions or awful histories. It pursues facts and truths, even unsettling ones.
Studying theology is an adventure that is part discipline and part exploration. It is academic, but it is also incremental — and it will likely confront you, challenge you, and change you. Many of our graduates go on to become lifelong learners, if they weren’t already so before they started with us.
At St Mark’s, we believe that theology is best done in a community: with and for others. As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. It also refreshes you in your academic journey, lightens spiritual loads, and provides fresh ideas for your walk with God and your ministry. And this community is open to you long after you graduate.
Most of all, theology is more relevant today than ever. It is interrelated with disciplines such as architecture, history, linguistic study, music, philosophy, psychology, social sciences, symbol, textual analysis, just to name a few. All this to bring the best of human thinking to bear on the meaning and presence of the divine in the world.
Engaging with theology leads us to thinking and involvement in issues of inequity, injustice, environmental degradation, the sharing of natural resources, racism, violence, colonialism, and more. Our world needs more theologians out there, mixing it up in the highways and byways — challenging assumptions, building bridges, informing policy, championing theological ethics, and finding practical solutions to address social issues.
Ultimately, theology is an excursion into the triumph of love, hope and grace. You cannot help but be touched, humbled, and changed by it.
This book was prepared by a community of teachers at St Mark’s sharing common experiences of working with generations of commencing students confused, anxious, or energised by a new world of study. Expressed in plain language and featuring many practical tips, this book leads students through the essentials of preparing to study theology at a deeper level with a critical focus.