What are the sources of Christian theology?
Christianity doesn’t come from nowhere.
It is the product of 2,000 years of progress in religious knowledge.
The knowledge used to refine and articulate the religion comes from a variety of sources.
And a person interested in learning how Christianity has developed may appreciate an answer to the following question:
What are the sources of Christian theology?
Nine sources are used to construct Christian theology. They are: revelation, tradition, The Bible, Liturgy, councils, the Church Fathers, saints, canons, and church art. Of these sources, revelation, tradition, and The Bible are the most important. The others are often derived from these three.
Now let’s explore what each of these sources represents and the proper role it plays in church doctrine.
So, what are the sources of Christian theology?
The Hebrew people began with Abraham, to whom God revealed himself.
The Old Testament began with the Five Books of Moses, which were given by God.
Christianity begins with the deliverance of Jesus Christ to men.
The development of Judeo-Christian religion begins with God’s revelations. God reveals something of value, and that which is revealed serves as the foundation upon which all other practices are built.
The First Commandment requires that this would be the case.
If those things which are given by God Himself are not given priority over all others, then the people who have ranked the sources have broken the First Commandment.
They have placed things which did not come from God before those which did and, in doing so, have exalted they who produced them above the Lord.
New knowledge is built upon old knowledge.
And tradition is the culmination of all the prior knowledge which has been collected, refined, and integrated into one whole.
Any doctrine which is constructed must hold tradition in high regard. This is to ensure that new teachings do not undermine the old.
And this concord between old and new teaching must exist in order for either one to remain.
For if new doctrine is in conflict with old doctrine, then one of two outcomes may occur.
The Two Outcomes
First, the new doctrine may undermine the old doctrine entirely. And its creators will reject the tradition they have inherited. If this happens, then the new teaching will fall away as well.
This is because the new doctrine, having been constructed from prior knowledge, will have undermined the source of that knowledge and, therefore, its own credibility.
This is analogous to a man who decides to attack his legs while he is standing.
So a new doctrine that undermines the old undermines itself.
However, the people who create a new doctrine while they reject tradition may recognize that they are destroying their own legitimacy.
So they try combining new doctrines with old ones even when the two are mutually exclusive.
Yet the two cannot be combined because they repel one another. This leads to the creation of factions within the organization where the new doctrines have been added.
These factions then struggle against one another while forces outside try to overcome the faction during its civil war.
The result is one of three things: tradition is lost, the novel doctrine is lost, or the organization disintegrates. Of these three outcomes, only the second allows for the continued existence of the religion.
So tradition must be kept and honored for religion to continue existing.
Protestants, by rejecting tradition, have undermined their legitimacy in the first way I have described above. This is the reason why Christianity has become a laughingstock within the Protestant nations.
The Bible is the clearest and most comprehensive form of divine revelation given to humans. It is divided into the Old and New Testaments.
Of these two, the New Testament takes precedence over the Old. This is because the New Testament records the life and actions of Christ, who is the fulfillment of those things foretold in the Old.
The Bible is the Written Word of God which describes the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.
Protestants like to treat The Bible as the highest source of doctrine. They do this because they lack tradition to emphasize and because this is the most convenient position for them to take.
Orthodox and Catholic Christians reject the idea that The Bible should be treated as the sole source of doctrine. They call this heresy Sola Scriptura.
The view that the Catholics and Orthodox share on The Bible and its proper role as a source of doctrine is the correct view because they wrote it.
Liturgy is the name given to those common practices which Christians practice when they are gathered together in worship.
It is the most observable part of church tradition because it is the one which Christians act out most consistently.
Councils – Debates on the Sources of Christian Theology
The leaders of the church have occasionally gathered together to resolve disputes which threaten the Church as a whole.
These gatherings are called ecumenical councils.
The rulings of these councils are considered binding by those Christians who accept them.
The Roman Catholics continue to accept their validity.
The Orthodox, on the other hand, accept the results of the first seven councils and have declared further gatherings heretical.
The Church Fathers
The apostles whom Jesus chose to run his church and the people who followed them shortly afterward left a collection of writings which Christians can use to discern proper church practice.
Catholic and Orthodox Christians strongly emphasize the importance of these writings in their scholarship.
Protestants usually ignore the writings of the Church Fathers because the Fathers tend to take positions that condemn common Protestant views.
A saint is a person who has achieved the ideal that God had intended for them. Saints occupy the highest tiers in Heaven, and people are meant to learn from their example.
It is for this reason that they are praised within Catholicism and Orthodoxy.
The lessons which can be learned from the lives of the saints are sometimes used to understand theological issues, although they are used more often to provide guidance for single persons.
Protestantism is much younger than the other Christian forms. Therefore, it does not have many saints to its name.
So Protestants like to reject sainthood and those things which accompany it in order to avoid looking bad by comparison.
Of course, they do not admit that this is their real reason for rejecting saints. It makes them look too petty.
Canons are the laws of the church, and they cover a large variety of things.
When new doctrines are considered, the canons are reviewed in order to ensure that a new practice does not contradict a previous one.
Protestants create new canon more-or-less as they please.
Catholics occasionally call ecumenical councils to establish or clarify canon.
The Orthodox have condemned ecumenism as a heresy.
Yet ecumenical councils are the tools used to establish new canon.
So the Orthodox lack a reliable tool for establishing church-wide canon. And this difficulty is often used by other Christians as an excuse to criticize the religion.
Church Art as a Source of Christian Theology
Icons, music, paintings, and other works are used to signify church doctrine and its idealized transformative effects on the individual and society.
They show what a person may become when they are changed by church teachings.
It is for this reason that church artwork is useful for persons who want to discern the proper mode of being. Church art sets a standard that the Christian should aspire to meet.
Conclusion – What Are the Sources of Christian Theology?
The sources of Christian theology are given, in order of import, in the list below.
- The Bible
- The Church Fathers
- And Church Art