By Timothy, The Rope Theology Contributor
So far we have covered the broad introduction to theology as well as the discipline of systematic theology. Today, we discuss my other favorite discipline — historical theology.
Historical theology is essentially the study of the history and development of doctrine. This can take on one of two forms. Either it is a study of the development of specific practices or doctrines (i.e. the evolution of baptismal theologies) or it can take a certain theme and trace it throughout history (i.e. Roger Olson’s brilliant work The Journey of Modern Theology that traces theology from the 1700’s through roughly 2000 with the theme of reactions to the Enlightenment/modernism).
So why is this important? For some of us (and I am firmly in this camp), it’s because we think that the best way to practice Christianity is to be in keeping with what the historical church has done. Because of this, we trace attitudes about certain doctrines from the early church to today. This helps us to better understand how to approach the topic in a faithful way today.
The only way forward as the church is by understanding where it is that we come from.
One of my professors in college was fond of saying, “Theological originality this late in the game is suspect at best.” Historical theology helps the theologian to be sure that they are in line with what the church has always believed and practiced.
The goal of historical theology, as is the goal of theology in general, is to foster right doctrine and practice in the church. It is not an abstract scholarly discipline, but one that hopes to provide local churches with resources that better allow them to worship God.