Can theology evolve? How can it not?

I was asked: I question whether theology itself evolves, or is it our understanding of it that evolves?


An interesting question.

Years ago on BBC radio there was a programme called ‘The Brains Trust’. They answered questions sent in by listeners. One of the panel always used to begin his answer with ‘It all depends what you mean by…’. Well, ‘It all depends what you mean by theology’.

Oxford Dictionaries define theology as – ‘the study of the nature of God and religious belief’ or ‘religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed’.

So theology relates to the study of God and/or religious beliefs. If that is accepted then unless we have total and complete knowledge of God then our theology, our study, must grow and develop as we learn, both as individuals and as humanity. If we believe our knowledge is total we are either, ourselves, God, or deluded. Christians have historically developed theology by reading and interpreting the Bible. Over time people have found different translations and versions of the Bible. Each has offered a, sometimes slight, sometimes great, difference of perspective. Each time believers have altered their theological understanding or resisted the new or different knowledge all based on the ‘same Bible’. Over such differences wars have been fought, people have been taken into slavery and methods of secular government have been developed. And this is all within Christian theology. Add to this Jewish, Islamic, Hindu… you see the reason why the question is not straightforward. Our understanding of God must evolve as we live and learn.

But assume for a moment that the dictionary definition isn’t one we accept. What if we see theology as being simply what God is like. If this is so then surely God is unchanging. Granted (though not by everyone). If this is so we can surely ‘know God’ in some sort of final way. After a lifetime of marriage you may not know your partner/husband/wife. You may still be surprised, delighted or frustrated by them. And your understanding changes, evolves. If not then your relationship will remain in the shallows and never gain much depth. It evolves.

So if we see theology as the study of God or the object of our study it is never likely to be static. It must evolve!