There are at least two key differences that distinguish theology from other intellectual disciplines like philosophy and religion.
The first difference is that theology is not the study of ideas about God; it is the study of the living God. Christian theology, then, is different from the study of seventeenth century French literature, ancient Greek religion, and medieval philosophers because the Christian claims that he or she is in personal contact with the subject of study.
It is one thing to discuss William Shakespeare in the classroom, but it would be quite another thing to do that if Shakespeare was standing in the classroom with you. Theology, then, is not an objective discipline (i.e., a detached study of an object) like the physical sciences, nor is it a descriptive discipline like the social sciences. Theology is speaking about God while in the very presence of God. We are intimately engaged with the subject of our study.
Second, theology is studied and performed in a community of faith. Theology is something that is learned, lived, sung, preached, and renewed through the dynamic interaction between God and his people. Theology is the conversation that takes place between family members in the household of faith about what it means to behold and believe in God. Theology is the attempt to verbalize and to perform our relationship with God.
Theology can be likened to the process of learning to take part in a divinely directed musical called “Godspell”… To do theology is to describe the God who acts, to be acted upon, and to become an actor in the divine drama of God’s plan to repossess the world for himself.
Evangelical theology, then, is the drama of gospelizing. By “gospelizing” I mean trying to become what the gospel intends believers to be: slaves of Christ, vessels of grace, agents of the kingdom, and a people worthy of God’s name.
Dedication to the art of gospelizing is crucial because “evangelicals need to recapture a passion for biblical formation: a desire to be formed, reformed and transformed by the truth and power of the gospel.” [Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Evangelicalism and the Church: The Company of the Gospel,” in The Futures of Evangelicalism: Issues and Prospects (ed. C. Bartholomew, R. Parry, and A. West; Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 2003), 72.] To pursue Kevin Vanhoozer’s image, the task of theology is to enable disciples to perform the script of the Scriptures, according to advice of the dramaturge the Holy Spirit, in obedience to the design of the director, Jesus Christ, with the gospel as the theme music, and performed in the theater of the church. The company of the gospel shows what they believe in an open-air performance staged for the benefit of the world.
The purpose of gospelizing is to ensure that those who bear Christ’s name walk in Christ’s way. [Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), 16, 102, 442.] Consequently, theology is the task for disciples of Jesus to begin excavating the manifold truth of the gospel and to start ref lecting the spiritual realities that the gospel endeavors to cultivate in their own lives…
Let us never forget that evangelicals are called to be in the business of the evangel and all that pertains to it. I want to make it clear that being an evangelical is not about fractious theological polemics or schmoozing to the latest cultural fad.
We are in the business of gospelizing, proclaiming the good news, and discipling men and women in a gospel-driven faith. Our task is to make sure that our spirituality, mission, worship, preaching, ministry, social concern, prayer, and counseling are characteristically evangelicalesque. We must become vessels of the gospel and carry the good news of Jesus Christ with us wherever we go; otherwise, we have no right to call ourselves evangelicals.