Theology: Ten Terms Everyone Should Know
Theology is not necessarily one of my strongest points when it comes to Christianity. While I think that I have a solid enough understanding of theology and a working knowledge of the study, this is more acquired than it is of any formal substance. This is because I essentially skipped over all of the basic introduction to theology courses. Instead, I jumped right into master level studies. Most people would start by taking some kind of Theology 101 class or something like that. And while I have the necessary requirements for ordination as far as the church is concerned, it is not something that I have really spent enough time studying.
In a couple of days I am going to attend an interview for ordination. This would formally move me from a licensed minister, to a reverend. One of the things that I was tasked to do for this interview was to work on my definitions for theological terms. Basic terms at that. During an informal interview, I struggled to have solid definitions for even the basic terms. Most of the terms all seem to mean the same thing at first glance. The funny thing is that theology is not something that always preaches that well. You do not win people to Christ by preaching a sermon with a bunch of 5+ syllable words. However, on the other hand, these terms are things that all Christians should have a good working understanding of. It is for this reason that I am sharing this brief vocabulary study with you. Hopefully reading this gives you a better understand of basic church terms. Welcome to my Theology 101 list of basic terms!
Why not start with the basics? Before attending a Christian university, I had probably rarely if ever heard the word theology. However, this is the root of our entire study! It shouldn’t be too hard to grasp an understanding of the word theology. Just surviving high school gives you the ability to figure it out on your own. I’ll help you out with the first part: Theo refers to God. This leaves “ology” which is the ending of a word meaning “study of.” Put the two parts together and you get “study of God.” See? Easy enough. If you want to get a little more specific is really is the study of the person of God, his nature, attributes, character, abilities, desires, and anything at all that has to do with God. Sounds like it might be a little important to study theology. (Joshua 1:8)
This is a term that most people have heard in church if they have ever attended even one time. Most people will attend church on an Easter service or a Christmas service. Either way, the word salvation would word. “Christ was born in order to bring salvation to the world.” “Christ died in order to bring salvation to the world.” It works both ways. You have probably heard the term salvation in relationship to the word “saving.” Salvation is us being saved from our sins (sins – anything we say think or do that displeases God, see Bible). Salvation requires a savior (Jesus). Salvation is being saved from the fair judgement of God for the effects of sin. (Rom. 6:23)
Here is a tricky word in theology. In plain English we understand the word to mean that someone is declared correct in their actions or thoughts. It is saying that the actions taken by a person were right based on the situation. “Were you justified in your actions?” But what does this mean theologically? Well, it is God declaring that a person is righteous. It is an act of God that provides that a sinner is innocent of their sins. Their sins are justified through the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross. To my understanding, Justification is the action that God takes when a person prays to receive Christ. God sees the sinful human through the blood of Christ and is given the benefits of salvation. (Romans 5:9)
Redemption was one of the words that I mixed up in a recent meeting with a fellow Pastor. His initial guidance to help with the understanding of the word was to think about how bottles have a deposit (at least here in New York we get a nickel returned to us when we return the bottle. It’s called bottle redemption). We are getting a return on a deposit that we made when we purchased the bottle. The theology concept is that we are being redeemed from the power of sin. We were bought with a price. God is returning to us the relationship that was destroyed by sin. Redemption is the process of freeing someone from bondage. (1 Cor. 6:20)
To sanctify something means to set something apart to make holy. Sanctification therefore is a process that takes place in our lives. It is the step that comes after Justification and Redemption. God forgives us through justification which allows for the process of Sanctification. The Holy Spirit guides us through the process of sanctification. In essence, sanctification in the Christian’s life is the process of become more like Christ, or more “perfect.” It is only after the recognition of sin and the repentance for it that we are able to start the process of sanctification. Think of it in relation to John 15:2.
5.1) Entire Sanctification
Entire Sanctification is a term in theology that is open to much debate. Being of Wesleyan background I felt that it is something that was worth including here. Entire Sanctification is the concept of Christian holiness, or Christian perfection. This means, achieving a life on earth free from sin. Now, there are apparently different ways to define or different levels to sanctification. If you want to read more about this I recommend this great post by Dr. Chris Bounds where he breaks down entire sanctification into levels or definitions. However, when it comes to entire sanctification to me, I understand it to be something that regardless of whether or not we believe it can be or should be achieved on earth; it is something that any God fearing Christian should seek to become. (Matthew 5:48)
The toned down Christian-ese phrase that equates to regeneration is “being born-again.” People sometimes identify themselves as a born again Christian. It is a spiritual change that God does through the work of the Holy Spirit. This allows the Christian to possess a new life that leads to eternal life instead of death. Where justification is the changing of the relationship between man and God, and sanctification is the changing of our lives to be more like Christ, regeneration is the starting point of our new life in Christ. (2 Cor. 5:17)
Holiness is a theological attribute applied to God. True holiness is something that is reserved for God himself. It is the idea of complete perfection, sinless, and even the inability to sin. Even Jesus had the ability to sin, though he chose not to. He was tempted plenty of times, but successfully resisted. Thus, to most extents Jesus too is holy. Once again, we are made holy through the sacrifice of Christ. (1 Peter 1:16)
8.) Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent
These three words are also characteristics of God. They sound like really big intimidating words, but they are not. Once you know that “Omni” means all, you get the start. Omniscient is all-knowing, omnipotent is all-powerful, omnipresent is being present at all places at all times. Essentially, this means that God is not bound by the laws of nature. He doesn’t have to live by the rules of man and science.
Trinitarian is a theology all on its own. Obviously trinity means three, but what does that have to do with God? Well it is the concept that God is three in one and one in three. It means that there are three persons in one God. This is not to be confused with Tritheism which would be the concept that there are actually three Gods. The three persons of the trinity are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. If you have ever seen someone baptized, you have heard them baptized in these three names. What makes the concept a little difficult is that the word trinity is never actually mentioned in the Bible. Rather it was put together based on the Scripture and the traits that we understand about God. It is theology itself that brought about the belief in the Trinity. If you want more on the topic without getting too crazy check this out: The Trinity. If you want a much more advanced theological understanding or perhaps misunderstanding of the Trinity in a somewhat humorous fashion, check out the video below.
Grace is a concept that most of us are probably familiar with. It is a person’s name after all. It is often associated with Justice (getting what we deserve) and Mercy (not getting what we deserve). Instead, Grace is getting what we do not deserve. A cute way to look at it is like this:
Grace is the reception of eternal life through the forgiveness of sins by the shedding of Christ’s blood. Christians live under the grace of God, rather that the suffering of sin. (Romans 6:14)
Phew, so there we have it. Theology 101. Or something like that. There are a ton of different terms that are useful for understanding Christianity, God, and spirituality. Some of these are terms that will help you to better understand the Sunday morning sermon. Others are great for better understanding the Bible. All of them help us to acquire a more full picture of the person of God. If you want to expand your study on theology terms, I highly recommend the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website. They do a fantastic job at connecting theological terms with scripture references. I used them a lot in this study and will certainly be using the resources going forward.
What about you? Are there terms that you do not understand that you have heard in regard to the church? Do you have better ways to explain the complex terms or creative ways to remember them? I would love to hear from you. After all, I never took an intro to theology class. God Bless.