Four Sources of Christian Theology
29 SEP 2017
The Christian religion has many denominations, and each of them takes a slightly different approach to the various sources of Christian theology. However, although they may give the sources differing weights, most Christian groups accept at least four: scripture, tradition, reason and experience. For example, even Protestant groups that tend to place relatively little emphasis on tradition still accept the biblical canon, which was established through early Christian tradition.
The Christian Bible is made up of books that were written over the course of more than 1,000 years. It contains numerous genres, including poetry, letters and history. Its first section, the Old Testament, is mostly shared with the Jewish people, while its second half, the New Testament, tells the story of Jesus and the early Christian community. The Catholic Bible also includes the Apocrypha, which is an additional 14 books in the Old Testament that are not included in the Protestant and Jewish Bibles. Some Christians believe that every word in the Bible is literal truth while others see it as literature that provides a valuable moral foundation.
Initially, "tradition" referred to the list of beliefs that were passed down from Jesus to his followers, and on to their followers until they reached Christians today. However, today the concept has expanded to include approaches that guide different Christian groups' interpretations of the Bible. Some Christians, particularly Catholics and Orthodox, place heavy emphasis on tradition, while others are concerned that it can give people a distorted view of the Bible. However, almost all Christian groups use tradition to at least a limited extent.
Although some people - both Christians and non-Christians - consider reason to be the opposite of faith, many Christians emphasize that it is an essential aspect of their theological approach. They often use reason, like tradition, to help determine how to understand the Bible. However, most Christians do not believe that reason is infallible. Therefore, there will be times that Scripture and tradition conflict with reason, and in those cases most Christians will argue that reason is wrong.
Most Christians also consider experience, which includes people's five senses as well as their thoughts and feelings, to be an important source of theological understanding. Although people's understanding of their experience is subjective, what happens to them is still real, and so Christianity must be able to explain it. However, experience should be used in combination with the other sources of Christian theology, rather than as its only source.