What is the purpose of theology, what is its telos? Theology is defined as the study of God, and often times reduced to formulating a conceptual understanding of the characteristics of the divine. Proper theology is often times demarcated as that theology which fits into our foundational assumptions.
While our assumptions are global, they are not always recognized. We operate in a world of cognitive dissonance, a world where our understanding is so colored by our context, and yet we are unaware of its influence. Our world is viewed through a set of colored glasses, glasses that change the way we view the world. Over time, and absorption into our particular context we soon become unaware of the affect of those glasses, and progress to the point where we deny the existence of the glasses at all.
This plays directly into the hands of our foundational assumptions. We assume that our beliefs are orthodox, historic, and Biblical. Our glasses have taught us that our particular denomination, or theological school has the truth pinned down. We assume that we have discovered the objective rational perch on which to stand that gives us a birds eye view of all truth. From this perch we are able to avoid the pitfalls of context, background, desire, and assumption.
The affect of the Enlightenment on our theology is abounding. We have valued pure, rational, and absolutist statements about God above all else. We have assumed that we can properly speak of God in a manner that correctly defines both his character, and his work in the world. This assumption however, does not recognize the linguistic barrier between mankind and the divine. Linguistics is the tool we utilize to speak of God, however they are inherently flawed as a methodology to speak of the divine. Language inherently separates us from God. It is a human conception, with human pitfalls, unable to capture the divine.
In the process, many of our theologies abdicated their proper role. With our obsession regarding “right” theology we have ceased to fulfill our mission on the earth. Theology became more about right belief than about right action. The purpose of theology is mission. As Christians we are called to be the representatives of God on earth. We are called to reflect the image of God [the imago dei] on earth.
If our theology ceases to propel us into mission, it ceases to be an effective theology. While right teaching about God is important, and right belief equally necessary, if a theology ceases to send us into the world to accomplish the will of God it becomes a terminal theology.