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Identifying Your Key Theological Claims

Written by Jeremy Myers

When teaching college students how to think theologically, I often hear them say, “I don’t know if I can think theologically because I’m not really even sure what my key beliefs are.” What follows is a process I have used many times when helping high school students, college students, and adults become more aware of the key theological claims that shape how they understand and interpret life. You can go through this process on your own, with a partner, or with a group. If doing with others, find moments when you can share what you are writing with one another and offer feedback to each other. 

Candle on a table in the sun with a group of people and a small table blurred out in the background. Brainstorming Your Core Beliefs

  1. Using index cards, post-its, or small slips of paper, write down all the biblical stories and lessons that are important to you. Write one per piece of paper. Leave room on each piece of paper to add more later.
  2. Continue to use index cards, post-its, or slips of paper and now write all the things you have been taught about God that are most important to you – attributes of God, things God does, things God doesn’t do, how God does things, why God does things, etc. Again, write only one on each piece of paper and leave room on each piece for more writing later.
  3. On each piece of paper write a brief description of why that particular biblical story, biblical lesson, or belief about God is important to you.

Organizing Your Core Beliefs into Themes

  1. Organize your individual pieces of paper into clusters with others that are similar.
  2. After you have clustered similar ones together, write a one-word title for the shared theme of those cards and brief description of that theme. These themes are your key theological claims. The individual cards under each theme are specific examples of your core theological claims.

Interrogating Your Core Theological Claims

  1. Reflect on this definition of theology by theologian Douglas John Hall (from “What is Theology? in Crosscurrents, 2003): “Theology is what occurs when the Christian community knows itself to be living between text and context . . . between the tradition bequeathed to it from those who have gone before and the unfinished book of time present and future. Or perhaps we could put it even more simply: Theology is that ongoing activity of the whole church that aims at clarifying what “gospel” must mean here and now. . . The [gospel] is good [news] because it challenges and displaces bad news. Gospel addresses us at the place where we are overwhelmed by an awareness . . . of what is wrong with the world and with ourselves in it. It is good news because it engages, takes on and does battle with the bad news, offering another alternative, another vision of what could be, another way into the future.”

2. Spend some time thinking about each of your key theological claims in light of Hall’s definition of theology and gospel above.

  • When has this claim been good news for you? How? Why?
  • When has this claim been good news for your neighbor? How? Why?
  • Has this claim ever been bad news for you or your neighbor? When? How? Why? If so, do you think this claim might need to be reevaluated or let go?

Practicing Using Your Core Theological Claims

  1. Pick a controversial issue or a current local or global crisis. Examine that issue or crisis through the lens of your key theological claims.
    1. How do your theological claims inform how you think and feel about this issue?
    2. Do they change your perspective? How? Why?
    3. Are they helpful? Problematic? How? Why?

Next Steps

  1. Now that you have gained more insight into your key theological claims, it is important to be honest about how they might be helpful and how they might be harmful.
    1. How do you see your key theological claims being helpful?
    2. How do you see your key theological claims being potentially harmful?
  2. Who can you share these key theological claims with for feedback and conversation?

As you move forward from this exercise, remember the words of Douglas John Hall, “Theology is that ongoing activity of the whole church that aims at clarifying what [good news] must mean here and now.”