Friday, March 23, 2012

Theology 101 For Novelists: How :"Boring" and "Divisive" Doctrine Can Make Your Story More Interesting

Angelology and eschatology can produce a best seller, but a study on harmatiology can create a deep and thrilling novel.

No, I'm not cursing at you and I'm not speaking in tongues either. And no, you don't need to grab your dictionary – I have some long words you may not be familiar with, but I'll define them.

Raise your hands if you think theology is something that can enhance your novel. I see one hand. Wait, that's my hand I see!

Some may think theology is boring. It can be but not if it's taught right. Others will say that theology is divisive. Technically, it's the differences in theology that divides.

Let me surprise you. All of you have a theology. In fact, if you're a Christian you have a belief in the ten major fields of theology and if you're not you still have views in the vast majority. You may not have it written out with notes indicating the Scriptures you appeal to for that belief or even be aware of it, but you still have a theology.

Is that enough of a shocker? Let me go a step further: Each of your characters has a theology in the ten fields I'll introduce you to. The characters might have varying theologies and these might bring about the conflict.

As I said, theology in and of itself isn't divisive. We may disagree on some of the aspects of these ten fields, but I'm sure we agree about that we have beliefs that fit in these categories. I'll be sharing these theological divisions in the order that my college curriculum covered them.

  1. BIBLIOLOGY: Doctrine of Scripture. Is it inspired? How was it inspired? Does it contain errors?

  2. THEOLOGY PROPER: Doctrine of God. What are His attributes? Is the Trinity fact or fiction?

  3. CHRISTOLOGY: Doctrine of Christ. (That was a tough one to figure out, wasn't it?!) Is Jesus Christ God in the flesh? If so, was he fully God and fully man? Was He sinless and could He have fallen into temptation?

  4. PNUEMATOLOGY: Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. What is the nature of the baptism, indwelling, and filling of the Spirit? Spiritual gifts falls into this category as well.

  5. ANTHROPOLOGY: Doctrine of man. A term not limited to Christianity. Was man created in God's image? What was the nature of the fall?

  6. HARMATIOLOGY: Doctrine of sin. What is sin and how does it affect our relationship with God and with each other?

  7. ANGELOLOGY: Doctrine of angels. (Another one that you wouldn't have guessed without help, right?!) What is the nature of angels? This field also deals with Satan and demons. Frank Peretti's Darkness series deals with this field.

  8. SOTEROLOGY: Doctrine of salvation. Are we saved by grace alone, by our good deeds, or some combination? Are we elect or do we have free will? Can we lose our salvation?

  9. ECCLESIOLOGY: Doctrine of the church. What is the nature and authority of the church? Is the local church autonomous?

  10. ESCHATOLOGY: Doctrine of last things. Is there a coming, thousand-year long Kingdom? If so, will Christ return to set it up or will the church establish it with Christ coming to claim it? Is there a coming time of testing? Will the church be there for all of it, none of it, or part of it? By the way, has anyone heard of a series which started with the book Left Behind?

As I have on my tagline, who says theology can't be thrilling? Hopefully, you no longer see theology as boring or a field that distracts from the action. And maybe you don't see it as much divisive as a great source for page turning conflict.

By the way, I am an ordained minister. I've graduated from Southwestern Conservative Baptist Bible College (now known as Arizona Christian University) in Phoenix, Arizona.


  1. Nice one! I have a degree in theology, too, and think it's thrilling stuff. I love this post!

  2. Thanks for this list, Jeff! I think theology is so interesting!

  3. just a layperson, theology is pretty important. I used my knowledge of theology in writing a conversion scene. I don't know how I would have made it credible w/o knowing some theology. ACFW member

  4. Wonderful insights, reminders, and spark plugs --thank you! My mental wheels are turning!

  5. Karla, Melanie, Susan, and Cathy, Thanks for your comments.

    Addressing Susan's comments -- a lot of times we think of theology as deep, needing big dictionaries for multi-syllable words. We forget that those multi-syllable words have every day meanings, and that sometimes are really easy to understand -- just hard to believe and practice.


  6. Theology 101?? More like Advanced Theology 601! I learned a "bunch," always inspiring at "my age" -- thanks! Now to see where/if my writing fits these categories. . . and my speaking notes, too. . . :-)

  7. That hand you saw was mine, Jeff. Theology is fascinating as you proved, but the stories about how it drives people and behavior even more so. The terms weren't all ones I was familiar with, so thanks.