The Pillars of Theology

In any building there are key foundational structures that ensure the stability and strength of the building.  Without a strong foundation, for example, a building might topple to the ground.  In the study of God, or theology, there are three foundational pillars that are absolutely essential to the integrity of the theological task.  Without these foundational pillars, a person’s theology will undoubtedly tumble to the ground.  The first such pillar is orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy is the word that we use for correct doctrine.  The word is made up of two Greek words, orthos, which means ‘straight,’ and doxa, which means ‘opinion.’  Hence the word literally means ‘straight opinion.’  This is something that Scripture encourages us to do.  We see, for example, Paul exhort Timothy to “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Tim. 4.16; NIV).  Paul knew that maintaining the purity of one’s theological beliefs was important.  It was important enough that he warned the Galatians that “even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1.8).  If a person strayed off course in his doctrine it could result in serious consequences, like preaching another gospel.  We, therefore, see the need to constantly search the Scriptures and reform our beliefs about God as we gain a greater understanding of Him.  Maintaining correct doctrine, or orthodoxy, is not the only foundational pillar in the house of theology.  The second pillar is orthopraxy.

Orthopraxy is the word that we use to for correct living.  The word is made up of two Greek words, orthos which as we saw above means ‘straight,’ and praxis, which means ‘acts.’  In fact, the title of the book of Acts is praxis—this is where Luke records the ‘acts’ of the apostles.  Hence the word literally means ‘straight acts.’  Once again, this is something that Scripture tells us that we must do.  We see James, the half-brother of Christ, write that “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1.27).  The idea is that our orthodoxy should move us to action.  If we simply muse upon doctrine and are never moved to action, then something is wrong with our orthodoxy.  We see the apostle Paul make the connection between orthodoxy and orthopraxy when he writes that the purpose of his ministry was  “to further the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness” (Titus 1.1; RSV).  Notice that Paul wanted to further the knowledge, or the doctrinal understanding, of Gods’ elect, but for what purpose?  He wanted to further their faith and godliness.  For example, how can a person claim to understand the humility of Christ that Paul speaks about in Philippians 2.5-11 and then go about bragging about his accomplishments.  An orthodox understanding of Christ’s humiliation should lead to orthopraxy—a believer’s desire to be humble.  Orthodoxy and orthopraxy, then, are two of the three pillars of theology.  The third pillar is doxology.

Doxology is the word that we use for the praise of God.  The word is made up of two Greek words, doxa, which in this word means ‘brightness,’ or ‘glory,’ and logos, which means ‘the study of.’  So doxology literally means ‘the study of glory.’  We use the word, however, for the praise of God.  The most familiar use of the word, of course, comes to us from our hymnals where we find the Doxology: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below, praise Him above ye heavenly hosts, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”  It is called ‘The Doxology,’ because it resounds with the praise of God.  This, once again, is something that we find in the pages of Scripture.  The apostle Paul writes that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Cor. 10.31).  This, of course, certainly applies to all areas of life but especially to our theological beliefs about God.  Notice that on the heels of Paul’s reflection upon the teaching of the Gospel, or orthodoxy, he breaks forth in doxology: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1.17).  All of our doctrinal reflection and meditation should lead us to praise God. Likewise, everything that we do in our lives as a result of our doctrinal knowledge should also be done to the glory of God.

All three of these pillars are absolutely essential for a person to have good theology.  Without orthodoxy, we will stray from the truth.  Without orthopraxy, then our doctrinal knowledge has only entered our minds and has failed to produce the fruit of faith and godliness in our lives.  It means that we have not truly understood the truth.  And, without doxology, our orthodoxy and orthopraxy have only become the occasion for our intellectual pride or doing things for our recognition and glory.  This, of course, is totally unacceptable.  Therefore, whenever we endeavor to study theology, let us make sure we do not ignore the three pillars of theology: orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and doxology.