Theology is speech about God. It is a science of enquiry into an inherently undiscoverable subject and is therefore dependent solely on God’s self-revelation. Therefore, theology cannot speak a single word until God has spoken first.
But what if God speaks? What next?
The biggest mistake we make is to jump straight to asking, “What did God say?” But think about how inappropriate this is. Imagine that the Queen came to my house, knocked on the door and spoke to me out of earshot of my wife for five minutes. My wife’s first question to me afterwards would be, “What did she want?” The Queen’s authority and her choice to knock on our door demonstrate that she had particular intentions. Therefore, despite the fact that my encounter with the Queen may have included features that authenticated her identity, pleasantries or incidental information, the appropriate response is not to examine all the details of the encounter in indiscriminate order. Rather, it is to listen and respond to her requirements.
In the same way, God’s self-revelation may contain incidental data or information only necessary to authenticate God’s identity. Nevertheless, the primary task of theology is to ask “What does God require of us?” All other theological enquiry is only relevant in relation to this central purpose. This gives a worshipful shape to our systematic theology, it means that faith precedes understanding and it means that all of theology is fundamentally practical theology by definition.