Understanding Theology Through a Medical Analogy

Exploring the depths of theology and its various disciplines can sometimes feel like navigating a labyrinth. To simplify this journey and provide a fresh perspective, I’ve been developing an analogy that compares the world of theology to the structure of a hospital. This comparison aims not only to make the complex world of theology more accessible but also to illuminate the interconnected roles within its study.

The Chief of Medicine: Systematic Theology

At the helm of our theological hospital stands the Systematic Theologian, akin to the Chief of Medicine. This individual must possess a broad yet detailed understanding of all theological disciplines, enabling them to make comprehensive diagnoses across the entire spectrum of theology. Much like a chief of medicine who oversees various specialties to ensure holistic patient care, the systematic theologian integrates insights from different theological sources to form a cohesive understanding of faith and doctrine.

The Specialists: Pillars of Theological Study

Delving deeper into our analogy, we find specialists who mirror the five primary sources of theology, each playing a unique role in the broader theological discourse:

1. Biblical Exegetes as General Surgeons: Biblical exegetes, with their precise analytical skills, are likened to general surgeons. They meticulously dissect scripture to understand its meaning, applying their interpretations to address spiritual inquiries and challenges.

2. Historic Theology as Epidemiologists: Theologians specializing in historical theology are compared to epidemiologists, tracing the development and impact of doctrines through time, much like tracking the spread and effects of diseases across populations.

3. Philosophical Theologian as Neurologists: Philosophical theologians, in their quest to explore the intricacies of faith, existence, and the divine, are akin to neurologists. They delve into the complex ‘neurology’ of theological thought, addressing profound questions with critical analysis.

4. Experience as Physical Therapists: Those who emphasize the role of personal and communal experience in theology are likened to physical therapists. They focus on the practical application of beliefs, facilitating spiritual growth and healing through active engagement.

5. Emotion as Mental Health Professionals (Psychologists/Psychiatrists): Emotion, as a source of theological insight, is paralleled with the work of mental health professionals. This highlights the significance of emotional intelligence and well-being in understanding and applying theological concepts.

The General Practitioners: Pastors

Pastors serve as the General Practitioners within our theological framework. Equipped with a broad knowledge base, they are tasked with guiding individuals on their spiritual journeys, much like a GP who provides comprehensive care by drawing upon a wide array of medical knowledge and specialties.

Expanding the Analogy: Subdivisions within Theology

While the primary categories offer a broad overview, the analogy can be further detailed by comparing apologists to trauma doctors in an ER—addressing urgent doubts and challenges to faith—and textual critics to pathologists, who analyze the ’tissues’ of scripture to discern its authenticity and meaning.

Divisions in Systematic Theology

Finally, we take each category of theology and compare them to divisions of symptoms according to physical areas of the body for comprehensive health.

0.  Prolegomena: birth

1. Bibliology: infant

2. Trinitarianism: toddler

3. Humanity and Sin: teen

4. Soteriology: adult

5. Ecclesiology: family

6. Eschatology: senior citizen

I don’t like what I did here. It doesn’t quite fit. I’ll keep working on this.

Reflections and Invitations for Feedback

This medical analogy for theology aims to demystify the field, offering an accessible entry point for those seeking to understand its various disciplines. However, analogies, by their nature, have limitations. My hope is to spark conversation and reflection on how we perceive and engage with theological studies.

Do you find this analogy helpful or confusing? Are there elements that resonate with you or aspects you believe could be refined? Your insights and feedback are invaluable as we continue to explore the vast and nuanced landscape of theology together.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    1 Response to "Every Source of Theology Explained through an Analogy of a Hospital"

    • Eric Quek

      your intriguing analogy between the field of theology and the structure of a hospital, not only simplify the labyrinthine nature of theological studies and illustrates the roles and interconnections within its discipline. Your view invites us your readers to explore and expand further challenges faced by both theology and medicine.
      You cleverly position systematic theologians as the Chiefs of Medicine in the theological hospital, highlighting their role in integrating diverse theological disciplines. You liken Biblical exegetes to general surgeons, historical theologians to epidemiologists, philosophical theologians to neurologists and so forth.
      I like to build on your analogy to reflect modern challenges in both fields. Like contemporary medicine often focuses on treating symptoms rather than addressing root causes like metabolic syndrome, modern theology, especially within traditional Christianity, sometimes grapples with dwindling influence without addressing underlying reasons like growing numbers of NONES
      A very slow movement is on its way in medicine that recognizes “holistic care” This encompasses lifestyle modifications, nutrition and mental health. Similarly, theology could benefit from a more holistic approach that integrates contemporary issues, cultural relevance, and personal spiritual experience. This may also include reinterpreting teachings to make them more applicable and relatable to contemporary society, with contemporary issues, open dialogues and willingness to adapt to changing societal contexts.

      I would also like to draw your attention to the phrase “theological teenager” where a parallel to the developmental stages in theological understanding in regards to Michael’s theological analogy to hospital settings.
      Just as a theological teenager may miss the forest for the trees, focusing narrowly on specific details or doctrinal points, and miss the broader purpose of Patton’s analogy. The analogy is intended to demystify and simplify theological studies for a wider audience, not to provide a detailed, technical dialogue on theological disciplines. In addition, the theological teenager’s propensity for overconfidence and a lack of grace. There’s an emphasis on what is perceived as right or wrong in Patton’s approach, similar — how theological teenagers often assert their views as a degree of certainty and sometimes a lack of humility.
      As one matures from a theological teenager to a more nuanced understanding, there’s a realization that analogies, like Patton’s are not definitive explanations but tools. They are meant to engage, simplify and sometimes provoke thought, rather than to offer exhaustive theological frame works.
      Theological maturity involves understanding and appreciating diverse approaches to communicate and explore theological concepts. Just as a mature adult recognizes the value in different perspectives, moving beyond the teenage phase in theology involves appreciating the variety of methods used to engage with theological ideas including analogies, metaphors, parallels.
      ( Adapted from Michael’s “Theological Teenagers–Navigating the Dangerous Landscape of Theology”)

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