What makes the study of theology different from the study of religion? Today, R.C. Sproul illustrates that one of these fields of study is man-centered and the other is God-centered.
Many years ago, there was a well-known Christian college that had an extremely high academic standard and a superlative reputation for scholarship. And they were without a president. And while they had a search committee looking for a new president, the school underwent a self-evaluation program. And so, I was invited by the dean to come to this campus and to address the faculty and administration on the question “What is a Christian college?” That is, what distinguishes a Christian college from any other kind of college or university?
And when I arrived at the campus, the dean gave me the Cook’s tour of the marvelous buildings there and the library. And he escorted me through the classrooms section and also the faculty offices. And I noticed in passing that there was a department of astronomy, a department of mathematics, department of psychology, department of philosophy, just like any other liberal arts college. But then I was stunned when I saw the one office that said “department of religion.” I didn’t say anything, but I sort of tucked that into the back of my brain.
And so that evening when I was called to address the faculty on what it meant to be a Christian college, I said to them, “Before I begin this address, I’d like to get some information from you. I’d like to ask you a question.” And I told them I’d been walking across the campus. I said, “I noticed that you have a department of religion here.” And I said, “My question is this: Has it always been called the department of religion?” And I saw these vacant gazes as the faculty, they had no idea. But there was one gentleman in the back of the room who had been on the faculty for thirty-some years, and he raised his hand. And he said, “No.” He said, “Originally the department was called the department of theology. And then several years ago, we changed it to the department of religion.”
And I said, “Well, that’s interesting. Tell me, sir, why you changed it.” He said, “I’m not sure.” He said, “I think it was so that we would have an easier time with our students who wanted to transfer credits from the department to other secular universities or to help gain them entrance into graduate courses and other universities.” And so then I said to the faculty, I said, “Well, there is a huge difference between the science of theology and the science of religion.” I said, “In traditional academic curricula, the pursuit of religion usually is subsumed either under the department of sociology or under the department of anthropology because the study of religion is the study of human behavior with respect to that which they are involved in cultically, and what a long way that is from the study of God.” I said, “When a school that calls itself Christian has a department of religion and not a department of theology, that may signal that you’re no longer a Christian institution at all. Because Christian education has, as its supreme object of inquiry, the nature and character of God.”