A Theology of Doxology

Written by: Ken Easley, Professor of Biblical Studies, Union University

“That’s the best apple pie I ever tasted!” “What a stunning performance of Mozart!” “Your face is so beautiful! I never tire of just looking into your eyes.” When we experience something or someone good or true or beautiful, we can’t help but offer admiration and appreciation. It’s built into the nature of who we are. We naturally overflow with expressions of praise. We are suspicious of the man who claims to have discovered his one true love and yet keeps it to himself. We want him to write a poem or put it on social media, somehow let the world know. This goes all the way back to the first human lovers. Adam whooped about Eve, “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!”

Our instinct to praise the praiseworthy helps explain why expressions about God’s stunning greatness are found so often in Scripture. And similarly, if you grew up in church like I did, you may have sung “The Doxology” every week. It’s grand old liturgical hymn that goes like this:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him, all creatures here below.
Praise him above, ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen.

Too often, I rattled it off as the ushers returned with the morning offering. But the instinct to praise God when Christians gather for worship is right and good. Further, the words of the hymn neatly summarize why theology (in the focused sense of studying God himself) and doxology (praising God well) necessarily go together.

Do we believe it’s all that important for us to study God, resulting in right thinking about him? I hope so. Everything depends on it. For example, if we learn that he’s the Creator of everything there is, then we are his creatures and are somehow answerable to him. Or if he’s provided salvation for sinners, then surely we will want to know both the what and the how of salvation.

Notice the theology of the Doxology: God is the source of every blessing (thus he is good); God has created both earthly and heavenly beings (thus he is great); God exists as Trinity (thus he is beyond understanding). The connection in the hymn between theology and doxology is immediately clear. The great and good and inscrutable God therefore is to be praised. We praise him because he is praiseworthy. Four times in four short lines, we are invited to join in praising—glorifying—such a God. (The term for “glory” in the language of the New Testament is “doxa.” Thus “doxology” can be literally translated “studying glory.”)
Expressions of praise in Scripture abound both as declarations and as directives. When Moses experienced the visible glory of God in the burning bush, he worshiped and hid his face. Ultimately, he led an entire nation to become a praising people. Centuries later, Isaiah saw the exalted LORD and could only respond by acknowledging his own unworthiness. He later proclaimed to Israel messages from the LORD of both challenge and comfort. The wise men fell before the child Jesus in worship and then offered their gifts. When John on Patmos received a staggering vision of the radiant Christ, he fell down in worship and then was commissioned to write down his visions for others to read about.

These examples merely scratch the surface. But they remind us of the unbreakable bond between theology and doxology. When we grow in knowing God aright, we will all the more praise him. And the more we praise him, the more we want to understand how great and good he is.