Michael Horton makes a great point about living what I call a “kingdom integrated life”:
“… when it comes to God, people often imagine that it is possible to have a personal relationship with God apart from theology. In fact, some Christians assume that knowing doctrine and practical living are competing interests. The modern dichotomy between doctrine and life, theology and discipleship, knowing and doing, theory and practice has had disastrous consequences in the life of the church and its witness in the world.” (The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way)
As always, I’d love your thoughts! So let’s start a conversation…
Here are some starting questions:
- Why do you think so many Christians separate life from theology?
- What are some reasons why some seem to embrace theological intellectualism without love?
- How can we better integrate these?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
Do the Community Leaders need to continually encourage and value love and kindness in the midst of intellectual pursuit? It is an age old difficulty -Some Corinthians had “knowledge” concerning food offered to idols and some did not. Paul encourages love. 1Cor. 8:1-2
Can a theologian communicate to peers as well as the common person? Francis Schaeffer in the past and Tom Wright in the present some to communicate well to the common church participant – but Miroslav Volf and Jurgen Moltmann can be hard reads.
How is the Body of Christ doing on practical applications in our Sunday Sermons? In some of apostle Paul’s letters – the first half was theology – the 2nd half was so here is how you should live.
Do congregations need to improve on church discussions on orthopraxy? A few congregation discipline re: heretical doctrine and moral failure. Can we improve on discussion on practical Christian lifestyle?
Let me add one more dichotomy: studying the Bible for truth, understanding vs. reading the Bible spiritually, for transformation, to hear God speak to us. Why do we think of these as two completely separate endeavors/approaches? Shouldn’t truth lead to genuine transformation? Why can’t we stop in the middle of our “devotions” to look up a Greek word in a lexicon (why would we view this as an interruption)? Can the Spirit teach us something through His word even if we didn’t have time (e.g. running late for work) to consult the obligatory “3 scholarly commentaries” during our morning “quiet time.” Can God speak to us through a deeper understanding of scripture that we gained by reading a Bible commentary?
The great NT scholar, Gordon Fee, wrote this about his experience in writing his commentary on Philippians in 1994: “as I exegeted the text so
as to articulate its meaning for the sake of others in the church, I was often
myself so overcome by the power of the Word that I was brought to tears, to
joy, to prayer, to praise.”
Why do some separate life from theology? Mental laziness. I see it everyday, everywhere, in all parts of life. People seem to be growing mentally numb. They follow the crowd. Seek approval from the crowd. And are driven by emotion. I sometimes wonder if this is because we have no real down time. We bounce from one snip-it to the next. We watch 30 minute sitcoms. We tweet. Etc… No real depth of thinking in anything.
Why do some embrace intellectualism without love? Pride and legalism.
Theology is often separated from life due to the perceived immediacy of our earthly existence. I believe that we perceive heaven (and God) as being so far away that we lose sight of the importance of good theology.
This is the reason why things like fellowship with believers, daily prayer, and Bible reading are so important — without those regular connections with God (and each other) we lose sight of the paradigm of being in the world instead of being OF the world.
Sorry if my $0.02 is simple…I tend to be a simple guy with my faith.
I’ll look at the comments in a bit, but my initial thought is that we’ve created a category of theology that is disconnected from anything that could possibly challenge it. Theology needs to have legs, as I tell my students, meaning it has to be able to function in praxis if it is good theology. Instead we’ve opted for an enterprise of proof texting and truth claiming with little intersection with real life. For me this is the single biggest reason why people find Christianity irrelevant and when they encounter praxis ministries (like missional churches) they are drawn right in without any critical engagement. It’s a right fine mess actually. The only way out of it is to learn to do both theology and life together, and do them both well. Theology has to be brought into a dialogue that might seriously challenge it – but it wouldn’t really be a dialogue otherwise. We need to stop protecting God and what we think is God’s gospel. Instead we need to learn to expect that God, being God, will break into real life in profound ways that might even blow the doors off our theology. But nothing less than that is proof against the idolatry we now serve. I know God is up for the challenge, the problem, as always, is on our end.
1) Having sound doctrine is what we pay the pastors to do. I trust him/her to “do the right thing”.
2) “I didn’t go to seminary/Bible college. Why are you asking me?” Doctrine is for the educated.
3) Theology is TOO difficult to understand.
4) “I read my Bible, that should be enough.”
I am sure that list is not NEARLY exhaustive enough. It u that we, the professionals, have allowed this to happen to the church. Number one reason…P-R-I-D-E. It feels really good to be the “Bible Answer Man”. Honestly, we are in a new found Dark Ages. Except this time, it isn’t as dark, it is just dim. Our church members are getting just enough light to keep them satisfied, keep paid, and keep the machine going.
I know it sounds pessimistic, but I really do believe it is true. I think we, the leaders, have a comfort in being the “professionals”. And, the members like it that way. It allows them to study/devote their time to “what really matters.”
And “what really matters”? A descent marriage, a nice house, a solid job, a good retirement and the American Dream.
I mean, let’s get real. Sunday School used to be the number one way that the average Joe learned sound doctrine. Many churches have done away with such programs only to replace them with small groups that do topical, and often fluffy, light in the theology studies. They feel good. They meet a felt need. They fell miserably at deepening theology.
Granted, I love Francis Chan and I loved when we did it as a small group in a church I attended. Problem was that it was optional. Most small groups are just that…optional. But 100 years ago you were not considered a really dedicated Christian if you were not attending Sunday School and Prayer Meeting. Times have changed, and not necessarily for the good.
Wow, how depressing is this? But, I do believe there is truth.
I learned from my former boss and good friend, Wayne Price, to never present a problem without a solution.
Solution…be deliberate. I have just taken a new pastorate of a church that has very little discipleship. We are intentionally getting folks into small groups. I was bold and blunt with them. I told them that small groups were the Life Source of the growth and pastoral care. That if they were not in one then they would miss out.
And these LIFE Groups are not touchy, feel good, fluffy groups. Instead we are following a SOLID biblical/theological curriculum with deliberate discipleship into the theological things of the Kingdom.
Raise the bar, build disciples and don’t worry about what other churches are not doing, how big they are growing or whether or not you are not being “professional” enough. If you die you want them to be solid. Believe me, they will thank you in the end.
Why do you think so many Christians separate life from theology?
Everyone has a theology. Until we recognize that theology is something we are always already “living” (whether or not we can verbalize it), and only secondarily something we read about/learn about, we’re going to end up perpetuating the very dichotomy we want to get rid of. The question isn’t “why don’t you have a theology?” but rather “do you have a good theology or a bad theology?” We need to remind people that no matter how many “right answers” we can give in Sunday school or Bible study, if we don’t have love, we are nothing, just resounding gongs and clanging cymbals (1 Cor 13).
I think a lot of evangelicals actually have great theology, but you have to know how to look for it, if you want to see it. I spent a semester TAing for a course on Islam and Christian theology, and when we got to the week about evangelical Christians engaging Muslims, I showed the class a video from Peace Catalyst International explaining the “Love your neighbor dinner” project (http://www.peace-catalyst.net/programs/love-your-neighbor-dinner). I told them that it’s impossible to understand evangelicals if you just sit around reading about them, because some of the most intelligent, important, theologically rich evangelical “theology” is never written down – it’s just lived. It’s hard, because as an academic, I really wish more of this were written down, so that I could share it more easily with colleagues and that kind of thing. But there can also be some really wonderful things about not writing too much down – it allows our traditions to remain dynamic, responding to the particulars of various situations, rather than becoming formulaic and static.
That’s not to say that knowing doctrine is unimportant, of course – but if someone’s praxis is broken, whatever doctrine they “know” is just noise; whereas if someone’s praxis reveals the fruit of the Spirit, teaching doctrine needs to start with acknowledging the good theology that’s already in place. Learning doctrine should be like learning geometry, not like learning a foreign language. As we learn, we should say, “aha! I’ve known that all the angles in a triangle add up to 180 without ever even realizing I knew, and now I understand why!” or “aha! I’ve known that God created everything without ever even realizing I knew, and now I understand why!” If the people I’m teaching don’t have those “aha!” moments, and instead start to glaze over as though I’m teaching them the complex syntax and vocabulary of something really foreign, then shame on me.
We separate theology from life because we’re taught to by the church, for the most part…
It’s the cerebral bias of our culture.
I think the way to restore the balance is to teach people to do theology. Reflecting on their experience(s) of god and their life in general in light of their experiences of god. Then seeing how scripture illumines this. Then how other people have dealt with this stuff.
When truth is regarded as only intellectual then emotion is devalued. So what is loving doesn’t get much of a look in.
Honestly, what slowed me down from living my theology was I felt like I needed stronger understanding of my theology before I could go out. We need to be more like Stephen in this area, the Holy Spirit equips! I’m moving in my gifts now, stepping out in faith and loving people! Theological intellectualism without love is simply pride! Pride is a sneaky little critter sometimes…gotta live the gospel. Simple. We need to pray while reading the word and really listen for God, can’t just jump to a conclusion that might take the Word out of context. We need to know Gods heart and the Gospels are rich with that. “Do what Jesus did” Robbie Dawkins
Love people the way Jesus loved you! It’s a very simplistic thing and it needs to be everyday, all the time. Die to yourself and the fear that comes from stepping out in faith. That fear is your enemy, you are Sons of Thunder! Fear nothing but the Lord your God!