Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

Reversing the Stream

May 21, 2007

After hearing me run my smack at church, a friend came up and complimented me for having the courage to adjust my theology to my experience of life. Which made me nervous, because I don’t want to be too quick to bend my beliefs to fit my circumstances. But at the same time– and nodding to my friend’s point– I don’t want to force my experience of life into some artificial theological categories, either.

Most interesting to me was the term he used: “practical theology”. By which he meant, theology that is applicable and useful for real life. But which term reminded me of seminary, where it was used to denote the solitary 4-credit course where the other 130 credits of study in systematic theology, ancient languages, Bible interpretation, church history, exegesis, homiletics, and spiritual formation were funneled into ‘real life’ (by which we meant ‘church’). One lone course, where these old, static disciplines were translated into the lives of modern people. Where we were told how to conduct worship services, administrate churches, preside over weddings and funerals, and serve on boards. Where we learned how to make all of the heady stuff understandable for ‘our people’, and how to get them to get things done for us.

All of which always seemed strange to me for its lack of balance, but which now strikes me as completely backwards. Shouldn’t churches be places of theological development, engaged as they ought to be with real life? Shouldn’t churches be giving theological agendas to the academy, rather than the other way around? Or, to use the subversive language of my friend, shouldn’t ‘practical theology’ be both theological and practical?

Posted in:

4 Responses to “Reversing the Stream”

  1. You mean you went to seminary? Wow man. I’m reeling from that one. Are you sure you should be a pastor?

  2. Who are you calling ‘a pastor’?

  3. Lora says:

    whoa, now, let’s all just settle down and take a step back…NO ONE is calling anyone the P word!

  4. Erin says:

    I’ve been thinking about the whole practical theology thing. There’s something very “early church” about working out, together, as we go, what it means to be Christian and walk with God. I’m thinking of all the recommendations and warnings that the writers of the epistles give about others on the teaching/theology circuit, who has good ideas and who is just confusing things.

    It reminds me that correction and warning are appropriate and necessary parts of any theological exploration. Any theology based on the limited life experience of one person or group is going to be incomplete and in part mistaken– a work in progress. Here in the states, our churches tend to be formed around groups of like-minded people of similar background/experience who encourage each other to continue down their same path. This makes the opportunities for correction few and far between.
    Any practical theology needs to cross pollinate with that of outsiders, not to dilute truth but to make it stronger and more various.

Leave a Reply