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?