Monday, July 27, 2009

Living Theologically in the Church

One of the primary criticisms that is directed toward the arena of academia is that it often produces material that converses with the theological elite while leaving behind the common layperson who seeks to understand and encounter God throughout their daily lives, and weekly in a place of worship. An unhealthy division of the Christian faith is seemingly promoted between theory and practice. On the flip side, the evangelical Church of today is often guilty of perpetuating this gap when it focuses primarily on attainting an “experience” with God, devoid of any profound theological reflection, dialogue, or foundation

Reflection upon the doctrine of God, his attributes, names, and nature, as well as the ways in which we acquire that knowledge, may be studied in seminaries and Bible colleges, but at times is often thought to be irrelevant by the Christian on the street. However, on the other hand, John Armstrong asserts that the church for too long has been preoccupied “with everything from revivalism to church growth” and “has almost sterilized our schools and churches to serious doctrinal reflection, especially in written form.”[1]

Today, however, there seems to be a desire from both the academy and the church to come together, to increase dialogue, and to share the glorious reality of connecting the mind, the heart, and the daily walk in a more holistic approach to life and theology within the community of faith.

As Paul wrote to Timothy, God has given divine revelation for many purposes, including ones that necessitate doing theology, but the ultimate reason for giving divine revelation and for theologians doing theology is that the people of God may be fitted for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)[2]

Recent theological discussion has taken special notice of how theology, and the doctrine of God in particular, should be understood as more than a mere assent to cognitive truth claims. At its heart, the truth about God must be seen in the lives of each individual Christian and the practical, corporate life of the Church, especially in its worship and concrete, biblical practices.

This is one of the primary arguments and basic assumptions that serve as the foundation for a recent series of essays edited by James J. Buckley and David S. Yeago, found in Knowing the Triune God: The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Church. In these essays the authors aim to bring theology and practice together, arguing that biblically speaking there is no such thing as head knowledge of the truth that is divorced from the “faith, worship, and godly life of all who are incorporated into Christ as members of His body.”[3]

Therefore one of the primary goals of theology should not only be to help build and articulate a deeper understanding of the doctrine of God, but to help incorporate such an understanding and its relevance into the life and ministry of the church. In this way, our theology, daily walk, and church life should inform, interact, and shape one another.[4]

Bernard Ramm has pointed out the significance of theology for the Christian life when he writes,

. . .to the evangelical, theology is a matter of life and death, vindication or judgment, to be in the love of God or under the wrath of God. Theology must then be built on the most absolute foundation possible–the revelation of God in Scripture. And that revelation can only be known by the evangelical's becoming an expert in the exegesis of Scripture and a master of its contents.[5]

So the Biblical text and the theology it conveys serve as the absolute foundation and cornerstone of the Christian life and the practices of the church. As Ramm has stated, it's a matter of "life and death." Similarly, Millard Erickson, in speaking of the critical nature of one's theology, emphatically states that "our theological beliefs affect the nature of our relationship with the Lord,” and so theological reflection cannot be separated from encountering or experiencing God and his purposes for us in our daily lives.[6]

Indeed, we are to think biblically and theologically so that we, by God’s grace, may live faithfully and obediently as the children of God in a foreign world. You can’t have one without the other. Why would anyone want to? If you refuse to believe or reflect on the fact that God is sovereign then you will always question whether he has the power to have control over anything that happens in your life. If you think that Scripture may contain historical or scientific errors in it than this may inevitably cause you to question the trustworthiness of God himself, who was said to inspire every word of it. (2 Tim. 3:16) Do you see how important this is? But as we gain knowledge, the knowledge that changes us, let us also live it out with simplicity and fidelity, so that head and heart can go hand in hand. Let us master the basics and dive deeply into the waters of the Word all at the same time as the Spirit will guide us in both. Then we will be living out a healthy spiritual life.

[1]John H. Armstrong, “The Trinity: What and Why?” Reformation and Revival Journal 10, no. 3 (2001): 9.

[2]John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001), xxiii.

[3]Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 33; quoted in James J. Buckley and David S. Yeago, eds., Knowing the Triune God: The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 9.

[4]Our standard for practice should proceed from a biblical theology, derived from a sound literal, grammatical, historical exegesis of the text.

[5]Bernard Ramm, The Evangelical Heritage: A Study in Historical Theology (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1973; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 154, emphasis mine.

[6]Millard J. Erickson, Where Is Theology Going? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 12, emphasis mine.

1 comment:

Luke Harding said...

Excellent post. Doctrine and practical Christian living can never be torn apart from each other. I wrote a post for a blog I am contributing too on this very issue. Here is the link if you would like to read it.