Four years ago, I wrote a post called “A biblical theology is a practical theology.” The post was inspired by several things: a couple of blog posts that I read at that time plus several years studying “biblical theology” in many different forms. There are many theoretical theologies around today – and there have been theoretical theologies around since time began. However, the “theology” that we read about in Scripture is not theoretical – it is extremely practical. And, in fact, even when we discuss theoretical theologies, our real theology is the theology that we live.
There is a very interesting and very important discussion occurring in a couple of blogs. It was started by Jeff (at “The Practicing Church“) in his post called “Practicology.” After reviewing the many “-ologies” which various groups espouse or emphasize, Jeff makes the following statement:
Truth is, I’m not as impressed by how much someone knows about the Bible as I am whether someone is living out what they know.
Jeff concludes with this statement:
So if there’s an ‘-ology’ I’d coin to describe all this – I’d want it to be ‘practicology’ – the study of putting our faith into practice. A faith that works itself out in life.
Laura (at “Who in the World Are We?“) continues Jeff’s discussion in her own post called “Practicclesiology” which is focused primarily on a practical ecclesiology – a practical understanding of the church.
Laura describes the theory of ecclesiology like this:
The theory of ecclesiology consists of the rich, deep biblical truths, describing our safe identity and position in Christ as persons and community. Properly understood, these truths help us, persons and community, to live ordinary lives of risky creative participation in the world for the sake of Christ.
Next, she defines the practice of ecclesiology like this:
The practice of ecclesiology consists of the extensive and intensive influence of a church, grounded in proper understanding. A properly functioning church (persons and community) moves into the world in Christ and by the Spirit, applying a rich diversity of skills to live boldly in the world while pointing to Christ.
Finally, she combines the two into practicclesiology (a term she coined):
In sum, practicclesiology is a manner of life together that understands and lives out deep connection to Christ and one another in order to dream and risk the seemingly impossible.
In reality, it is impossible to have a biblical theology that is not practical. A biblical theology is a practical theology.
Now, I understand why Jeff and Laura are concerned about the distinction between theoretical theology and practical theology. Discussions about this distinction and arguments as to which is more important have been going on for centuries and longer.
However, when we study Scripture, we find that it is impossible to separate our thinking about God (theoretical theology) from our life (practical theology). In fact, according to Scripture, the way we live demonstrates what we actually think about God more than what we say.
In 1 John, the apostle makes the bold statement that someone who does not demonstrate love to another person does not love God, regardless of what that person may say (1 John 3:17; 4:20). James writes something similar about faith – faith that does not demonstrate itself in our lives is not faith at all (James 2:14-26). Paul follows his most theoretical argument (Romans 1-11), with an exhortation to live in accordance with this understanding (Romans 12-16). As followers of Jesus Christ, an understanding of God that does not demonstrate itself in the way we live is not a biblical theology.
How does this work with the church?
People discuss and argue about many aspects of ecclesiology. For example, many argue about whether the Lord’s Supper (Communion) should be for local church members only (closed communion) or for any believer (open communion). Someone once tried to convince me of closed communion by arguing that we should only share the fellowship of the cup and the bread with those we know. However, as I pointed out, he cannot know all the thousands of people that he meets with every Sunday. His theoretical argument for “closed communion” was nullified by his own practice.
There are positive implications of our practical theology, and practical ecclesiology in particular. For example, last Sunday we were talking about times in our lives when we grow indifferent to God.Â One brother said, “This is one of the reasons that I love this church, and one of the reasons that I hate this church. I know that when we meet together, someone is going to ask me about my life and my relationship with God. This is exactly what I need, but its not always what I want, especially when I’m feeling indifferent toward God.” He’s learned that our ecclesiology is not simply theoretical… we don’t just talk about fellowship and discipleship and the “one anothers”. Instead, we try to live these things. Our ecclesiology is very practical.
In fact, besides this blog (and times when I meet with people who contacted me because of this blog), I rarely talk about “ecclesiology.” It is more important to live our ecclesiology (or any theology) than to talk about our ecclesiology (or any theology).
Someone who does not offer grace and forgiveness to others does not understand the grace of God regardless of what they say or teach about God’s grace. A person who does not accept others as they are does not understand how God has accepted us in Christ, regardless of what they say about salvation by grace and not by works. Someone who does not share his or her life with other brothers and sisters in Christ in intimate fellowship and community does not understand discipleship, regardless of what they profess about the importance of the Great Commission. Our theology is demonstrated in the way we live our lives, not in what we say or write.
This distinction between theoretical theology and practical theology is a false distinction as far as Scripture is concerned. According to Scripture, it is impossible to know God (theology) without it affecting your life (practice). So, a biblical theology is a practical theology. A theoretical theology that does not affect a person’s life is not a biblical theology.