Does Theology Have to Be Practical?

young boy stressed with workTeach theology long enough and you’ll face countless forms of the same basic question: What does this have to do with real life? Will it affect the way we do ministry, how we share the gospel, or what we do every day? How is it relevant to the problems and challenges the average person faces? You know, is it practical?

And the deep suspicion lying behind such questions is that most theology is rather impractical. Theologians spend all their time wrestling with things like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin and whether we should say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son or from the Father alone. Unless we can explain why these things matter for the everyday lives of regular people, we should stop wasting our time and get on with more important issues.

I’ll admit that part of me resonates with such concerns. If we can’t explain why theology matters, we have a problem. And it should matter for everyday life. After all, that’s where we do all our living. So there’s a sense in which I want to say a hearty “Yes!” to the question of whether theology should be practical, but only if we carefully redefine what that means.

4 Reasons for Thinking that Theology Is “Practical”

[This is the beginning of my newest post over at Head over there to check it out, and let me know what you think.]

Top Posts of September

top fiveHere are the top five posts from the past month. And I’ve included one post that was actually written a while back and has recently resurfaced for some reason. Check out Women Who Gave Their Lives for the Church if you’re curious.

Flotsam and jetsam (10/1)


Good Reads

  • How Philosophy Makes You a Better Leader: The goal of most executive coaching and leadership development is behavior change—help the individual identify and change the behaviors that are getting in the way of, and reinforce the behaviors associated with, effective leadership.  But what about the beliefs and values that drive behavior? (Harvard Business Review)
  • 3 Ways to Avoid the “Children’s Church” Ditch: The issue of children in the worship service is a balancing act. The simplistic answers that sound so straightforward in seminary or at the coffee shop often get extremely complicated when there are actual people in the equation! What follows is my attempt–flawed though it may be–to be faithful to the clear Biblical teaching on our children as part of the worshiping community and the clear command to reach people with the Gospel in the specific contexts in which they live. (Christward Collective)
  • The Health Effects of Leaving Religion:  one way or another, a person’s faith, or lack thereof, is often so important that it affects physical, as well as spiritual, well-being. (The Atlantic)
  • Inside the Evolution of a Dead Language:  How can there be a word for “world wide web” in a language that died long before the Internet was invented? The answer is complicated, a bit geeky, and a lot of fun if you enjoy language games. (The Daily Dot)

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Imitate Me

I occasionally joke about wanting some groupies, or maybe a few minions. People who think I’m so cool that they follow me around all day and try to be just like me. But the real upside, of course, is their willingness to run errands and facilitate my various plots to take over the world.

Kopf 2 26h

In more serious moments, though, I realize how arrogant that sounds. We’re all deeply flawed people. Who in their right mind would be so self-aggrandizing as to think that others should strive to be just like them? Even thinking that probably demonstrates that you’re not worth following, doesn’t it?

Imitate me. The height of arrogance.

Yet that’s exactly what Paul says multiple times in his various letters (e.g. 1 Cor 4:16; Eph. 5:1). Where does he get off trying to make us into his little groupies? If we’re going to understand what Paul means when he says “Imitate me,” we need to keep the following things in mind.

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Flotsam and jetsam (9/29)

ariana grande

Good Reads

  • Fix Bad Habits: Insights from a 7-Year Obsession: We all have lousy habits. Things we’d like to do, or know we should, but just don’t seem to happen: exercise, diet, productivity or flossing longer than a week after the visit to the dentist. (99u)
  • What are ten characteristics I look for in an aspiring pastor? So, here are 10 other characteristics I look for that I feel are not necessarily deal breakers, but nonetheless very important for pastoral ministry and fall within the frame work of the fruit of the spirit in a Christian’s life. (Practical Shepherding)
  • The Myth of Religious Violence: The popular belief that religion is the cause of the world’s bloodiest conflicts is central to our modern conviction that faith and politics should never mix. But the messy history of their separation suggests it was never so simple. (The Guardian)

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Retelling Gospel Stories

first time we saw him

Have you ever read one of the stories in the gospels, either one that was about Jesus or one of the parables told by Jesus, and been…well…bored? If you’re like me, you’ve heard those same stories so many times that they’re like an old blanket: more comforting than interesting.

What would it be like to go back and once again hear those stories for the first time?

That’s what Matt Mikalatos is trying to help us do in The First Time We Saw Him: Awakening to the Wonder of Jesus (Baker, 2014). As he explains in the introduction, the book comes from his own experience of knowing lots of facts about the Bible, but realizing that his muted responses to the gospel stories were radically different from those who were hearing those stories for the first time.

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Flotsam and jetsam (9/24)


Good Reads

  • Confronting My Temptation to Ban Books: Don’t observe Banned Books Week because a few idiots don’t like The Hunger Games, but instead because our very existence as a free, enlightened society rests on the idea of the flow of information coupled with the skills to understand it. If you needed any more proof, the first thing ISIS did in the areas that they control is ban the study of certain subjects in the schools. (Huffington Post)
  • 6 Ways to Benefit from Reading Genealogies:  The genealogies in Scripture are so important that it may rightly be said that we cannot fully see the glory of the metanarrative (i.e. the storyline) of the Bible without them. Here are six tips for reading genealogies that I think will benefit the diligent reader. (Christward Collective)

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Flotsam and jetsam (9/22)



Good Reads

  • Outlook: gloomy: Humans are wired for bad news, angry faces and sad memories. Is this negativity bias useful or something to overcome? (aeon)
  • The NFL and the church share the same culture of silence on abuse: Too often, it can be easy to assume that some issues are less prevalent in the church. We forget that, as a collective of individuals shaped by the culture at large, sin is indiscriminate in whom it touches. Many church leaders do not realize that all evils are present in their congregations, especially sins that carry a heavy culture of silence. (Religion News Service)
  • Why You Need More Art in Your Life (and 5 Ways to Get It): In our pragmatic culture we usually see art as optional. We drill this into kids from an early age. We tell them to be practical and belittle their dreams because we can’t imagine how they’ll make any money pursuing them. But the truth is, art is indispensable. Art gives us meaning. There are things that cannot be understood with pure reason—like love and beauty, to name two. Art helps us understand our world. (Michael Hyatt)

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Developing Character in Your Kids through Text Messaging

We finally broke down and bought my daughter a cell phone on her last birthday. After years of hearing “But all my friends have one,” she finally reached the stage where she’s away from home enough that we thought it would be useful for us if she had a phone. (Yes, the only real consideration in buying your child a cell phone should be whether it makes your life easier.)

Now that she has a phone, though, I wanted to be intentional about using this new technology as an opportunity to help her develop a more Christ-like character. In particular, I’ve discovered that text-messaging is a great way to help your children develop the virtues of patience and forbearance. Granted, you have to be careful that you don’t push it so far that you violate the command not to “exasperate your children” (Eph. 6:4). But with a little practice, I find that you can draw that critical line between exasperation and productive annoyance.

Here’s my most recent attempt.

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Flotsam and jetsam (9/19)


Good Reads

  • The Church of U2: Most people think of U2 as a wildly popular rock band. Actually, they’re a wildly popular, semi-secretly Christian rock band. In some ways, this seems obvious….But even critics and fans who say that they know about U2’s Christianity often underestimate how important it is to the band’s music, and to the U2 phenomenon. (The New Yorker)

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