Theology as the foundation for Christian practice

by Dave Jenkins

Some branches of the church have always placed great emphasis on practical, experiential Christianity. In recent decades groups such as Navigators and Campus Crusade for Christ rightly have stressed “discipleship” and the need for application in the day life of the believer. Since the early 1970s many mainline churches have joined this emphasis, teaching classes on such topics as “How to Have a Quiet Time,” “Scripture Memory,” “Marriage and the Family,” and “Sharing Christ in the Marketplace.” Too many of these groups, with non-mainline churches as well have dropped offering “Basic Christian doctrine” classes altogether. We want to know how Christianity affects our lives today and how it can help us make it through tomorrow.

In their devotional times, many Christians find themselves returning again and again to the “practical” sections of Scripture, like the book of James or those sections of Paul’s writings in which he deals with “real life” issues, such as marriage or money. This material can be applied readily to the nitty-gritty issues of living in contemporary culture. On the shelves of any Christian bookstore, one finds hundreds of Christian self-help books on a plethora of topics and only a handful dealing with theological issues.

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At times we drift dangerously close to the backwater of our culture’s pragmatism, going so far as to judge sermons on the basis of whether we were offered anything practical or relevant. If the truth taught in a Bible study, devotional time, or sermon does not have immediate implications, we do not embrace it. With our society we glorify “doers” above “thinkers.” Thus, the rock star or the football hero who may be immature and shallow theologically is elevated as a star witness to Christianity.

Warm-hearted devotional, application-oriented Christianity should be encouraged. The Scriptures were written to change, mold and direct the lives of God’s people. Yet grave danger lies in focusing on the so-called “practical” teachings of Christianity to the neglect of the theological…

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