How to Do Bad Practical Theology

Practical theology is basically the application of biblical and systematic theology into every day life.  How does one honor God as a husband or wife?  How do you function in a society?  What is the proper perspective with employment?  In many ways practical theology is simply the art of interpreting life with a biblical, Godward perspective.  But, like most things, it can be done badly.  In some instances the results can be relatively minor but in other situations it can lead to devastating decisions.  An example would be that the Old Testament practice of killing a murderer authorizes an individual to kill an abortionist.  Wrong on many levels yet there are those who would not think twice about that concept.

So how does bad practical theology come about?  I want to give a few quick points that are not designed to be exhaustive but rather are designed to stimulate thought in your lives.

  1. Difficult situations are not the best place to formulate your practical theology.  When you are in the midst of great suffering, misery, danger or pressure you should not try to come to conclusions about what God expects of you.  Rather, you should be establishing a strong foundation of theology prior to these events so that you can have something to draw from as you begin to apply sound theology in a practical manner.
  2. Seldom is there a simple formula that answers all situations.  A person can have their twenty-five verses for all of life and make an utter mess of it as a result.  The commands to speak truth does not mean you must tell everything that is on your mind in any situation for they are not the same thing.
  3. The complexity of God’s workings in the world go beyond any simple answer.  So to interpret an earthquake as God’s judgment on the homosexuals, or the porn industry, or the corrupt politicians, etc.  I am always amazed at how God never “seems” to judge the covetous or the gossip.
  4. God is not compelled to explain why something happened and you are not commanded nor expected to even understand the why.  Think about Job, we have no indication that God ever explained to him the cosmic conversation God had with Satan.  In fact, Job was roundly rebuked by God for even thinking that it was not fair.  Yet how often do we hear a person telling another what they think God is doing in some sickness or disaster?
  5. Don’t confuse sovereignty of God with fatalism.  The latter is too often expressed.  I had one man ask me why we should turn a rapist over to the authorities since obviously God wanted the woman raped or it would not have happened.  Another man knew he was sinning but argued that since God was sovereign that it was not his fault; rather he was waiting for God to change his desires because anything on “his own” was destined to fail.  This is folly upon folly and fails to make a distinction between the sovereign (and unknown) will of God and what He has revealed for us in His Word.  We are accountable for the revealed and not the unknown.
  6. Just because the Bible teaches that a Christian is an alien and stranger to this world does not exempt him from the responsibilities in the society in which he is found.  Taxes, the laws of the land, and cultural standards do not just go out the window.
  7. Do not be foolish and believe that if you do what is right that everything will go well with you in your life.  This is one of the many lies of the prosperity movement and it has its claws in the American Evangelical church far more that many like to admit.  You can honor the Lord and get cancer.  You can be a faithful evangelist and have a child of yours murdered.  You can faithfully give to the Lord and lose your job.  Cherry-picking blessing passages will only lead to disappointment in the long run.
  8. Do not assume that you are in sin if bad things happen to you.  Suffering is a good place to do self-examination.  But you can become easily tempted to be so introspective that you lose sight of the promises attached to the gospel in which you believe.  Never forget that Daniel was a righteous man and yet he was taken into captivity into Babylon along with countless godless men and women.

I am sure there is more to write on this subject but these eight should be sufficient for many to begin to pull back from strong, black and white answers and expectations and take a softer view.  I continue to learn to slow down on my conclusions and watch carefully as things unfold.  I assume I am missing something in what is going on around me and mostly likely I am missing most of it.

About Matt Henry

Middle-aged pastor trying to figure out how to be missional in his world. Loves his wife, his children, and his dog Bear. I have a love of woodworking even though woodworking doesn't always love me. The name is xagete but is pronounced exegete.

Posted on June 6, 2013, in gospel, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I believe too many people don’t seem to understand #7. While I don’t know much about the prosperity gospel, I see more of a correlation with what we are taught as children: be good and then good things happen. We buy that hook, line, and sinker. Until something bad happens. Then we question God.

    It is similar to the reasoning that God won’t give us more than we can handle. That is a bunch of baloney. God actually promises not to leave us or forsake us. He will be with us through whatever hardship we encounter but It may be more than we can handle or think we can handle.

    Thank you for your 8 points. It reminds me to study scripture and pray for openness and knowledge to understand His word. The Bible must be taken as a whole and with humility to remain teachable. This was a great post!

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