So, what makes theology practical? What makes anything practical? By definition, something practical is focused on the actual doing or use of something rather than theory and ideas. I like theories and ideas. I love theories and ideas. But I am aware that theories and ideas that don’t translate into action can lead to omphaloskepsis (navel contemplation). I remember my dad once saying about a pastor, “He’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good.” My dad was suggesting practicality might have been missing in the pastor’s approach to ministry and life.
Boston University’s Center for Practical Theology suggests that “practical theology” describes the mutually strengthening relationship between the theological learning and the actual experience and needs of Christian communities. There we have it – theology that is practical translates into actual experiences needed to live the Christian life. As mentioned in the first post, a ‘practical’ definition of theology is the attempt to understand God, what he is up to, and then joining him in his work. Practical theology translates into individual and corporate participation in God’s kingdom work – all easier said than done.
So, how do we get a handle on who God is, what he is up to and then, how we participate in his kingdom work? The intent of this blog is the exploration of some answers to these practical questions. We will approach this in bite-sized chunks in a manner that might transform the way we do life – with God and with those around us. The exploration will focus on Jesus. He is, after all, “the visible expression of the invisible God” (JB Phillips Translation). In my thinking, a practical way to begin to understand God and what he is up to comes through paying attention to Jesus’ words and deeds when he took on human form and walked among humanity.
In my thinking, a practical way to accomplish this is relatively simple and easy – by READING THE GOSPELS.* Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament. Not once, not twice, but ongoing. I try to read through them several times a year. I know a pastor that reads one of the Gospels each week prior to beginning his sermon prep. Frequency isn’t as important as consistency. Sustained and consistent time in the Gospels is a transformative experience – ask anyone that has adopted the practice.
* ADDENDUM 1/31/2023: Annie F. Downs has created a podcast that will help the listener experience all four Gospels twelve times during the year 2023. It’s called Let’s Read the Gospels.