Monday, September 01, 2008

Practical Theology

David Moss spoke today about knowing God - why knowledge doesn't often result in increased faith when it should. (I may post excerpts of the lesson when the audio becomes available.) As he spoke the image came to mind of a boat floating nicely on the water. In the boat was Christ saying, "I am the boat. Get in and be rescued." However, we too often have a tendency to swim about the boat wondering if it would tip over if we got in instead of simply getting in. We may wonder if when we got in and leaned way over we would fall off instead of simply getting in and sitting properly.

You see, we have Christ in the boat demonstrating His capacity to hold our weight. What more information do we need for salvation? None. That's why the simplest person can understand salvation.

I had a long talk with a missionary the other day. He asked about my education and convictions. I was specific about my current theological understanding. Afterward he said simply, "I believe in a practical theology." Theology is practical. All good sermons end in application. However, the implication in this statement is that there is some theology that is not practical.

There is only the most basic understanding we need in order to get in the boat trusting it to float. We don't need to understand things like displacement, boat construction and particulars on how to deal with others on the boat and those not in the boat yet. We don't need to understand the dangers of a storm at sea. All we need to know is that the boat will float through all circumstances.

However, additional knowledge is practical. Understanding things like how to deal with other people on the boat and off the boat is obvious. Understanding why we need to know these things is helpful to knowing our obedience as part of God's redemptive plan as the Body of Christ. For things like displacement (penal substitution) and boat construction (nature of God) practicality is not immediately obvious. However, such things encourage us, reinforce our trust in the boat and give us cause to praise God.

You see, the pursuit of practicality too often focuses on us when we need to focus on God. The purpose for our salvation is not that we are redeemed, but that God has redeemed His creation. You see the slight difference in focus? I'm a compatibilist. That means that I hold no logical tension between God's sovereignty and man's free will, limited as it is. When I approach the topic, I always rhetorically acknowledge God's sovereignty first. He must be exalted. However, this often makes anti-Calvinists upset. They too often rhetorically place man's free will (and they don't believe it to be limited) first.

Let's think backwards through the gospel. The boat will float. Jesus' work on the cross can be trusted. Why do we need to understand this if we are in our own boat that will float? So, we need to understand that we have no other boat that will float. We are sinners and have stood in rebellion against God often relying on our own self-sufficiency. However, we are not sufficient. How do we know that we have sinned and cannot save ourselves? We have to first understand that God is Holy. He is our Creator. He is the Author of Life. He can do no wrong.

God must first be exalted.

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