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A Shift Towards Practical Application, The End Of A Navel Gazing Era

Much of the infighting in the church seems to center around the issue of applied theology. How then is a Christian supposed to live, rather than what does the Bible teach, not that these questions are mutually exclusive. And for a while social media has fueled a lot of naval gazing debates, debates I partake in because its fun. However, there comes a time where theological tribes must band together for a mission. Yet there are those, namely G3 Ministries, who wish to make question about Christian ethics a question of theology. Yes the two go hand in hand, but most people are not concerned with debating the merits of credobaptism or postmillennialism.

And much of what inhibits conversation on practical application is ecclessiocentric view on life. The laymen believers are faithful members of their local churches, but their local churches are not their entire lives. They have families to maintain, businesses to run, and duties as citizens of the United States.

The last few years have forced many believers to overlook secondary doctrinal differences in favor of pastors who wear watches because not everybody knows what time it is. The amount of church hopping since 2020 is evidence of this, and it is no easy task to find a faithful church in many parts of the country.

Moreover, the debate surrounding the Great Sort, the idea that Christians should move to red states, is one where faithful pastors condemn laity for seeking a better life. Living in Maryland, I know life is easier 40 minutes in any direction. However the biggest impediment to the Great Sort is not the merits of the arguments against it presented by Michael O’Fallon and co. Rather, the Federal Reserve’s reckless monetary policy has made moving far more expensive now than merely two years ago. The Great Sort is merely one practical application that has had a boatload of church history and biblical precedent to glean from in our situations.

Additionally there is the debate surrounding topical and expository preaching which might undergird this shift away from navel gazing. Some pastors use expository preaching as an excuse to not address modern issues, because it’s not in the text. In reality, each has its place. One could hardly call Peter’s sermon expository. However, expository preaching can touch on major issues. My pastor does this every week.

I think there’s something to this, just as there is something driving the Mark Driscoll comeback. No one is going to Driscoll for theology. They go for practical application. In the reverse extreme, it is foolish to go to G3 Ministries for practical application because they are pietists. Men like Virgil Walker, Andy Woodard give the impression life revolves around the local church. And when that’s what you think, one rabbit hole in which it leads is a compulsion to use theology as a tool to slander, like conflating Christian Nationalism with postmillennial eschatology because you don’t understand politics.

I see the hour is too great to focus on hashing out infant baptism, however important, because the stakes are too high to make enemies on secondary issues. Thus, I believe the churches that will thrive the most are the churches that can bring practical application alongside robust theology, rather than merely robust theology. Robust theology didn’t cut it in 2020, and many saw through it and have since moved on to new churches.

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2 Responses

  1. Ethics and law are always undergirded by belief. In every nation, belief is imposed. Secular ethics says the rights that form the basis for law are essentially derived by consensus (relativist mob rule which inevitably counters the purpose of ethics and law in the first place). Godly ethics recognizes that rights are derived from God’s Word, and are those things which have God’s blessing. (not to be confused with free will)

    It’s a counterproductive waste of time to argue about whether or not there should be “forced religion” – i.e., imposed belief. We already have that. Unless one wants total anarchy, and zero law, then the argument is entirely moot. The only question is what are the forced beliefs going to be.

  2. Sounds like we’ve been unnecessarily pitting one against the other. True Biblical preaching aims for the will (which is practical application), but it has to get there via the head and then the heart. Robust theology and practical application must both be present or there is no sermon. Practical application without robust theology (clear, Biblical teaching, not necessarily “deep” doctrinal things every sermon) will be based on emotionalism and/or bad/false teaching, and it will necessarily fizzle out, or even create some kind of cult. Robust theology without practical application will do nothing but create a bunch of lazy Christians with extreme head knowledge, or give that head knowledge to false believers.

    The same is true with “expository” vs. “topical” preaching. While I do favor actually preaching through a book as the PRIMARY means of preaching, it does not deny the need for “topical” type sermons, and it should never allow a preacher to avoid preaching on important issues of the day. In fact, that seems to be the accusation: preaching topically all the time allows one to avoid difficult doctrines or passages, and preaching expositionally all the time allows one to avoid touching on current issues because they’re not in the text. Both of those scenarios are wrong, and should be avoided by preachers. It is often necessary to break away from one’s current “series” to bring God’s Word to bear clearly on current issues.

    A sermon that we would deem “expository” is necessarily going to deal with difficult topics and should find application FOR TODAY. A sermon that would be considered “topical” should be giving a clear exposition of the passage(s) being used.

    Further, when one’s entire life revolves around Christ, then the church is necessarily going to be a big part of it–but not the whole–and the rest of life (family, work, business, etc.) can be properly prioritized and taken care of in a way that is glorifying to God.

    We (as the church) need to stop creating false dichotomies.

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