I am by no means new in noticing this trend. It has been noticed by many before me. However, I thought I’d just mention it, because it explains quite a lot of what is happening today in what I am loosely calling evangelicalism. The term “evangelicalism,” by the way, is rapidly losing its meaning, if it hasn’t already. If Mormons can be called evangelical, then the term has lost its meaning.
The trend I see is in a particularly narrow definition of what is practical. Modern-day evangelicals have defined practicality as something that helps them at 10:15 AM to do a particular action. If what they hear on Sunday does not help them at 10:15 AM on Monday morning, then it is impractical, in the clouds, esoteric, useless doctrine. I would suggest that this is not a particularly helpful definition of what is practical.
On the one hand, all doctrine must be practical. However, in saying this, I want it clearly understood that my position is that all true doctrine is by definition practical. Doctrine that is impractical is therefore not true doctrine. What I am getting at is the artificial rift between doctrine and practice that is so rampant in churches these days.
I well remember an incident when I was about fifteen years of age. For some inexplicable reason, someone had actually allowed me to teach a Bible study at this ridiculous age. We were going through 1 Corinthians at the time, and I was set for chapter 14. So, I prepared by reading all the commentaries I had access to at the time. The time came to teach this Bible study. For the most part, it passed off without a comment. However, at one point, one of the members of the Bible study asked a question that implied that we were not really dealing with the application of the text, and that we needed to focus more on that. I replied that we had not really gotten to the stage of understanding the text. This is not an extreme example, of course. And I am not advocating a lack of application in sermons or Bible studies. What I am pointing to is a rush to practicality that seems to want to bypass understanding the meaning of the text. This sort of “practicality” isn’t practical, because how does one know that one is applying the text correctly? Applications from texts are not always right.
What I am advocating is a practicality that knows it must be based on doctrine. It is a practicality that is never severed from doctrine. It is a practicality that realizes that there are many kinds of practicality, ranging from what we believe about God (which will change the way we worship and pray) to the nitty-gritty of the everyday. There is long-term practicality and short-term practicality. There is practicality regarding how I treat my neighbor, and there is practicality in how I treat my God. There is practicality in how I view the world as a whole, and a practicality in how I view one small part of that world. One particular practicality that gets overlooked is the practicality of what one believes. We are naive in the extreme if we think that what we think doesn’t affect our behavior, sometimes in very subtle ways. Even that erroneous belief has a strong impact on our behavior! Belief and behavior can never be separated. All these practicalities are to be based on solid, Christian doctrine found in the Bible. We need to resist rushing to application and practicality without first establishing the proper basis of said practicality. There is an order to these things that we must follow.