An Exhortation to Practical Theology
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
–Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 10:31
The Reformed Christian has no grounds for boasting.
If any type of Christian theology is left without a basis upon which the child of God can boast, it is Reformed theology. Reformed theology grasps the Scriptural truth that all men, before regeneration, are rebels against God (Rom 3:10, 11; 8:8). It recognizes that people are absolutely unable to choose to love God according to their own volition (1 Jn 4:19). For this reason, Reformed theologians have placed, logically, faith before repentance. We are granted repentance as a gift from God. It is therefore not as if we repent and are then endowed with the gift of faith. No, that would be synergistic, contrary to the teaching of Scripture (Eph 2:8, 9).
In light of this fundamental truth of our Reformed corner of Christian theism the simple question could be asked, “why do we interact with others in a way that’s inconsistent with our theology?”
As Reformed Christians, we need to admit that many of us (I include myself in this) have been prone to arrogance. But why? There is no reason for this according to our very own theology. Of course, everyone, no matter the theological leaning, is prone to this very shortcoming. We are all sinners and this is a very real demonstration of sin across the board. However, the least boastful ought to be the Reformed.
Why Do We Do This?
I submit that this is the case because there is a disconnect between our knowledge of theology and our commitment to personal holiness. There is a sense that implicitly rests within the attitude of the boastful Reformed Calvinist that knowledge is the chief end of sanctification. This has to be the implicit assumption. If it wasn’t there would be no boastful Reformed people.
Our knowledge of theology may say otherwise, but whether we live consistently with that knowledge is another story. I know that I myself have put an emphasis of head-knowledge over the practicality of our faith. But this is a sin we ought to all repent of. We are rejecting part of the packaged deal that comes with the Christian way of life. Sure, we are certainly called to knowledge of the deeper things of God (Heb 6:1) but that is not all we are called to (Matt 5:16; 1 Pet 3:15).
I was once watching a very informative documentary on the research facility, CERN. CERN is basically a massive underground laboratory which utilizes and maintains the largest particle accelerator on earth. The purpose of this entire facility was to try and create an instance in which they could detect and study what is called the Higgs boson particle for reasons I am not qualified to elaborate upon.
This experiment took a team of theoretical physicists and engineer physicists. The theoretical guys are the ones who sit in the lab and offices crunching numbers to predict certain possible outcomes. The engineers are actually crawling in and around the machine in order to perform real, practical work. In other words, they carry out the work which the theorists dictate to them based on the results of their theories. Sometimes their predictions are right, sometimes they are wrong. Every time, however, the engineer is working in accordance with what has been theoretically indicated. What would happen if the engineer intentionally deviated from the information given to them by the theoretical physicists? The results of such a deviation could be cataclysmic.
Such is the relationship between our theological knowledge and our behavior toward others. But why don’t we look at our Christian behavior as detrimental to the equation like the engineer does of the theories? What makes the mandates of God less important than that which the physicists conduct within the context of their projects? God accounts for all of the information at CERN. He provides the precondition to intelligibility which allows such projects to take place. How much more is the Lord of CERN, and every other nook and cranny of creation, worthy of the Christian applying their theology to their practical lives?
Knowledge of Theology Brought to Life
Below, I have identified five examples of how theology can apply to our everyday lives:
- Scripture is infallible and speaks to all aspects of life: In light of this theological truth we ought to consult God’s Word no matter our context. This is not to say Scripture teaches us how to build rocket ships or cook hamburgers. It is however to say that it is the divine revelation of God Himself in which is made known who He is, who man is, what sin is, and how man is to respond to God. We find God’s standard of righteousness, His just judgment on those who fall short, and the Way in which man is saved from himself, reconciled to a holy God otherwise impossible apart from Christ. In light of these facts, the way we operate, inside any context, is radically derived from Scripture in order that we strive to glorify God in all that we do (1 Cor 10:31).
- God is sovereign over every created thing, from a sub-atomic molecule to galaxies which inhabit the blackness of space: There are a number of ways to respond to this theological truth in a practical manner. One way would be to evangelize. To herald the gospel as it has never been heralded before. We preach Christ and Him crucified because we know God is able to bring to life a person from the deadness of sin (Jn 6:44; Rom 8:29, 30; James 1:18). If it was left to man, we may as well pack up and go home (Eph 2:1). We also do this in love, entailing gentleness and respect (1 Cor 16:14; 1 Pet 3:15). There is no need to become irreverent or hotheaded if it is truly God in control and not us.
- Everything, spiritual and material, was created by God, who alone has no beginning: Apart from causing us to stand in total awe of our Lord, this theological truth ought to cause us to realize every created thing is what God says it is. This is most expressed in the fact that all created facts are, first and foremost, created by the Christian God. There is no piece of the universe which is not a result of “God said…” (Gen 1). Therefore, not only is God Lord over every single created thing, but it also means that created material cannot, in and of itself, be evil. All material is “good.” However, it is most often used for evil purposes by sinful people.
- We are saved by grace through faith in Christ: Here we should be led to total humility. Unfortunately, the knowledge of this fact is often presented arrogantly to others who may or may not believe this. Though those people are certainly wrong and contrary to Scripture, the commission to gentleness and respect does not dissipate. In other words, this very truth removes all grounds for boasting. It brings to the forefront of our thought that God truly has performed a work all of Himself in order to save His children (Rom 9:16). Of course works flow from the believer on the basis of this, but none of those works are saving works. They are works which result from the first chief work of Christ in His active and passive obedience. This is not to say however that there is no place for firmness or even sarcasm within discussion. I believe both to be seen in Christ Himself.
- Jesus Christ is coming a second and final time: This truth resides in the locus of the eschatology (study of the last things) of Christian theology. Christ is certainly coming back. But how does this affect us practically speaking? In other words, what does this theological fact move us to do? There are a number of things which Christians ought to feel pressed to do as a result of this powerful truth. However, one that sticks out to me is this–we ought to honor Christ as Lord in every aspect of our lives (2 Pet 3:10, 11). We ought to commit ourselves to personal holiness, not neglecting the fellowship of the saints, that we can better prepare the Bride of Christ for the great wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev 19:7).
If you notice, every theological truth mentioned above is accompanied with biblical reference. These are all basic truths which are found in Scripture. They all make up important aspects of Systematic Theology, all of which are taught some place during a Seminary education. Unfortunately, these glorious truths, which all Christians ought to enjoy learning and knowing, are less often used for the purposes of preparing the heart for worship, considering the way we interact with believers and unbelievers, or for devotional reflections to produce holiness and personal intimacy with Christ. They are often left in the classroom and not brought to the supermarkets, malls, theme parks, careers, homes, etc.
Scripture is not one-sided. As I mentioned above, it involves all aspects of life. If Christ is Lord, He’s Lord over your workplace just as He is Lord over your church. This ought to encourage drastic commitment to living the Christian life, to pursuing holiness. We are called to know, and we are called to act as a result of that knowing. If we know that we are about to be hit by a car, we adjust our behavior to react to that fact. How much more ought we adjust our behavior when we come to learn that Jesus Christ is Lord over every created thing?