Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Psalm 119:129-136 Systematic vs. Practical Theology

KEY TEXT: Psalms 119:129-130 Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.

KEY THOT: If we want to gain wisdom, and not just knowledge, we need to get serious about Scriptures--to read, study and practice it. The psalmist considers Scripture as wonderful because they are "testimonies" about God. In response to this delight in God's word, "my soul keeps them." In NIV, this verse is translated as "therefore I obey them." And as a result of obeying God's word that the psalmist gains understanding.

Many truths in Scripture can only be understood as we practise them. They are not meaningful information until they are applied. And when applied, truths become facts in real-life experience. And it is as we practise that our understanding of God's truths deepens. And then as we reflect on our practice, the Holy Spirit reveals more truths so that we can practise some more. It's a virtual cycle of studying, obeying and then gaining greater understanding of God's truths.

There is a new branch of theology that is currently popular in North America: it is called "practical theology". This is not to be confused with pastoral theology which is simply the application (practice) derived from systematic theology (theory). Unlike systematic theology which has its roots in philosophy, practical theology has its roots in praxis (practice). It's theological reflection derived from real-life experiences and events and interpreted in their contexts by the Holy Spirit with the help of Scriptures. (We may even think of it as contextual theology).

It is not application of what systematic theology "discover" as truth from philosophy. It is the reflection of God-in-action in real life situation. In many cases, practical theology will force systematic theologians to rethink their own academic theology often derived from the library rather than from life. One example will be whether Christians can be demonized: practical theologians often have to their own systematic theology challenged when they got involved in real-life deliverance ministry.

At the end of the day, Scripture is interested in real-life practice, not academic discussion. Biblical truths are given in Scripture, but real wisdom and understanding comes from ministry practice, not from library research. The disciples of Christ, including Paul, did not gain their theology from studying in the great libraries of ancient Roman Empire, but from reflecting on their real-life encounters with God and from their ministry with Scripture as their foundation. Too much of systematic theology coming out of Western seminaries has their roots in secular philosophies. And much of it ends up denying the truths of Scripture instead of affirming them through real-life ministry.

May God help us gain understanding of His truths by practising them, and then reflecting what we experience in real-life ministry with the help of Scriptures. Then we will have useful theology--practical theology, not academic theory.

Abba-Father, grant us true wisdom that comes from putting Your truths into practice. Amen.

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