This week I’ve been reading through a book on Church history. It’s been quite fascinating, and a great review for me. However, as I’ve read I’ve noticed something. Since the reformation the Protestant church has had two movements (its obviously had more than two, but I’m generalizing and looking at two particular ways Protestants have focused on things, there are probably parallels before the reformation as well). You’ve had on the one hand learning. This emphasized by such Protestant groups as the Calvinists and Lutherans. Then, on the other hand, you’ve had practice. This emphasized by Methodists, Moravians and Anabaptists. The experience of the faith. The personal, the supernatural, the unreasonable.
As many know my largest concern with the emerging conversation is a lack of really reading the text. To somehow imagine that no one in the conversation reads the text would be stupid. However, the focus seems to be more on experience and reading the text devotionally as opposed to reading the text to learn what is says.
It’s always been a concern of mine that the average pewsitter seems so uninterested in learning the Bible. I don’t know too many people who want to learn Hebrew and Greek, or who want to study the Bible and work through it; to struggle with difficult passages. I’m not saying every Christian needs to go to seminary or a Bible college. But I do think that we need to devote ourselves to learning the Bible – and not only the easy parts.
At the same time, it’s also a concern of mine that some in the church seem to run from experience and practice. Salvation may not require good works, but damn(!), living the Christian life certainly does. I agree with what many in the missional and emerging conversation(s) are saying – we need orthopraxy. All the learning in the world does me no good if I don’t apply it and go love God and love others. It pretty simple to say, but admittedly difficult to do consistently. Yet it is vitally important.
Can the two be combined though? I’d certainly like to think so. We need right learning and right practice. As Christians we should study, even the difficult parts of the Book, or the parts that are not easily and readily applicable to our lives. I believe in inspiration. I think that God put what is in the Bible there for a reason. We need to learn it. At the same time we can’t seclude ourselves in metaphorical ivory towers and only study. We have to live it out. When we learn something new we need to share it, and hopefully apply it in some way. If something we learn isn’t directly applicable it probably still helps us to shed light on another portion of Scripture that is applicable. Otherwise it may help us to understand something we’ve already applied to our lives in a different light. It might help us to see an error we’ve made. But it should change us. It should impact us. We need both praxis and doctrine; study and doing, learning and practice.
So, returning to the start of this post, what would the world be like now if Reformed scholasticism had met Methodist piety? Let me take a step back at this point. Certainly there were (and are) learned Methodists, and there were (and are) Reformed Christians who truly cared about their actions. I’m not trying to create a false dichotomy. Yet the general focus of the two movements tended to be in the opposite direction of the other, or at least what we(I?) perceive to be opposite directions today. Must the two be exclusive? Can the church focus on both learning and experience? Can we love learning and still leave room for the supernatural? Can we experience God and still acknowledge that we need to study? Are these really just two sides of the same coin (that’s what I’d like to say)? Or are these really mutually exclusive ideas?