Obviously, the first task is to define what I mean by Practical Christianity. Not so obviously, the second is to point out this is a very controversial subject.
When I speak of Practical Christianity I simply mean what faith offers for everyday living here and now. People used to speak of it as “Applied Christianity”. Some trace the idea to a suggestion made by Frederick Schleiermacher in the 19th century when he spoke of practical theology as “the art of Christian life and ministry”.
Certainly in our practically minded times people want to know how faith is relevant to their lives. In fact, most Christian preaching and writing in our day deals with the practice not the beliefs of our faith. Christian witness has pretty much deteriorated into public wrangling about proper Christian actions. People who believe the same creeds violently disagree on what that means for how they live, especially in the area of sexuality.
Some believe that shows Christianity has little to do with everyday life. I’ve heard famous theologians proclaim vehemently Christianity is not relevant at all. For the life of me, I do not understand what that means. Too often it seems to give permission for retreating into esoteric debates about beliefs and living in a manner that would embarrass Jesus.
My experience is people hunger for guidance in how to live. One of the most asked question of me as a Lutheran pastor was why Luther wanted to remove James from the Bible. The speaker was always puzzled that anyone would question that faith without works is useless.
Remember this problem goes back to our beginnings. When St. Paul proclaimed salvation ultimately depends on God’s love not ours, some took it as permission to continue living as pagans. They taught faith was a kind of secret knowledge that served as passwords to get into heaven. So Paul was consistently responding that grace is not an excuse to sin. Because faith transforms us, it is always active in love.
The course will try to define what that means for us in our time. It will primarily be dealing with the fourth of the traditional theological disciplines, Biblical Studies, Systematic Theology, Church History, and Practical Theology. On a seminary level it includes subjects such as counseling, preaching, and education. I’ll be talking on a more comprehensive level, examining how the faith provides a way to overcome evil, a nurturing community, a plan for wellness and health, and a basis for ethics.
Quite frankly, I think many, many Christians come to worship for these reasons. If they are parents, they want their children to become Christians, so they learn these same practical teachings not abstract beliefs. That does not mean beliefs are not important. I certainly believe the way we live is based on what we believe. Our faith teaches us who we are, what we believe, and what we should do. Okay, let’s agree to disagree and share our ideas with respect and compassion.