Saturday, February 25, 2017

The problem with wanting a "practical" faith

What is Christianity? Many people, even Christians, see Christianity as many things. Christianity is a religion. Christianity is about being spiritual. Christianity is about going to heaven after death. But not all these conceptions of Christianity are correct. Having a wrong conception of Christianity might just undermine the faith one professes. After all, a deficient understanding of Math for example might cause one to lose money in commercial transactions. A deficient understanding of Christianity would certainly cause one's faith to be stunted. Since the Christian faith is for the salvation and comfort of the saints, having a deficient understanding of Christianity would undermine one's faith in God and undermine the comfort and joy God gives to His people.

True Christianity starts and ends with God, not with Man. True Christianity does not come to "offer" Man help. It offers Man salvation, that is true. But the offer is not for autonomous Man to add one more asset to his portfolio, but rather for autonomous Man to surrender his autonomy altogether. God is not an addition to life, or merely for the afterlife. God does not exist for us! The question has never been, "Is God relevant for my life?" Rather, the question is, "Am I relevant in God's unfolding drama?" God is primary, and as such, God's desires and will takes precedence over us the creature. In salvation, God calls us to give up on ourselves, thus to deny ourselves, not in an ascetic manner, but in a worldview manner. God does not need my fasting, neither does he need my money, nor even my life. We are to be subsumed into God's story, not God into our story.

The problem therefore with wanting a "practical" faith, when voiced by various people, stems from a view of Christianity that does not place God front and center of everything, regardless of what one professes. After all, one does not ask what God wants, what God desires, but rather what I feel is deficient in my life that I think God ought to fulfill. It is the "therapeutic" aspect in the modern day Evangelical religion of "moral therapeutic deism," where professing Christians are not interested in doctrine and theory but rather in practice. But if God is truth, and it is only through Scripture which is made up of propositional truth that believers can come to know God, then how can any Christian say they are not interested in doctrine and truth? One might as well say he has no interest in God, because the only way to God on this earth is through Scripture which is given to us in words! Scripture is sufficient for us (c.f. 2 Tim. 3:16-17) for all things, and through Scripture, believers' minds are being renewed (Rom. 12:2).

Scripture is of course truly practical, in that it addresses the problems we face. BUT that is not the primary focus of Scripture. It is only through doctrine and the knowledge of God's Word that we can follow the imperatives of Scripture correctly. The direction has always been from doctrine to practice, never the divorce of doctrine from practice.

The uniquely cultural conditioned problem of "practicality" in Singapore is due to the embrace of cultural notions of knowledge in Singapore, which the Church ought to reject and to teach against. In Singapore, knowledge is just for the purpose of getting a degree, a cert that can be nicely displayed so as to get a respectable and good paying job. In Singapore, the entire culture is all about learning to be "exam smart," and thus knowledge is not treated as knowledge but as mere words of fact. This transfers into the Singapore church culture such that doctrines and Bible study are treated the same way. Is it then not surprising that Singaporean Christians can seem to know so much yet they actually truly do not know a lot? Administer a doctrinal test on paper, and many Christians might excel. But ask them to think outside the box, to reformulate what they know using different terms, or to apply what they know in concrete situations, and their actual lack of knowledge becomes manifest. What is the point of such "exam smart" theology? Such "exam smart" theology is not the knowledge God demands for us to have. From such an "exam smart" theology, it is not surprising that those having such "theology" cannot see the practical point of it all. They can score a 100% even on a exam on the Westminster Confession, but such "exam smart" knowledge is of no use at all. [In point of fact, "exam smart" knowledge on any non-STEM subject is of no use at all.]

Those who desire to have a more "practical" faith apart from doctrine need to examine themselves as to whether they are using God instead of surrendering to God. Are they starting everything with God? Who are they actually worshiping? If they are content with worshiping a generic "God" and a generic "Jesus," without understanding the Triunity of the one true God, are they then actually worshiping the one true God? Are they learning so as to get a bunch of propositions ("exam smart theology") without actually understanding them? If so, they ought to repent. The problems they have is not because the sermons or Bible studies do not seem to be "practical" enough, but rather they have a wrong view of the faith and ought to repent of that. Scripture is supremely relevant, but only because we are subsumed into God's story. As long as we think of ourselves from a therapeutic mind-set, we will never see the true relevance of true Christianity.

What is Christianity? Christianity is God-centered; it is Christ-centered, and it exalts Christ not just in theory but in practice. Since God is the "star," therefore every sermon has to exalt God and Christ, and every Bible study has to do likewise. It is in our worship before the Almighty God in everything we do that our needs will be met. Christianity will thus be seen as practical, as long as we do not make it practical but Christ-exalting. The more we want to make Christianity practical, the more actually impractical it will be, because God and Christ will be out of our supposed "practical" solutions.

No comments: