Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Focus on Practice

I am in the middle of reading Brian McLaren’s “A Generous Orthodoxy”, and I find it inspiring and thought provoking. One point from the book that resonates with me is an increased focus on practice rather than on doctrine. In my view, it is more important to live as a disciple of Jesus than to think the proper theological thoughts.

One can have a wide divergence of opinion on a range of theological questions, none of which may have any practical impact on how one lives and treats others. For example, if I love God with all my faculties and my neighbors as myself, does it really matter how I conceive of the concept of the trinity? My views on the trinity are not at all apt to inform the practice of my faith and my life within the community. It seems so bizarre to me that people were burned at the stake over this issue. To me, it is not unlike the violent conflict between Swift’s “Big Endians” and “Little Endians” over the right way to break an egg.

I don’t find it necessary or useful to take stands on a lot of theological issues as I reckon that they are entirely speculative and have no practical significance. For example, I don’t know if salvation is universal or particular. I don’t know if hell is anything other than a literary device. Also, my lack of training in theology would make my pronouncements on such subjects ridiculous.

There are some doctrines that, in fact, inform practice in significant ways, and I am beginning to think that what is commonly considered the single religion of Christianity is really two or more very distinct belief systems. A belief in salvation “by grace alone” provides a very different template for living than a belief that requires works or human effort of some kind and a constant focus on righteousness. The latter version of Christianity is much more akin to Islam than to my own beliefs. (It might be interesting to compare the utterances of various American televangelists with assorted mullahs and to see just how closely they track.)

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