What are some of the methods you use to maintain a balance between “theoretical" and "practical" Christianity?

Hello Alex, what are some of the methods you use to maintain a balance between “theoretical Christianity and practical Christianity” (The question of Head vs Heart)?



Hi Moses,

Thank you for this question. Ultimately, I think that this is a question of discipleship. I want to address it in three parts.

  1. Anthropology

A book I found helpful on the topic of discipleship is one by James KA Smith: You Are What You Love. In it, he argues that evangelicalism has been hoodwinked into thinking that human formation should consist primarily in terms of knowing information - something he calls, brain-on-stick anthropology. In its place, he argues, we should think of ourselves fundamentally not as thinkers but as lovers. Thought and belief are essential aspects of being human, but what is fundamental to us is our loves. In other words, we are made for worship (Rom 1:25).

If this is true - and I think it is - then discipleship needs to consist of more than listening to or reading things which inform; it needs to consist in practices which transform. Why? Because we all have had the experience of hearing something life-changing yet find ourselves unchanged a month later. Smith argues that the problem is not information per se, but a failure to recognise that we are fundamentally lovers whose worship needs to be shaped by practices.

  1. Practice

This should lead us to think through two things: (1) what we know intellectually and (2) what our character (or virtue) is like. For most of us in the evangelical world, who have access to podcasts, great teaching, a plethora of resources - our problem isn’t lack of information. Our problem is that we have fallen prey to consuming information and thinking that’s enough to change a life. It’s not. We need to curate our practices.

To get really concrete, think about Paul’s words in Colossians 3:14-17: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” If I were to ask, “How do I translate this from a nice intellectual idea to a reality which I practice and feel?” Smith’s biblical insight would be to think about our rhythms of life and ask, “Exactly where and when can I put on love?” The basic idea is that we won’t see fruit in our lives if we don’t practice our way forward - by the Spirit, under the grace of Jesus.

It’s this type of anthropology which raises the stakes of all of our practices. I think it helps us to see that we aren’t just brains that do stuff; we are hearts whose loves are shaped by the practices we put ourselves into. It should cause our eyes to open to the unquestioned rhythms we involve ourselves in which might be shaping us inconspicuously into something we don’t want to be. It helps us realise that the gap between the head and the heart might not exist because we don’t know the right stuff; it might exist because we haven’t thought about the practices we put ourselves into.

To get even more concrete:

  • Scrolling through an iPhone screen for hours on end doesn’t form us into people who can meditate on a Psalm as easily. Why? Because it shapes us into humans who consume information passively. Try actively wrestling with God through his Word after a few hours where all the information is presented in bite-size by an algorithm which does all the hard work for you
  • Rhythmically going through a Bible-reading-plan without prayer won’t shape our hearts as easily as would Bible-reading with prayer. Why? Because even atheists plow through the Bible - not knowing its power and life. That life comes from the living God, who, if we let him interrupt our plans, can turn the Bible from something we look at to something we look through in prayer with him
  1. Against Legalism

To be sure, this isn’t legalism. It’s obvious that God’s grace cannot be earned. Dallas Willard said it well: “Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning.” No amount of right practices could earn God’s love. However, having been won by God’s love, we now get to ask, “How do I take what I know and translate it into life?” Legalism actually expands the divide between our head-knowledge of God’s grace and our practices/heart knowledge. Practices, as those which are birthed out of God’s grace, help bridge that divide. I think of the Psalmist’s line, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (16:5). This is true for us.

Thanks for the question, Moses. I hope this helps!:grin: