Thursday, October 25, 2012

Theological vs Practical? Theological Aptitude: Correcting a False Dichotomy

This is a note to all seminary students studying to serve God in His holy office to preach and teach His truth.

Are you theological?  Are you practical?  I hope you are both.  In fact, if you aren't a theologian, you can't possibly be practical.  "Loving" your people won't cut it.  Your people will need to hear God's Word.  They are going to need to hear theology so that the opinio legis of their Old Adam is silenced, and they can be comforted by Jesus' Spirit and Word.  

So theology is more than just a study of some academic discipline.  We learn in Intro to Theology (Prolegomena) about the aptitude of a theologian. In his Christian Dogmatics (I:46-51), Pieper describes five characteristics or attributes of a faithful minister of the doctrine of Christ. The first is that he believes. If someone does not believe that he is justified not because of any of his own merits, but for Christ's sake God is favorable toward him and forgives his sins, then he cannot really be a theologian.  At best, he can only be a nerd.  So again, if you want to be a theologian, you must believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This carries with it the long-held Lutheran conviction that theology is not merely a philosophical or ethical discipline. This is what Quenstedt says about it:
Is theology a God-given (θεόσδοτος) practical aptitude (habitus)? κρίνομενον or point of controversy?
The question 1) concerning systematic theology, is not considered abstractly or accidentally (accidentaliter); but taken habitually, concretely, and essentially. 2) Not from a God-given aptitude (θεόσδοτ) by reason of immediate infusion, but by reason of discovery, of origin, and of object. 3) Concerning a practical aptitude, not by such practice which is established in human power, nor is it handled humanly (τ νθρώπινα) as from Philosophy, but by such practice which is Spiritual, assuredly leading man to eternal salvation. 4) Not concerning the practical aptitude by which the practice is the means or a study of good works, but that which as it is taught for the sake of practising the life of faith, by which alone we draw near to eternal life. 5) Not concerning the practical aptitude which excludes all knowledge (γνσιν), nor does it presuppose something false, but that which while depending originally on it, nevertheless ultimately remains and comes about in it. (Quenstedt, Systema, Pars I, Caput I, Quaestio III, 1715 edition, 22)
The pietists accused the faithful teachers of the Lutheran Church of being concerned only with head-knowledge. But that was only because they refused to realize the importance of the unity of the certainty of faith with the certainty of God's Word, from which faith comes (Rom 10:17). David as well as St. Paul said that they believe, therefore they speak (Psa 116:10; 2nd Cor 4:13).

The second part of theological aptitude is the ability for a theologian to let his teaching be ruled entirely by God's Word. Pieper quotes St. Paul: “If any man teach otherwise and consent not to the whoesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ... he is proud, knowing nothing (1st Tim 6:3).”

The third part of theological aptitude is the ability and willingness to preach the whole Word of God. Paul says, “I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).” Don't your theological education as some hidden academic knowledge that the people can't learn. Of course, don't throw at them a bunch of Latin phrases a theological jargon. Read the Scriptures, and teach it. It's all there. And if it is revealed in God's Word, it is meant for God's people. My grandma told me recently that a conviction that my grandfather had was that theology is for all Christians, not just for pastors and theologians. He was right. After all, theology is a spiritual aptitude. Let those who are spiritual pray not just with their spirits, but also with their minds (1st Cor 14:15,20). We are transformed through the renewal of our minds (Rom 12:2).

The fourth part of theological aptitude is to refute false teachers. St. Paul again says, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Tit 1:9).” And again, “...preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Tim 4:2).” Always remember that reproving and rebuking is accompanied with patience and teaching, teaching of Christ's doctrine, the center of which is the justification of the ungody by God's free favor for Christ's sake. Let this give you all the more diligence to rebuke false teaching. This includes ecclesiastical practice that contradicts the mandates of Him who instituted the church.

Finally, be willing to suffer for Christ and His Gospel (see Mark 10:29ff). You will suffer for the sake of Jesus' Name (Matt 24:9; Acts 9:16). Don't go looking for it, though. Don't start fights. But don't sit by while the Gospel is attacked.  

With all that said, I would like to encourage my fellow seminarians and vicars not to create for yourselves ways out. John Nieminen preached a great sermon last spring in chapel on Acts 4, making the point that the disciples did not pray for a way out of the situation. Instead, they prayed for boldness. Also, do not make for yourselves false dichotomies. If you are already in the habit of speaking of theological on the one hand and practical on the other, cut the habit! It's a bad habit. Theology is practical. It is God's law and gospel which He has revealed to us in His Word. Learn theology. Keep learning it. Let the Holy Scriptures be your bread and the Lutheran Confessions your butter.

Be theological! Be dogmatic! This is what Christ mandated when He told His disciples to teach all nations. If you divorce being practical from being doctrinal, then what you call being practical will only be unfaithfulness and ultimately works-righteousness. The only way you can truly love your people is if you are faithful to God's Word. Because, after all, they aren't God's people without God's Word.

Be theological because it is through God's word that we learn about faith and love. Love is for our neighbor. Love is kind. Love is patient. Love rejoices in the truth, yet it doesn't broadcast the secret faults of our neighbor. Love bears with our neighbor. But faith is different. It can't cover up sin. Faith cannot correct error. Why? Because faith is passive, and if you try to correct error passively, you will fail. Faith can only passively receive and cling confidently to God's loving kindness, favor and forgiveness given for the sake of Christ's perfect obedience to His Father, the love that covers all our faults. It is this doctrine and all its articles that we pray God would preserve for us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh do not rob us of this faith, and thus, our spiritual aptitude.

In Christ,
Vicar Andrew Preus


Michael said...

Well said. Pastors absolutely need to do everything they can to encourage and motivate their sheep to learn God's Word and the catechism inside out. A household where the Scriptures are not read and taught daily can hardly be considered Christian. Our lay people need to know this! Otherwise how will they be able to support their pastors and fellow redeemed when the going gets tough? Pastors surely need support from their people that is under-girded by a stronger foundation than can be built by acting like everyone's friend and buddy. Talk about hay and straw...

Luther asked in the preface to the Large Catechism, "Are we not the finest of all fellows to imagine, if we have once read or heard [the catechism], that we know it all, and have no further need to read and learn, but can finish learning in one hour what God Himself cannot finish teaching, although He is engaged in teaching it from the beginning to the end of the world, and all prophets, together with all saints, have been occupied with learning it, and have ever remained pupils, and must continue to be such?"

Andrew J Preus said...

Michael, That is a very pertinent quote from Luther! Thanks for commenting!