practical theology

practical theology“Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them.

Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What’s your opinion about this man who healed you?”

The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.”

The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents. 19 They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?”

His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. That’s why they said, “He is old enough. Ask him.”

So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

“I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” (john 9:13-25)

i was putting away groceries the other day and as usual i end up thinking of the most random things in the quiet.  i was thinking about how most people i know in real life really don’t give a rip about systematic theology.  they don’t care what this scripture was supposed to mean or not supposed to mean and all kinds of other things that people seem to spend a lot of time volleying around not only here on the world wide web but in a lot of other christian-y places, too.  what many of my friends seem to care the most about is what i think most people actually care about when we get right down to it:  where is God in my real life?

in my random thoughts this passage in john 9 came to mind, the story of the man who had been blind from birth but Jesus healed.  i love this story because while the pharisees were trying to figure out the ins and outs of why he was blind, who sinned how and where, and a systematic way of explaining what had happened, and then all the reasons why it was wrong for Jesus to heal him on the sabbath, the man exclaims, “i don’t know…but i know this; i was blind, and now i can see.”

i think we can apply this to so many other things we think are so darn essential to the christian faith.  all the picking apart of passages, all the in-club & the out-club, the “in-order-to-be-a-true-christian-you-had-better-believe-it-the-way-we-teach-it.”  we’ve also been taught that if we don’t believe certain things in a certain way then our whole faith will somehow fall apart.  it’s so fear-based that no wonder why lot of folks don’t want anything to do with it. i have discovered in my own faith journey & the many conversations i have with people all over the place theologically that this fearful notion misses the mark.  regardless of all the ways we dot our i’s and cross our t’s, the gospel prevails.  justice & mercy for the poor and oppressed, the message of death & resurrection & new life and the ways of Jesus’ love and grace always seem to remain.

this past weekend at the refuge we had a lovely evening of spiritual reflection stations around the theme of “rest.”  i always like these nights because they are quiet and simple and create space for me to connect with God.  the diversity of the stations was beautiful & i know that some of the more systematic conservative persuasion would have had a hey-day on some of the content, even though some of it was traditional.  you see, some of my friends experience Jesus in lovely ways beyond just scripture.  they don’t have the “right” answers for many systematic theologians; but they will be the first in line to say “i don’t know.  all’s i know was i was blind and now i see.”

i left saturday evening proud of our openness and diversity, that we are safe enough for a wide range of theological expressions.  God is big.  and people are smarter than we think.  many aren’t looking for others to tell them the right answers; they are looking for a tangible and meaningful connection with the Holy Spirit and that will be enough.   they are looking for bread when they are hungry and shelter from the storm.  they are looking for love & hope & peace in the midst of real life.  they are seeking healing & change and connection with the living God.

and so am i.

i need a practical theology not a systematic one. i need a living Bible not just a “here’s-what-this-passage-means” one.  i need to see hands & feets & hearts moving around me.  i need to feel Jesus’ spirit & example move my hands & feet & heart in a practical way.  i believe firmly and strongly this world doesn’t need more right words or right beliefs or right doctrine.  i don’t think that will help us much.  i don’t think it will change the world or help blind men see.

i think people all over the place, here and abroad, are wondering if Jesus cares about them.  and how would they know?  will they know when they discover the correctness of our version of what scripture says?  or will they know it because we—Christ’s body here on earth—touched them, loved them, cared for them when no one else seemed to.

i believe the kind of healing Jesus offered in that moment to the blind man is available through us now.  because Jesus is incarnate in us, we can bring what was dead back to life. we can be part of restoring sight & bringing hope & light to the darkest of places.    i know many people who have done this for me that do not know the “right words” or believe the “right things” according to many “right-thinking-christian-standards”.  but see, like the blind man, it doesn’t really matter.   all’s i know is i was blind and now i see.

i’d love to hear some of your thoughts:  what is practical theology for you?


* * * * *

ps:  after i already wrote this, at our wednesday eve house of refuge i facilitated a short reflection on this passage.  we shared our own “i don’t know….but i know this:  i was _____ and now i ________.”  oh they were so beautiful.  if you are willing to share any of your fill-in-the-blanks, i’d also love to hear.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

21 Comments

  • Love the “I don’t know, but all I know…” theme. But my favorite template of practical theology comes later in John:

    “Simon, do you love me?”

    “Yes, Lord, I’m your friend.”

    “OK. Good enough. I got a job for you.”

    (paraphrased)

    Grace and Peace,
    Raffi

    Reply
  • or will they know it because we—Christ’s body here on earth—touched them, loved them, cared for them when no one else seemed to.

    This part Kathy spoke to my heart because soooo many out their think they know it all but can’t even do that!!!! Thank you again my lovely friend..i know even in the midst of your busy life you always make the time for anyone who comes to your door!!! Also i was reading romans 11 last tuesday together with my girlfriends and we discoverd
    that we are all part of a big tree with branches and the most that striked us was that we should not boast about those other branches…..We shared how we are all important and grow together and that we are part of this big tree and His roots. And that we need eachother and not talk down on the branches but grow and respect eachother. No matter who you are or what you are, just simply be part of the tree of life!! I recently lost a friend of mine who wanted so badly to be accepted by people, but he was one of those branches who couldn’t make it anymore, because of his drug & alcohol abuse he died in his sleep, but i believe he is with God in peace. When he was a young guy he gave his heart to him only everyone else stalked him with Bible verses and judging him the way he lived. Some how they ould neve accept him for who he was. Yes it was not good but you know what, who is good?? God looked at his heart!!! And that matters!!

    Thanks kathy againXX

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  • Hi Kathy,

    I always appreciate your writings..You really made me think about my husband with this article. He wasn’t raised in a Christian home, but assures me he has been praying to God ever since he was two years old, in his back yard with a shovel, and his little two year old voice told his mom he was going to, “Dig up the devil.”

    ..He seemed to stumble into a lot of different Christians throughout his life, some really good, loving Christians and some not so great. He used to go to Flatirons Church with me when we were first married, but then we decided to look for a different church and somewhere in that process he gave up on church altogether. He still doesn’t go. But he has read the bible three times in the two and a half years we have been married, he prays and talks about God almost everyday, so to me that is evidence that he is searching.

    He often talks about God in the context of trying to figure out God’s will for his life, but when we get to the subject of Jesus there is often a long puzzled pause when I ask if he believes that Jesus is “God and the only way to God.” Reincarnation is an idea he plays with sometimes, which scares the living daylights out of me, he tells me he doesn’t understand how a loving God lets people go to hell. I try to just be an example of a loving follower of Jesus, since he seems to get agitated by biblical debates. I hope someday we come to more of an agreement on Jesus, especially because I don’t want our kids to be confused about all this. I bet you can tell I have a lot on my mind! Thanks for listening.
    -Kate B.

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  • Yesterday I was writing back a friend. She had asked me:
    “Being afraid is very normal. You have known one thing for so long, it has become your “security blanket.”
    However, why are you afraid to let go of that which has brought you misery?”

    I answered that I don’t know what that “one thing” is. I can’t seem to identify if it’s the whole “kit and kaboodle” of Christianity that I need to let go of, or some part, or what.

    Reading this post, I had an answer (maybe not the only one). It’s fear. Fear is that one thing I’ve known from God for so long that I don’t know what to do without it even though I hate it. And you hit the nail right on the head when you commented about how much fear Christianity promotes. So can I have Jesus without the fear? I hope so.

    Hoping to get to “I was afraid…but now I’m ?????”

    Thanks, Kathy!!

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  • After spending a wonderful week-end with my family here, I reflected on the community of family and how good it is. But I felt like running away when the Mormon Missionaries came to my door and my Mormon brother and his wife invited them to the porch and made them felt welcomed and told them they could come back anytime. I came to terms that I don not like them and am incensed that they are here, again , to get their claws into to me! I will never be coerced to follow any one or group which tells me how I have to dress , walk, talk or drink!

    All I know is that someone called Jesus accepts me as I am but loves me too much to leave me there!

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  • Great blog. It is good to see someone struggling with such issues. Perhaps practical theology is just what you are doing, struggling to find God in the ordinary details of life and then to give expression to what you encounter.

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  • Hmm….I was bound by religion and now I am free……

    This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. I love this man’s attitude. 😀

    But what I also saw recently, thinking about this story, is that after the whole grilling he took from the pharisees and being mocked and told he was wrong…and thrown out of the synagogue…..who was waiting for him outside? Yeah. Jesus is waiting when the religious throw us out. 🙂

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  • Kathy, have you ever read “Fearfully And Wonderfully Made?” (Paul Brandt and Philip Yancy) It’s one of my favorite books of all time. It talks about how doctrine and theology are like the skeleton of an organism. Without the bones, the muscles can’t function, and there is no strength. But the first encounter you have with an organism isn’t the bones, or the skeleton, unless the creature has an exoskeleton. Like a crab. The first encounter you have with the body of a mammal on the other hand is it’s skin. Soft, approachable, warm.

    So if we make theology and doctrine our first priority over compassion, warmth, understanding, and tenderness towards those who are suffering or lost, we are like the creatures with exoskeletons. A first encounter with us is cold, hard, inflexible, rigid, distasteful. But if we make compassion, love, tenderness, warmth, understanding, and mercy our priorities, a first encounter with us will be warm, soft, inviting, comforting, and appealing. You can always teach someone theology and doctrine later. At this moment, give them a first-hand experience of the compassion and tenderness of Christ. They’ll never forget it.

    I think that’s what The Refuge represents: The compassion, mercy, tenderness, and healing of Christ offered to a lost world. I guess the name wasn’t an accident, huh?

    Phil

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  • When I was a child I was a child was diagnosed with a neurobiological challenge. I call it a challenge and not a disability, because though as an adult I’m just recently beginning to acknowledge that it still contributes to many of the trials and failures I’ve have experienced in every area of life I know in my heart it something I can learn how to work with, around, and through it and as a result experience greater effectiveness in the works Father has prepared for me then if I didn’t have it, but I also know that the trial that it is is making me a better man. Like Paul’s thorn in the flesh. That to me is practical theology.

    Secondly since this is in the for front of where I am at this stage in the season I’m in. The fact that God loves and accepts me regardless who else doesn’t is extremely practical as the neurological disorder has has contributed to me being a person who can demonstrate brilliance one moment and the opposite the next. I’m a person who one moment acts by the leading of the Spirit and see peoples lives positively transformed and the next hour, day, minute act out of impulsiveness. I can have extreme clarity and focus one moment and be totally unfocused a moment later.

    Yet the fact that I really really really know that Father loves me keeps me going and moving forward even when my own heart and mind condemns me and other people reject and condemn me who refuse to get to know me well enough to know that I have this neurobiological challenge and that some of what I do and say and don’t do and do say or things I miss is a result.

    I’m different and yet father loves me and he accepts me and chooses to use me regardless how other people respond to me. Knowing that is what motivates me to find out if there are medications that will help and if their are things I can learn so that I can do less of the things that are not beneficial to myself and others and more of those that are. So that I can better understand things experience sustained success.

    Well I hope this all made sense and was beneficial to the topic at hand.

    Tom

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  • I have been told by one person online that I can’t understand the Bible because I don’t read it and study it in Hebrew/Greek/Aramaic and her boyfriend is a reverend or theologian or something like that and he gives her all the meanings of everything etc. Every time I quoted the Bible it was the same story with her — it’s wrong, wrong wrong because it’s not interpreted “right.” She also said she would only read/trust the KJV and no other translation. I think she was missing the point and refusing to see who Jesus is and was in favor of relying on some formula and her boyfriend. There was no discussing it with her because she was so certain I didn’t understand because I didn’t study it like she did.

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  • I love to read your blog Kathy but I also love all the great responses from people. Thanks for opening us up to communicate in this way.

    I used to live the majority of my life in chaos now I live mostly experiencing God’s peace.

    I used to be really lonely and now I am building friendships and trusting others.

    I used to avoid conflict and now I am starting to deal with it before it overtakes me.

    I used to think that it couldn’t be possible for all the experiences of Christianity to be real. I mean those who speak in tongues and those who are conservative. Now I see that God speaks to each of us in a way that is tangible and real for us individually.

    I used to think that I could throw a prayer out there, read my Bible sometimes and go to church and that was enough. Now I see that relationship with God and relationship with others takes effort and openness.

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  • If we were to find ourselves caught up in some sort of time warp, and back in first century Palestine, who would we follow? Jesus, as He loved on, helped and healed all kinds of people, including and especially those on the bottom rung of the ladder – the poor, diseased, uneducated, theologically ignorant, women – or those educated guys who knew all the “correct” interpretations of Scripture, the teachings and traditions, and spent lots of time running around calling most everyone else, including the Son of God, sinner?

    What has changed about this scenario? – Let’s see, now we have more technology. Do we really think if Jesus were to return today in bodily form to minister to the people that those guys with all the correct theology and interpretations of Scripture would be any different? Is crucifixion still legal?

    Why does anyone think it is their job to run around informing anyone that they are a sinner, based on a “correct interpretation” of Scripture, or such and such a theology? Sorry, that is the Spirit’s job, and who are any of us to think that we can usurp His authority?

    Show me your practical theology first – how you treat and love people, how you care for the lonely, the broken-hearted, the poor, those on the bottom rung of society, the outcast – and then I will know if your systemic theology is correct. Then I will know if you know and believe Jesus’ teachings. He said if we believe Him we will do what He says, especially loving God with all our soul and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.

    If we’re not loving our neighbor as ourselves we know nothing. We do not believe Jesus. Hey – He said so! I’m only repeating what He said. If we do not love our neighbor as ourselves, our theology is totally screwy, and the world knows it.

    If all we needed was a totally correct systematic theology – wouldn’t God have written it on the side of a mountain or on stone tablets for Moses? But He became one of us, walked among us, loved us, healed us and died for us. If we are His followers, is He asking us to go out with the correct theology of the atonement, baptism or whatever, or does He ask us to walk with Him among the people, love them, heal them and perhaps even die for them?

    Which is really the correct theology?

    As I walk with the people and among the people, they tell me the people in the churches don’t care about them. Hey – they say it. I’m only repeating what they say.

    I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.

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  • Kathy! Hi! First off thanks for this post, really good thoughts that resonate with me (and apparently a lot of people!) as usual.

    I think the two parts of this are both really important- being transformed and being the transforming body of Christ, as you mentioned. I’ve spent far too much time on the first part and have barely scratched the surface on the second. May God help us!

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think I would say “I was found but now I am lost”

    which is not to say I am no longer a follower of Christ but rather to say that I once thought I knew exactly what that meant and where that put me, and I am now getting comfortable not really knowing where I am or where I’m headed, but trusting.

    thanks again for doing an awesome job with this website! You do some of the best blogging out there!

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  • sorry all, been a little bit of a nutty week here, i know, i know, i always say that….just getting to all your great responses. thanks for taking time to comment

    els – i always love to hear your heart & passion for people. beautiful. practical. real.

    raffi – that made me smile. 🙂 yes. simple. powerful. we’re all qualified. so great to hear from you out here, i miss your blog & hope all’s well with you…

    kate – thanks for this honest and real story. oh it is tricky to let go and trust and not focus on the minutia. at the same time, i respect as partners how it is difficult when you are at different places spiritually and how to navigate through that together, respecting and honoring each other & also wrestling with the differences. i hope to get to see you soon. know you always have a safe place to come process and practice….

    blueorchid – oh how i always love what you add. yes, i do hope that fear and Jesus are not always connected for you…that would be a beautiful thing. that a day would come maybe that you could say in some shape or form “i don’t know, but i do know that i used to be so #$*!&!^ afraid (sorry, i always throw in the bad words :)) and now i am experiencing a wild & solid & very-real peace…) love & hope to you as you keep heading down this road…

    mary – lovely!

    keith – thanks for sharing what it felt like for you. real acceptance is a beautiful thing.

    milton – great to hear from you, thanks for adding some thoughts & yes, i hope that’s what i keep focusing on–the real and living God in the midst of ordinary life.

    katherine – 🙂 yes, i didn’t add the rest of the story but that’s what’s so great, in many ways about it, tossing him out but who really cares? he could see….

    phil – i haven’t read that one…but i have a friend who tells that story and i wonder if she got it there ? it is a good metaphor & yes on the name. i like it. we had some people who didn’t (from the outside) who were like “it’s too in-grown, it’s not ‘missional’ enough, and all kinds of other weird things” but really it represents who we are and that we bring “refuge” to others in all kinds of weird ways. anyway, thanks for reading & commenting and being part of the convo here..

    tom – oh thank you for your honesty and another piece of your story. i love your heart & i am so glad that you are experiencing the fullness of acceptance and love and healing from God that comes not from “religion” but from him directly. it is so beautiful and real. and practical. as always thanks for adding more texture to this conversation, i so appreciate it.

    jane – oh that was a good one

    m. – oh boy, that’s definitely a lose-lose for you in convos like that. they always leave us feeling icky, don’t they? what a limiting sad way to view such beauty…thanks for sharing, glad you are here.

    julie – oh those were amazing, julie. thanks for sharing & for being part of this conversation here…

    sam – thank you, as always. you have so much to add & i always love it. i especially liked this: “If we do not love our neighbor as ourselves, our theology is totally screwy, and the world knows it.” hey, i emailed you back but wanted to make sure you got it? lmk. my email is sometimes wacky.

    ted – i’ve missed you. when does your book come out, btw? i definitely want to get a copy & get for a few friends. you said: “I was found but now I am lost” which is not to say I am no longer a follower of Christ but rather to say that I once thought I knew exactly what that meant and where that put me, and I am now getting comfortable not really knowing where I am or where I’m headed, but trusting.” you put to words what so many of us feel. so powerful, thanks.

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  • Kathy,

    It is very interesting that this was your last post as I was having a frank conversation with my SP yesterday about the individuals that I am/have connected with and that are participating in our community now.

    Most of them have either never been to church in their life or left the institution many years ago.

    They could not care less about systematic theology or a lot of other things for that matter. What they do care about is relationships with one another, how in the hell can I survive another week in this rough life of mine, and IF there is a God – where is God in this mess.

    They are intrigued by love and service and people willing to invest and partner with them. Anyway, enough commenting, your post said it all but I think that we as the “church” would be more successful (how ever people want to define that) if we “dropped” everything else and focused on Loving God & Others.

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  • Kattia,

    I once was bound to the traditional evangelical paradigms and then began to read from the second book The Father has given us , the Book of Nature, and now see reality more clearly..

    I’ve grown to love George Macdonald the more I read him and in one of his “Unspoken Sermons”, he states that the bible’s purpose is to bring us to Jesus and then to the Father. Once we get tto the Father, He begins t reveal His heart to us so then “pratical theology’ for me is knowing the heart of The Father and allowing Him to transforms us…

    As for fear of being kick-out, I learned early in my life from parents, Bielorussian imigrants to Brazil, who challenged the leadership of the local slavic gathering there on some teaching and left because they were going to be kicked out, that what’s important is knowing the Father and his heart and that local churches are secondary to it….so I do not fear but It grieves me though when this happens as it grieves The Father…

    and we recently experienced it personally here in the St. Louis area when my wife and I were resigned from leading a community group because of our egalitarian stance -12 out of the 15 members were young women pursuing graduate degrees in law, medicine, business as such, future leaders in society, but not allowed to lead in the local church…

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  • jeff – oh i always love to hear what’s happening there in a real and tangible way….others caring about “relationships and each other” ….beautiful.

    carlos – i love that your heart is being stirred to experience more of God’s heart for you..you are not alone in that. wow, you and your wife’s recent story is courageous. i am sorry it is that way but i think it is always so powerful when we take a stand in a very practical way against injustice. i think if more did, maybe things would actually change. peace to you & your wife from afar.

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  • Hi again Kathy!

    The book is out, it’s available on Amazon and seems to be selling to more people than just my parents! Thanks in part I’m sure to the enthusiastic blurbs on the back! I thought the publisher was sending you a copy, but if not I can send you one or your can get them on Amazon. “Pages Called Holy” is the title.

    thanks again! talk to you soon

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  • ted – okay i just ordered a copy but yeah, hit up your publisher to send me mine so i can pass it on to someone else! for all of you who don’t know about this, check out ted’s book here, i wrote a back cover review. love his stuff!
    here’s the link: http://bit.ly/GXWBb

    Reply

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