Towards a Theology of Christian Practice

I’ve been collecting and examining “faddish” spiritual practices that have dotted the landscape of evangelicalism in the last 20 years (Prayer of Jabez anyone?). Somehow we’ve turned spiritual practices into fads. We market them to death and people jump on the bandwagon, but only until the next new and improved practice-system arrives:

This prayer program will change your life (until you get bored of it or until we tell you that we’ve got a new and improved one that is the must-have of the year)!

This fasting/diet plan will help you lose weight and gain a connection with God (and here is Christian celebrity 2015 to tell you why you can’t live without it)!

This all-new Bible reading plan is quick, easy and convenient (because heaven forbid the reading of Scripture take time, and make our lives slightly inconvenient)!

The criteria by which we have evaluated and attempted new systems has been primarily pragmatic. Sure we quote Scripture to back up why we do it, but at the heart of the motivation is pragmatism.

A better orientation, one that will help pilgrims connect to historic practices in the Church as well as stave off the consumerist impulse that screams “ooo! shiny new toy!” while having the freedom to find creative expressions, is theological. It anchors both the practice and our emotions in Christ’s command to the Church that we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

A theological orientation starts from God’s work. What has God done, how has He worked out our salvation, and in light of that, how might we respond? A theological orientation asks the “why” before it asks the “how.”

The theological orientation still allows us to participate and experience a variety of practices, because theology understands the tension between the past and the future, between the now and the not yet. The theological orientation to practices is primarily christological, but it is also ecclesiological. Our 21st century Church does not exist in isolation. Even when we do community well in the present day, our community is not merely limited to the present. We are united in Christ to a church that includes 2,000 years of saints, apostles, martyrs and servants. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel, or try to come up with something ad hoc. We can (and should) listen to the wisdom of our elders, those pilgrims who have journeyed the narrow path and who have marked the path so that we might know the pitfalls and dangers we will be facing.

And so, under the watchful and illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit, we have a freedom to to learn from both the liturgical and the low church branches of our faith. We can dip our toes, or dunk our heads, into various practices of prayer (be it prayerbooks, prayer beads, or tongues), into various practices of song (be it hymns, chants or choruses, in living or dead languages), or into various practices of seasons and rhythms (be it the seasons of the Church Year, and/or times of feasting and fasting).