Practical Theology

In college I worked as waiter for the four-star restaurant chain known as Ruby Tuesdays. Our particular restaurant was located in a movie theater, which meant we often had groups of teenagers come in for dinner prior to seeing their movie together. One night I was sat with a large table of teens who proceeded to talk very loudly about their plans for the evening. Each of them began to compare how much money their parents had given them, and they began to evaluate how much money each of them had for food, tickets, and snacks.

It was clear to me as this conversation went along that one very important factor had been left out of the equation: tip. Sure enough when I went over to collect the bill, pennies were left on the table for me. They had used their resources to maximize pleasure for self without giving any thought to others.

Isn’t this how many of us tend to view our time, resources, and energy? In our hyper-individualistic age, we maximize what we have for ourselves, leaving little of behind to give to others. As a result, the communities all around us – even in our churches –  are fracturing and collapsing.

If we are going to be those who receive the church community as a gift and properly devote ourselves to its care and growth, then we are also going to need to remember the purposes of the community that God has called us into. Continue Reading

My family recently moved to a new neighborhood near our church. From the outside, this neighborhood is seen as one of the better neighborhoods in our county. It is perceived as being full of neighbors who are close and intimate with one another – a community that has been relatively untouched by the slow erosion of neighborhoods happening all around us. I moved into this neighborhood with great anticipation, eager to be greeted by our new neighbors upon our arrival. After all, it’s really easy to “love your neighbor” when they love you first, right? I secretly hoped this new neighborhood would make my task of following Jesus convenient and comfortable.

Weeks and months went by without much interaction from any of our neighbors – until I finally met a nice woman who lives a few doors down from me. She and her husband have been living in the same house in this neighborhood for almost 40 years! She began to tell me about all of the other neighbors and how long they have lived here (some for 20, 30, or 40 years as well). I asked her how often they get together as neighbors for meals or other events. Sadly, she told me that while they used to get together often, they have not done so in a very long time. When I asked her why, she couldn’t point to any reason. They just don’t.

Even the strongest of our neighborhoods and small communities have not been untouched by the many fractures eroding the foundations of our neighborly relationships. How can Christians respond to the failing health of communities and the polarization of tribalism in our culture when we hardly know other church members, let alone our next-door neighbors? Continue Reading

I have been preparing to preach a sermon on power and authority this Sunday. As part of my informal research, I have asked several people to define the words power and authority for me. Are they the same? Are they different – and if so, how? Most people gave a similar response: a short pause, followed by an attempt to reason the similarities and difference between the two terms. It was our youth pastor who gave the best response. After pausing for a moment, he said, “You can feel it. The difference is there. But articulating it is hard to do!”

Power and authority are major themes in the Scriptures. It is incredibly important that Christians develop a positive theology for power and authority – not only so that we know how to handle them rightly, but also so that we know how to prevent and respond to their abuse. One of the reasons why churches have proven incapable time after time in preventing and responding to abuse is because we do not have a positive theology for how to handle power and authority with godliness, humility, and respect.

So what do we mean by the terms power and authority? While I cannot attempt to say everything that could be said, here are six points for us to keep in mind as we develop a theology of power and abuse. Continue Reading

How do people come to faith? The way you begin to answer this question explains a lot about who you think people are and the way God works in their hearts to bring them to faith. So often the way Christians approach this question is by way of theory and method, comparing ideas and what they think will “work best.”

While it is certainly important for us to brainstorm with others or compare ideas to refine our ability to share the gospel, many Christians get stuck in the world of theories and never move into the realm of real relationships with real people. The result is a lot of hypothetical evangelism which forgets about the complexity of sharing life with flesh and blood friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

This is why I have long been grateful for the work of Randy Newman. In his first book Questioning Evangelism, Randy presented the task of evangelism as less of a theory and more of an art. He showed us how the work of the evangelist involves real conversations with real people – meaning we actually need to come into contact with real people and engage them in conversations using good questions and plain speech.

In his newest book Unlikely Converts: Improbable Stories of Faith and What They Teach Us About Evangelism, Randy shares real stories that help us see the dynamic and supernatural means God can use to bring people to repentance and faith. The way he weaves real stories, biblical exposition, and practical applications helps us to avoid mere theory while sharing lessons that translate into the everyday life of Christians.

How do people come to faith? Using his concept of pre-evangelism, Randy tells us people tend to come to faith in four ways: gradually, communally, variously, and supernaturally. Continue Reading