Academic vs. Practical

I’ve always had a tear in my life depending on the environment that I am in and the people that I am around. On one side it consists of the academics. I love to read and learn and know the right things. I enjoy at times talking about theology and doctrines and buzz issues and listening to how other people view the circumstance. The other side of me is much more practical. I am excited to move into the crappy neighbourhood in Sarnia. I am excited to plant a church and help develop it into a community that is missional. I am excited to help people wherever I am. Those are two brief explanations but I think it makes my point.

The problem I have is when these two worlds collide. For instance, like this week. I’ve been working with Pernell here at the FRWY for the past few weeks, organizing Sundays, talking about church and the way its run and really just getting submerged in the entire church planting scene. Then I went to a few sessions of N.T. Wright with some of my more theologically inclined friends like Dom who is just beginning his pre-doctoral work and Nick who is a Reformer at heart. Both of them are much smarter than I am when it comes to systematic theology and much more apt to know what is right from wrong.

Here is where it gets hard. And I’ll give an example that I’ve observed before to help illustrate my point, this never happened to me, so I don’t want to argue about it.

Let’s say that in a newer church plant there is a communion table set up in a corner of a church where throughout the service at anytime people can walk over and take communion by themselves. Quickly looking at it, we would think nothing about it; we would say it was just a creative way to incorporate the Eucharist into the gathering. However, bring in the theologians and everything changes, especially if they are the hard-nosed ones who just like to tell you that you are wrong. They will say that really isn’t communion at all. That it is communion without Jesus. Unless everyone is taking it together it is unbiblical. Then of course if your church isn’t really taking communion well then it really isn’t a Christian church at all. And the ball keeps rolling.

In my practical mind, there are a lot fewer hoops to jump through to be included in the term church or to label a person a Christian. In my academic mind, the list is massive; in fact, I doubt I’m even on the list. I have an extremely hard time balancing out my academic answers with my practical practices. I’m sure there is some delicate balance that needs to be learned but I don’t think I’m there. What will confuse me all the more is that all my academic friends will say that my practices need to fit into my theology and that if it’s not in the bible or in the early church than it is wrong. My practical friends will just be going with flow being creative and unique and almost creating their theology around their practices and the relationships that form around them. Both in their own way seem valid, and both in their own way scare me and I don’t want to go that way.

9 thoughts on “Academic vs. Practical”

  1. The fact of the matter is that you’ll have to be a little more persuasive to people like me in order to convince me that communion should be done in the manner you specified. To take communion alone doesn’t really appreciate the fact that we as Christ’s redeemed have taken part in the same body and blood and are thus one. To say that it’s innovative or whatever doesn’t convince me.

    This is only to say that people like me need more and you should be able to give it. If there is a theological reason for doing it that way than you shouldn’t be scared to tell your people about it.

  2. That was strictly just an example that I saw, I wasn’t any part of it, so I don’t want to pick apart that specific example. I would agree that communion never looked anything like that throughout the scriptures.

    It was an example though of where people are getting there reasons for doing things and how sometimes basing something on scriptures makes sense (even though many times we certainly have to make broad jumps to say that since it was done this way 2000 years ago it still needs to be done this way) and sometimes that doing things based on experience and relationships makes sense.

  3. That, actually, was my point. If someone wanted to do something that imho was unbiblical I would probably say something to an elder, pastor or whatever. Although it might seem like I’m straining at gnats to some, I don’t think I would be because something is actually at steak here, namely an important element of communion (yes, it’s a hypothetical example only but it’s a good one).

    Is there room for creativity? Yes. Where? I’d say where the Bible doesn’t speak. Therefore there’s room for the “Biblists” and the more “feely” people.

  4. But then, of course, is the never ending question.
    Is there a list somewhere of what is important or unchangeable and what is not?
    Because everyone is going to disagree about this list.

  5. What strikes me as funny is when you go to a church service and do communion, the pastor gives his regurgitated speal on its importance and meaning and then youre handed a little bit of bread and some grape juice. Heres my body guys, drink up!

    Where is the accuracy in that? I always felt alone when drinking and eating so I stopped. Its so impersonal. And Christ wasnt about being impersonal (or maybe he was, I dont know).

  6. just a quick thought nathan, getting away from the communion discussion you didn’t want to have…

    i think the beauty of church and church leadership is that you are not leading by yourself. you are among a team and part of the bigger picture of the body of Christ. you will find your strengths in one area (i.e. academics) while another person will be alongside you to balance and counter your weaknesses (who may have a strong focus on the practical aside from the academic…)

    nevertheless, i guess i’m say as this church plant starts, look at what your team has to offer– and see it as a beautiful, balanced mosaic of Christ incarnated. don’t see yourself and your giftings alone. they’re no good if you offer them as an individual anyway.


  7. Hey Aaron, good points, and something I’ve thought about also, even to the point where I wanted to call a couple of my academic friends/mentors and ask them to keep me/the church in check, almost as a academic mentor, and then call some practical friends and ask the same. Which in many ways i already have, but that is where I feel torn back and forth right now. I go to a Wright conference and i have an amazing friend who challenges me so much in the academics and then I am living with a pastor who is challenging me so much in the practical, and many times it doesn’t even up. I don’t feel comfortable either defaulting to one or the other when i don’t know what to do.

    I think though at the same time, there is normally a large tear in my feelings. Maybe its because at times there is a uneveness with my academic side and my practical side. And then i feel like i’m letting one side down at times.

    Maybe i need to go to regent.

    I dunno, its something that really bothers me at times, but you are def right about theStory, I wouldn’t trade a team leadership for anything in the world.

  8. Did you ever find a balance between academics and practical? I, biblical lay person, was reading some academic papers on the colors of the horses in Zachariah and they went deep into the colors of horses that would have been present in Zachariah’s time based on genetic studies of horses. When God inspired Zachariah to write his visions, did He really intend that readers of the Bible have a Ph.D. to interpret and comprehend the contents? The academic papers I’ve read feel, well academic, rather than God-lead. Where do Biblical academics merge with the Holy Spirit? Is God involved at all?

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