Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Reuniting Theology and Life

I recently started reading Redeeming the Routines: Bringing Theology to Life by Robert Banks. In it, he addresses the need to help Christians close the gap that frequently exists between their professed beliefs and their every day activities (e.g., homemaking, study, employment, leisure, etc.). We often hear about how the Christian faith is relevant to all dimensions of life but aside from admonitions to be morally upright in whatever we're doing, little of the church's disciple-making efforts is devoted to aiding believers to think Christianly about their specific stations in life. Banks illustrates this deficit with the following illustration:
Now if you ask a representative sample of Christians whether faith and life ought to be in harmony, they will answer a resounding "yes." The rub comes when you put the question in a specific way, in relation to a particular aspect of work or area of responsibility. For example, if you are a homemaker and I ask you whether your religious convictions should influence the way you bring up your family and relate to your neighbors, you will probably nod your head in agreement.

But then if I ask you whether those convictions have as clear and direct an influence on the kind of house you have, area you live in, and the means of commuting you use, you will probably pause to think. Unfortunately, we are unaware how much our decisions in these areas are molded by broader social attitudes and have little distinctively Christian about them.
I think Banks's observation is accurate. It is far easier for us to deal with general principles than it is to invest the time and mental energy required to ponder which biblical truths are pertinent to specific situations and how. I just finished a chapter called "The Credibility Gap" in which Banks offers ten theses, half of which explore the gap many Christians recognize between their faith and their routines. The other five deal with the gap between how theology is customarily written/taught and everyday life. It is this half that I found most interesting, especially what he has to say related to the following thesis: "Our everyday concerns receive little attention in the church."

After stating that many Christians regard sermons and church activities as "otherworldly" (in the negative sense) and unrelated to their mundane patterns of life, Banks says this:

Most Bible studies are of little help here. They tend to concentrate on the exposition of biblical books or on the discussion of theological themes. Obviously these are basic concerns, but why is so little attention paid to the proverbial passages in the Bible or to the lives of some of the ordinary figures who feature in it? Doctrinal topics or broader social and political questions, perfectly valid in themselves, tend to squeeze out more everyday concerns in study groups. Even work-based Bible studies and study groups rarely address the specific questions, dilemmas, pressures, and aspirations that arise in the employment situation. In fact, the concentration upon pure Bible study in some of these groups is often an escape from grappling with the real issues of life.
That last sentence really caught my attention. We can use even the Word of Truth to shield ourselves from facing reality. We can treat theology like a sanctified narcotic by which we seek to flee life's pain and discomfort - not only our own but that of others. Remaining at the level of abstraction can keep me at a safe distance from the particulars of another's misery.

In case anyone's wondering, here are all ten theses Banks presents in this chapter:

  1. Few of us apply or know how to apply our belief to our work, or lack of work.
  2. We make only minimal connections between our faith and our spare time activities
  3. We have little sense of a Christian approach to regular activities.
  4. Our everyday attitudes are partly shaped by the dominant values of our society.
  5. Many of our spiritual difficulties stem from the daily pressures we experience.
  6. Our everyday concerns receive little attention in the church.
  7. Only occasionally do professional theologians address routine activities.
  8. When addressed, everyday issues tend to be approached too theoretically.
  9. Only a minority of Christians read religious books or attend theological courses.
  10. Most churchgoers reject the idea of a gap between their beliefs and their ways of life.
Related Tags: , , , , , ,

No comments: