The Forgotten Essentials of Doing Theology: Life Application

theologyIf your theology isn’t applied then you haven’t done theology. I agree with Dr. John Frame when he says that theology is the application of the Word of God to all areas of life. So if your theology isn’t applicable then you may have done some highly academic study and investigation, but you cannot call it theology. Life and theology are inseparable.

It’s a shame that theology has gotten the bad rap that it has. Far too many people think of theology as some speculative discipline of the academic mind. Some old man with a long beard sits up in his ivory tower studying esoteric volumes on the minutia of other old men with long beards. But that is not theology. True theology is about the business of knowing and living for God. The Puritan William Ames defined theology as the “teaching of living to God” (The Marrow of Theology, 77). The idea of a cold, dead, scientific, emotionless, or detached discipline is simply not a picture of genuine theology.

This is important because far too many people think that they are “doing theology,” while they continue to indulge in sin, or while they ignore the very person of God. Theology ought to draw us up into communion with the living God, theology ought to affect the way think, live, and play. You can read through Grudem’s Systematic Theology, friends, and still abandon the faith. Why? Because you are not applying what you learn. You can study the heights of God’s foreknowledge or the depths of man’s sin and remained unmoved in love for God’s grace. How? By viewing theology merely as the reading of information and acquiring of knowledge. J.I. Packer warns us so powerfully about this reality when he writes:

If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride. (A Quest for Godliness, 15)

This is why an increasing seriousness in theological study can be dangerous: if you don’t apply what you learn, it will harden your heart and feed your pride. Theology disconnected from life damages our faith!

I love the way that Kelly Kapic talks about this in his book A Little Book for New Theologians. He identifies theology as an “anthroposensitive” discipline. He writes:

What I am advocating here is what I have elsewhere called an anthroposensitive theology, by which I mean a refusal to divorce theological considerations from practical human application, since theological reflections are always interwoven with anthropological concerns.

I like this language. It allow us to still be God-centered in our theological study, but without masking the reality that our theology is also about our relating to this God.

When was the last time that you considered carefully how what you know of God affects the way you live? If it’s been a while I might suggest that you haven’t been doing theology. Does your heart feel cold and numb to the things of God? Do you feel farther away from him the more you study? It might be that you aren’t applying what you learn about God to the way you live your daily life. Theology is the application of the Word of God to every area of life. If you aren’t applying to life, then you aren’t doing theology!


  1. Well stated, Paul. I was trained in a seminary in which Systematic Theology was the class in which the professor wrote a very dense outline on the blackboard, busily scribbling for the entire hour. When test time came we were graded on how well we regurgitated that outline into a test booklet. I didn’t have a clue what “faith seeking understanding” was about until I took my first unit of CPE.

    “The formation of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) sparked a revolution in theological
    education by shifting the focus from books in the seminary to patients in the hospital. Yet
    rather than contrasting the two, Anton Boisen connected theological school and hospital
    by naming patients in care living human documents – documents that need to be studied
    and exegeted with the same care and respect as accorded to sacred scripture. The
    discipline of theological reflection has built a similar bridge between school and clinical
    site, between theory and practice.” Peter L.VanKatwyk “Theological Reflection in Spiritual Care”

    1. I am so sorry, Dave! I can’t get the name “Paul” out of my head!! Second time I’ve done that. I guess the comparison between you and the great theologian is irriesistible! :0)

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