Theology Precedes Practice, Vice Versa, or Something Else?

Steve Taylor, in his book “The Out of Bounds Church,” quotes Robert Webber who says:

“There is a term in the ancient churches that catches the power of the idea that experience precedes thought. It is lex orandi; lex credendi; est. the rule of prayer is the rule of faith. Another way of stating this truth is , “show me how you worship or live and I will tell you what you believe.” In the modern world this axiom got turned around. It was always “get your theology straight and then your praxis will flow from it.” In the postmodern world we are rediscovering that experience precedes reflection.”

I (Miguel) happen to disagree.  To me, our praxis does flow from our theology.  Proposition leads to action, action leads to experience, and experience clarifies truth.  The post-modern christian may want existentialism and experimentalism to precede what becomes normative practice, but we know that rarely produces biblical fruit.  See Proverbs 21:2, Proverbs 12:15, Judges 21:25 etc.

Let me offer a third way.  This is only a thought, but perhaps Orthodoxy (Theology) & Orthopraxy (Practice) are “simultaneous.”  Kenda Creasy Dean says,

“faithful belief and faithful practice are the two lungs of Christian Discipleship. You can get along breathing on only one lung, but you can’t breathe very deeply, and you don’t live as long or as fully as when you use both lungs, which is clearly what God intends.”

Our lungs breathe in tandem.  While Kenda’s quote doesn’t necessarily speak to this point, perhaps the Spirit breathes life into our spiritual lungs in like manner.  Perhaps our theology and practice are to operate in tandem and simultaneously.  What do you think? 


A few questions:

Should our praxis (practice) flow from our theology?

Does “our experience” ever trump biblical proposition?

Can theology & practice be simultaneous?  


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    1. Experience will only trump theology if our theology is wrong. Theology will only trump experience if we are living outside our stated theology (ie: willfully living in known unrepentant sin). Our experience should come from our doctrine, and our doctrine should be the Scriptures. Doctrine and practice must be simultaneous to be correct, otherwise we are hypocritical. Experience does not flow FROM theology, but it rather either backs it, or it doesn’t. A correct theology will yield the fruit of the true experience of our theology. If we don’t experience the fruit of our theology, we should question our theology.

      • Please replace all uses of the word theology in the previous comment with the words doctrinal beliefs. I felt a strong check in my spirit even as I was writing it. I still meant what I said in the previous comment if theology were simply one’s doctrinal beliefs, but sadly, the word theology has too many negative connotations for me to be using it.

        Theology is JUNK! It is a vain attempt to “religify” philosophy. It is the study of the unstudiable. The scientific explanation of the unexplainable non-scientific world. It other words, it’s oxymoronic. It contradicts itself. It tries to explain our relationship with God to such a degree that many have more confidence in their theology than they do in their God. And that goes for everyone from the ultra-traditionalist Southern Baptist or Roman Catholic to the ultra-modern happy-clappy tongue-talking rolling-in-the-floor joy crowd. There are people from both camps and everywhere in between that act like their theology is more correct than the next guys, and that God is happier with them than the next guy because they are “closer to the truth”.

        Hogwash! If God meant for doctrine to be explained to the extent that theologians attempt to explain it, He’da spelled it out in the Scriptures for us a lot more plainly than He did. I firmly believe there are some things that He wanted us to run to Him for, and not necessarily just run to read His book (Holy as it obviously is) or to read some theology professor’s notes.

        The Builder laid the foundation (Scripture) for us to build our lives on, and without it, the house won’t stand, but for the rest of the house, the framing, brick, sheetrock, fixtures, etc. we are to run to the Builder. The house can’t be built without the foundation, but it’s also not built BY the foundation. And furthermore, if we build our foundation on our theology (our belief ABOUT the Scriptures), instead of on the Scriptures themselves (open-ended as they sometimes are) the house will crumble, and guess what…it’s not the Builder’s fault.

    2. The Spirit gives insight into the scriptures, scriptures give insight into the Spirit. Yes sir we use both lungs to breath. We are to worship in Truth (the Word of God, scripture) and Spirit, Walk and live in Truth and Spirit. Yes the Word of God goes far beyond scripture, scripture says this, and proves this. Show me one thing that exists outside of the Word of God? Scripture is God’s Word revealed to us in a simple form, that the Spirit helps us to interpret and see and live.

    3. A son is instructed and disciplined by his father, and this instruction forms the basis of the son’s actions. Yet, as the son is changed as a result of his obedience, something magical happens. The words of the father takes on an entire new meaning. The maturity that follows obedience leads to the ability to comprehend at a deeper level. It is only when we obey that we are granted the privilege of learning the wisdom behind the instruction. “If anyone wishes to do my will he will know…” Jesus said.Thought does shape experience, but then the “aligned” experience clarifies the thought. Essentially this is what Jesus meant when he said “Be careful how you hear. With the measure that you use it will be measured unto you.”

    4. “Does “our experience” ever trump biblical proposition?”

      That ought to stir up the henhouse! While I would suppose experience can come before theology (or doctrine, if you prefer)…and who but me would want to stop in mid-experience and do analysis…I believe it needs to have careful grounding in Scripture/theology at some point if it is to not wander off into error. I have been burned too often in emotional settings that encouraged me to just let it all go and experience ‘what God is doing.’

      Not that experience must have full Scriptural support to be allowed…I consider waving banners to be a practice without any New Testament support at the least…yet I can coexist with flag wavers with no problem. so in order I would answer YES, NO, YES

    5. “Orthodoxy (Theology) & Orthopraxy (Practice) are ‘simultaneous.’”

      As a pilot, I like to think of orthodoxy and orthopraxy as the two wings that keep me flying. They must be kept in balance – level – to fly straight and level. But there are times when one or the other needs to be lifted just a little higher in order to change course and turn to a new heading.

      My theology/doctrine definitely has changed my behavior at times. Likewise, my experience as I apply my theology often has caused me to re-examine, refine or even change my theology, or maybe look to scripture to come to grips for the first time with a doctrinal truth that hadn’t been important to me before.

      For example, I never focused much on confession by believers – especially one to another as a way to deal with deep seated problems in a person’s life. I thought that was just a “Catholic” thing and thus a perversion of scripture. But when I started getting involved in pastoral counseling with folks dealing with profound emotional hurts from past wrongs, and started learning how to minister in the area of confession as a way to expose and turn those hurts over to the Lord and thus get to healing, all of a sudden the scriptures on confession took on new life. Those scriptures – now seen with a fresh perspective – also helping to refine my counseling techniques.

      I also have re-examined scripture in light of scientific discoveries. I hold to the plenary authority of scripture, but that does not mean my understanding of scripture is static. It sometimes can be illuminated by the light of experience and discovery.

    6. Pingback: Theology and Reality | Crossroad Junction

    7. 2 great quotes in this string:
      “show me how you worship or live and I will tell you what you believe.” In the modern world this axiom got turned around. It was always “get your theology straight and then your praxis will flow from it.” In the postmodern world we are rediscovering that experience precedes reflection.”

      Theology (religified philosophy) tries to explain our relationship with God to such a degree that many have more confidence in their theology than they do in their God.

      Both don’t require much additional comment except to agree. Would either of you be interested in fleshing out the ‘post modern’ concept a bit more? God is real and a relationship with a real person isn’t contractual or entirely bound up in words of a text. A series of love letters between a future husband and wife doesn’t begin to touch the depths of their reality. A legal contract between two businesses never covers all the dimensions that could come up between two parties – if the two companies want to make the deal work they will make it work despite the terms they didn’t clarify or the terms they didn’t spell out at the beginning. If they’ve decided they aren’t going to work together there is no contract well worded enough to keep them together. The core comes through despite the words.

      In post-modernism words are the suspects – what did you mean, what did God mean, this is what I want the words to mean, etc. Words are a power play (knowledge is power) and redefining words is rampant (ie marketing (pigs ear into a silk purse) or 1984 or Bill Clinton – “depends on what the meaning of the word is, is”…seriously?). In a world where the ‘truth of words’ is suspect; experience and relationship become much more important. In fact, ‘truth in words’ or ‘trust in what you said’ is declining to such a degree that people are really starting to look for someone to believe in. That someone who is truth is ultimately Jesus – he defined himself as the revealed truth about God; the way – the truth – and the life; etc. Exciting times when all worldly words and truths start to fall away and Jesus is left standing as a pillar that we can rely on.


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