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"Belief is No Good Without Practice" . . . and Other Stupid Statements

It was in my expository preaching course that I learned it. It was driven into my teaching psyche and intended to become a part of my basic presupposed knowledge of ministry. Without it, all your preparation would be in vain. Lacking this, your message will fail to do what God actually intended it to do.

It is the message for a new generation. It is something emergers know and they know that they know it. It is what  I hear on blogs, read in books, and a continued favorite among those who are despondently depressed and shamed when surrounded by “fundamentalists.” It is pridefully stated as if this epiphany is going to miraculously wake a sleeping Evangelical culture of John MacArthur and John Piper groupies.

What is it?

“Belief is no good without practice.” Wake up and smell the manna!

Sounds reasonable doesn’t it. Let’s put it another way.

“Belief is not the end, it is a means to an end. The end is doing not believing.”

In preaching, it goes like this:

“If you don’t have a way in which people can apply the lesson to their lives today, you have not really done anything.”

Another:

“Introduction. Body. Three points of application.”

A friend said it the other day. We visited a church led by a young seeker-friendly preacher. After the lesson he said, “Now I really liked that sermon.” “Why?,” I asked. “Because it has so much application,” he responded. “That is what I need—application.”

The idea here is that belief, in and of itself, is not the end game that God has for us. God primarily wants us to be active in our practice. Good works, being nicer to people, acting out our love, giving to the poor, self-sacrifice, not cheating on tax-returns, avoiding certain web-sites, bringing home flowers to your wife, forgiving your father, protecting the unborn, knowing when to set down the beer, taking your daughter out on a date, remembering to say “I love you” (don’t just suppose they know), and trading your Hummer for a Honda. These are all things I can do today. This is what we need. Right?

emergentos moschos skubula

(Excuse the French). Nice translation: “What a load.”

I am not saying that application is not important or that it is not an essential end. What I am saying is that it is not the only or even primary end.

God cares more about belief than he does practice. Belief, truth, doctrine, theology, and, yes, being correct, is more important than all the good works one can ever practice.

The “why” is more important than the “what.”

The “how come” is more important than the “when.”

The “because” is more foundational than the “so that.”

In fact, I believe the “what?” “when?” and “so that?” have no meaning outside the “why?” I also believe the “what” can exist alone in many cases and serve to bring great glory to God.

What I am saying is that God is glorified in our right belief. God receives great pleasure in correct doctrine. It is God’s first desire that we believe correctly. Belief, truth, doctrine, and theology are not merely a means to an end, but are the end themselves. Yes, this “end” will, more often than not, have natural consequences that will produce certain effects (i.e. good works), but the substance is in the truth understood and believed.

Oh that Jeremiah could be resurrected and speak to this pragmatic generation who wants to set aside knowledge and understanding for minimally based practice. He may say what he said before:

Jeremiah 9:23-24  “Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches;  but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD (emphasis mine).

This is about boasting (something we are not supposed to do?). While we are not to boast about things that are of themselves empty, we are commanded to boast about something. Something that our generation is increasing preaching as being among the unboastable areas of life: understanding. “Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me.”

I was in a small group venting about my expository preaching class ten years ago. I said, “They are trying to get me to pull out direct immediate application—something for the people to do—out of every sermon.” I complained about this. My group of young seminarians were divided. I told them that not only were some passages of Scripture not able to produce direct immediate application without sinful manipulation, but sometimes, I told them, “God simply wants us to believe what he said. This is application enough!”

We have downgraded belief, truth, doctrine, and “understanding” to a secondary level of importance. It has become the handmaiden of immediate application. We are losing our reason for boasting.

In reality, application is the handmaiden of truth. God wants us to know and understand him. Statements such as “Belief is no good without practice” fails to understand that belief is the foundation of practice and that belief—right belief—brings as much glory to God as anything.

Preaching right belief and understanding, unfortunately, has become the red taped taboo of our generation. Avoidance of such is justified in the name of baseless pragmatism. It is the Evangelical and Emerging misdirection that could alleviate the church of the only legitimate reason we have for boasting. I believe that it is the crisis of the church today.

Friends, if people believe correctly—and I mean truly believe—they will act correctly when the situation calls for it. Not only this, but their good works will be done for the right reasons, based on a motivation of truth. Knowing and understanding God will change lives by bringing people in a right orientation with the way things actually are.

I know that not everything can be understood. I know that God has not revealed himself to us fully. And I know that there is legitimate room for disagreement on many things. But this does not alleviate us of our search for God. Theology, truth, doctrine, understanding, and belief are foundational to all else. God rejoices in correct doctrine.

Lewis Sperry Chafer, the late founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, used to end each class with this statement, “Men, give them something to believe.” I end with the same.

See Part 2

70 Responses to “"Belief is No Good Without Practice" . . . and Other Stupid Statements”

  1. Belief is supposed to express itself in action, as Paul says in Galatians 5 (“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”) and as you say above (“Friends, if people believe correctly—and I mean truly believe—they will act correctly when the situation calls for it”).

    The problem is this: the Christians I am familiar with are way more interested in getting the minutiae of belief correct than in expressing their beliefs through love.

    An article like this one may be entirely correct, but it provides “theological cover” for those who are looking for yet another reason to spend nearly all of their institutional resources (money and time) on “faith” and almost none on “love”. (Yes, those should not be separable, but they often are.)

    The fact is, it ought not to be possible to believe correctly about (let’s say) prayer, and not actually pray. But it is very much possible. It’s possible to devote enormous resources to learning the theory and theology of prayer, and not actually do it much.

    Maybe the experience of others is different, but I don’t think most of the Christians I know (including myself) need more knowledge. They need to obey what they know.

  2. And I should perhaps add that I am not advocating more “applications” in sermons. I can hear a dozen applications and NOT ACTUALLY DO ANY OF THEM.

    Jesus doesn’t tell us to make disciples, teaching them to know everything he taught. He tells us to make disciples, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

  3. rayner markley March 2, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Michael: ‘What I am saying is that God is glorified in our right belief. God receives great pleasure in correct doctrine. It is God’s first desire that we believe correctly. Belief, truth, doctrine, and theology are not merely a means to an end, but are the end themselves.’

    I have to take issue with that. You seem to be talking about intellectual understanding. (Correct me if I’ve missed your point.)

    First, it seems to me that ‘believe’ (in John 3:16, for example) is not about doctrine and knowledge but about trust. We believe unto trust, and that is the basis that God requires of us. As is said, even the demons may understand correct doctrine about God; God requires more than that.

    Second, you cited Jeremiah: ‘…but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me…’ (9:23-24). Here I would say we need to look into the meaning of ‘know.’ Knowing God is more than an intellectual knowledge of Him or about Him; rather, it means having a relationship with Him. The English verb ‘know’ is ambiguous, but some other languages, perhaps Hebrew, are more precise on that point.

  4. My emphasis was on understanding. God is glorified in being understood. This can and may result in knowing God and it is a prerequisite.

    I know that people can have understanding and not know him. This is why I emphasized true belief which involves trust. The demons don’t have true belief because there is nothing for them to trust. Christ did not die for them.

  5. Very thought provoking post. I feel your pain in this as people almost seem to care more about “how does this make my life different this week” than they care about knowing the truth. It seems to me that action is the ultimate response of our belief as we live as if what we believe were true. At the same time we can have a zeal that is misdirected into wrong application if the belief is out of place (as in Romans 10:1-4). I don’t think it is an either or. I think we are called to both and.

  6. C Michael Patton March 2, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Rayner,

    Do you agree that application is the handmaiden of truth rightly believed? Or do you believe truth is the handmaiden of application? Or have I created a false dichotomy?

    I am not talking about mere intellectual assent, but truth belief in a correct understanding which involves content, assent, and trust.

  7. Dr. P aul W. Foltz March 2, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    ”Faith without works is dead.” ”Be te not a hearer of the word only, deceiving your own selves, but be ye a doer of it also.

  8. Faith without works is dead, but faith is the foundation of works. Our belief, true and right belief, is whatever accompanying works there are. Works without faith is simply humanitarianism. Works based on wrong belief is also skubula.

  9. In other words, that passage does not mean that faith is the handmaiden of works. I believe that James proposes just the opposite.

    This, again, is why I qualified true faith in the post. Notice:

    “Friends, if people believe correctly—and I mean truly believe—they will act correctly when the situation calls for it.”

  10. The title raises a question: does it not imply that “faith without works is dead” is a stupid statement? James is arguably making an even stronger claim by using “faith” in place of “belief” and “dead” in place of “no good.”

    One another note, Christian group 1 sees group 2 has good beliefs but they aren’t loving right. Group 2 sees group 1 loving, but doesn’t think they have the right beliefs. Is this not strong empirical evidence that Christian beliefs do not lead to loving actions? If the “right” beliefs really led to being a more loving person, this controversy would be in ivory towers and not in the reality of the effect of Christianity on everyday people’s lives.

    The only way that correct beliefs lead to correct actions is when “true belief” is defined to include correct actions. In this case, the claim becomes a tautology.

  11. Btw, I wrote that before seeing posts 8, 9, and 10.

  12. “Belief is no good without practice.”

    Sound remarkably similar to James 2:17 – “… faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. ”

    “God rejoices in correct doctrine.” Really? I googled that, and only found one occurrence of it (this post).

    Zephaniah 3:17 and Isaiah 62:5 says that God rejoices in us.

    Luke 15:10 – “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”(NAS)

    Psalm 104:31 – “May the glory of the Lord endure forever, may the Lord rejoice in His works.”

    Psalm 147:11 -“The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. ”

    1 Peter 1:67 ““In this [salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

    These verses seem to indicate a spectrum, God rejoices in our creation, in our turning towards him, in our belief/faith/trust in him and in our perseverance. Repentance is more a believing the right things it is about being willing to make changes in our lives.

    True belief requires content, assent, and trust as Michael says, but it also requires repentance and a willingness to change our ways.

    You shall know them by their… fruit.

  13. Thanks Jeff. Hopefully the comments helped.

    The cultural situation which I am addressing is the exact opposite (at least in confession) as the one James faced. Rhetorically speaking, I am following in the same vain as James who, I believe, would think the same thing.

    To suppose that belief, doctrine, theology, truth, and understanding don’t really matter as long as we are doing the right thing is something Paul dealt with quite a bit. Romans 10 comes to mind as the Jews pursued godliness without faith. Paul’s presumption here, I am sure you would agree, is right faith, not just some arbitrary content-less faith.

  14. “To suppose that belief, doctrine, theology, truth, and understanding don’t really matter as long as we are doing the right thing”.

    I agree with you on this point, but I would argue that “To suppose that belief, doctrine, theology, truth, and understanding don’t really matter if we are not doing the right thing.

  15. Michael,

    I am not sure Googling is the best way of research for this subject!

    You said:
    “These verses seem to indicate a spectrum, God rejoices in our creation, in our turning towards him, in our belief/faith/trust in him and in our perseverance. Repentance is more a believing the right things it is about being willing to make changes in our lives.”

    This statement is packed full of doctrine and truth. Besides this, I am not saying that God only rejoices in right belief, but that it is something that brings him great glory.

    Also, did not not notice the Jer passage? “Let him who boasts, boast in this: that he understands and knows me.”

    This post is combating the idea that understanding is not important, indeed foundational, to practice. It is combating its opposite, that practice is foundational or more important to application.

    Without a right faith, all our works are skubula according to Paul…and that is not a good thing.

    If someone questions my rhetoric in this post, I suggest that they study Paul’s rhetoric on the situation. Paul had no love lost for those who believed that works contributed anything outside of right belief.

    The because is foundational to the what. And often the because forms the what. Think of the incarnation, hypostatic union, the Trinity, the eternality of God. These are create a context in which right worship, the most important “application” of all, can take place.

  16. Another thing to remember is that it is faith that is vindicated by works, not the other way around. Faith is the foundation.

    I am not trying to suggest a dichotomy here as I understand that belief will often necessarily issue forth in certian works.

    But you also have to consider that right belief often does not “produce” in the traditional way (e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity). But God is pleased to reveal himself to us and it glorifies him when we believe and trust what he said is correct. Sometimes that is the most important thing we can tell people.

    When we suggest that it does not really matter if it does not actually “change” the world is to set the Christian faith up for a massive crisis as people will be deciding what truth, orthodoxy, and doctrine are based upon how well they apply. If they don’t “apply” in the traditional way, if there is no application, then it does not really matter.

    We are experiencing such a climate today. This is why the majority of the church today does not know what the Christian faith is all about.

  17. You show me your faith and I will show you my faith by my works…

    And another verse…

    now these three yet abide, faith, hope and charity and the greatest of these is charity…

    and another….
    Though I give my body to be burned and have not love, it profits me nothing….

    so there, you can have faith…the foundation of faith..faith as a mustard see, walk by faith, live by faith…but unless you actively and proactively use that faith in love, then it is just an empty shell.

    remember Jesus said…YOU speak to this mountain and it shall be moved…then nothing shall be impossible to YOU…

    faith based action done in love…can’t get away from having to actually use it for something.

  18. Hi Michael,

    Doctrine matters. It matters immensely. Jesus himself said in John 8:24 – “If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”

    Faith is indeed the foundation. But it can’t be left at that. In preaching I call it “preaching to inform” rather than “preaching to convict”. I have seen in too many places, where people have all the right knowledge but have not been taught how to put it into action, and it that case it becomes very much a dead faith.

    In words of C.T. Studd, pioneering missionary to China, Africa and India: “If Christ be God and died for me, then there is nothing too great that I can do for Him.” This would be one of the greatest examples that I can think of, of believe needing to result in action.

  19. Kara, can you show me by your works that you believe in a correct view of the Trinity, rather than a modalistic view? Can you show me by your works that you believe that Christ is eternal rather than a very powerful created being? Can you show me by your works that you believe that Christ resurrected physically rather than spiritually?

    Two people of completely different faiths can produce the exact same works. Both a Hindu and a Christian can and do give to the poor. Both give their lives for “good” things. But it is the basis of their works that distinguishes them before God. Are these works done based on and motivated from true or false belief. This is the difference.

    James was presupposing a correct view. His “faith” is not some arbitrary faith.

    The greatest is love… most particularly a love of God (Matt. 22:37). Is this just any God or a specific God? What are the characteristic attributes that he has revealed about himself? Love presupposes right doctrine to some degree. Yes, maybe not perfect, but you cannot believe that the God you love is a really great man, or the Sun God Ra in a more modernized robe.

    There are some suppositions in James that people are missing. In fact, he is dealing with the opposite problem.

    Again, this is why I qualified the post by saying:

    “Friends, if people believe correctly—and I mean truly believe—they will act correctly when the situation calls for it. Not only this, but their good works will be done for the right reasons, based on a motivation of truth. Knowing and understanding God will change lives by bringing people in a right orientation with the way things actually are.”

    While the geneologies of Matt 1 may not find direct application into our lives today, they are still important to know.

    It is in this context that I say “belief without practice” is a stupid statement. This is the battlecry excuse of pop-Evangelicalism and the emerging church for minimizing the importance of doctrine. James would be ashamed, not to mention Paul.

  20. I think DR Earl Radmacher et al, had it right when they said that when James said “faith without works is dead” he meant that there is such a thing as dead faith. Saving faith but yet a useless faith in terms of works that honor God. I also think that cmp had it right when he explained that right belief is not the only thing that gives God great pleasure but it is foundational to everything else.

  21. Michael,

    “I have seen in too many places, where people have all the right knowledge but have not been taught how to put it into action, and it that case it becomes very much a dead faith.”

    I agree and this certianly deserves our cries (myself included). But this particular post focuses on the opposite exteme which is see more prominitely in pop-Evangelicalism and the emerging church. Many say that “faith does not matter if there is no practice” in an attempt to minimize the importance of truth and conviction. This is then taken to the pulpit and found in our messages.

    For people like me, this is tragic as I see people loses all reason for practice in the name of practice itself.

    As well, I think we have to realize that God is glorified by right belief in as much as he is glorified in us trusting what he says. If you know and trust what he says, your life will most certianly change accordingly.

    I hope that makes sense Michael. You know me well enough to know where I am going. :)

  22. I also think that Radmacher et al are dead on when they say that what James meant by “can that faith save him?” Save in this context ( and they give convincing exegetical support) means “can faith without works keep a person from wasting their life” (paraphrase mine) Saved in these James passages does not refer to being saved from hell but saving one’s life from being wasted. I seem to be one of the few here who believes that the Free Grace movement are correct in their interpretatoin of these and other passages.(i.e, I,II, and III john passages) Some of them are a little extreme for me but I definitely lean their way. Oh well, I seem to be taking the post down a rabbit trail. Sorry Michael.

  23. Yes I can….

    take up my cross and follo

  24. Kara, what is the cross and what does it symbolize? In other words, what does it mean in a Christian context to “take up the cross”? Careful with your answer for it might presuppose right doctrine that procedes the right practice?

  25. oops, i hit wrong key, sorry….

    Like I was saying…Take up my cross and follow Him…that is a work done in faith…

    action….pick it up…action….follow….Him…..Jesus

    even Parchment and Pen is a work done by faith…

    pick it up….to make a conscious choice to believe and follow the commandments and do those things whatsoever He has commanded us.

    follow…go where He is going, following His leading

    Him…Jesus, the only Begotten Son of the Father.

  26. The preaching of the cross is the power of God unto salvation

  27. Kara, exactly. Now the question becomes “Who is him that we are to follow?” and “Why should we follow him?”

    The basis is going to be belief, truth, doctrine, and understanding.

  28. Dr. P aul W. Foltz March 2, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    When a person goes to take up the cross, he will say goodbye to his wifee, family and friends, for he will not be returning the same man.
    His old man dies, and a new man emerges.

  29. Him is Jesus the incarnate, Alpha and Omega, the Only Begotten Son, The Savior, Redeemer, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, The Soon Coming King.

    Him, the one who said if I believed in Him and received Him and His Gospel would be saved. The One who said Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

    Him who said to me one day, I stand and knock, if you open up unto me, I will come in and sup with you.

    Him who is the only name given in heaven and earth whereby men can be saved.

    And Him at Whose name every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father.

    Because without His cross, there would be no sacrifice for me. And the only way I can enter into the presence of God and make my petition known.

  30. Amen! After all, we cannot apply what we do not know or understand.
    We live from the inside out.

  31. 1) Are you saying, in a roundabout way, that the unexamined (Christian) life is not worth living?

    2) Reading the post made me remember the degree of polyvalence inherent in our words “believe” and “understand.” —inconceivable!

    3) It seems to me that proportionately speaking, an incredibly small amount of right doctrine is all that is necessary to produce a large amount of good works. And that small amount may actually be communicated in scripture without the need for any works of systematic theology.

  32. Dr. P aul W. Foltz March 3, 2009 at 7:47 am

    Jason you are right there is no need for systematic theology to produce a large amount of good works. Just believing and practicing what you believe as it is written, to whom it was written is the key.

  33. CMP

    What got into your wheaties? Do you need to prove your street cred with the new fundamentalists (err, truly reformed)? Get irritated by someones blog post? Wake up on the wrong side of the bed?

    It seems like you are

    Who can argue with:

    Friends, if people believe correctly—and I mean truly believe—they will act correctly when the situation calls for it. Not only this, but their good works will be done for the right reasons, based on a motivation of truth. Knowing and understanding God will change lives by bringing people in a right orientation with the way things actually are.

    It just seems your “rant” is a little excesive

  34. Humm…Seems Jason #32 point 3 came closest to the point I want to make. Truly what is it we need to “believe correctly” before we pay attention to the part of the Jerimiah verse you didn’t put in italics “”I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD”?

  35. CMP, “Belief is no good without practice.” Wake up and smell the manna!”

    CMP, “I am not talking about mere intellectual assent, but truth belief in a correct understanding which involves content, assent, and trust.”

    If belief in the first sentence includes assent and trust, then it will include practice, hence, if there is no practice there there is not “truth [sic] belief”. Consequently, the first sentence is correct: “(claimed true) belief is no good without practice (because the lack of practice proves that it is not true belief)”

    The initial post, which only referred to “belief”, did not clarify that “true belief” was meant. The natural reading of the sentence would therefore incline one to believe that only head knowledge, the non-saving knowledge spoke of by James, was meant. The clarification of “true belief” guts the post of its initially apparent substance.

    regards,
    John

  36. I like what Dan Kimball wrote about the Orthodoxy/Orthopraxy divide when he described a sermon he gave:

    “I put on the screen the words “ORTHODOXY” and “ORTHOPRAXY” and walked through the relationship of both. I think the pendulum swings back and forth, as there has been times where the church taught Scripture and people were filled with “ORTHODOXY” (straight or right thinking/teaching/doctrine). But only having right doctrines doesn’t mean that it will always produce Spirit-filled Christians. There are those who have great ORTHODOXY but it never seems to move to their heart and some become legalists and can become very mean Christians. Right beliefs (ORTHODOXY) without the Spirit changing us with those beliefs (even the devil believed there is one God – James 2:19) doesn’t mean we will be a Spirit-filled Christian demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5).

    But then the other extreme is having good ORTHOPRAXY (straight or right living/action/practice) but losing ORTHODOXY. We can live good lives, be kind, gentle, help the poor – but we can have that if we join the Peace Corps or even be athiest and have good practice of living. So it has to be both. The Spirit should use ORTHODOXY to produce ORTHOPRAXY. One without the other is not good. I quoted Jesus and how He said “If you love Me, you will obey my commands” and I shared how we have to know what His commands are in order to obey them.”

    John 15:4-5: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” NIV

  37. Dr. Paul Foltz March 3, 2009 at 11:03 am

    To believe correctly one must be;
    1. Regenerated and then Saved
    2. Spirit filled-IE. Controlled by The Spirit
    3. Spirit taught in the Word of God,

  38. Michael, I think I understood what you meant. Other read too much into it I think (the whole knowing about vs. REALLY knowing God thing). Reading your posts in the past, I understand you already know and believe that. To sum it up, I believe your point was that we have to get our doctrine and theology correct first, so that when we go out and “act” on it and love others and disciple others, we’re staying true to the Word, as written. Otherwise we can be “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine” and then what is it we’re actually acting upon? Are we loving others as God instructed or loving others based on misunderstood doctrine? When we disciple others are we passing along the true historic Christian faith or continuing to pass along the skewed doctrine and theology we received from someone else, constantly perpetuating an “evolving” version of false Christianity?

    Biblical Belief vs. pop-evangelical belief? Yes, belief and understanding of doctrine are pre-requisites to properly living out our Christianity..

    And Dr. Foltz, I would tweak the first point in your last post:

    1. Saved, then regenerated (sanctified)

  39. Dwight,

    Although you probably didn’t mean this, there is a danger in a statement like:

    “…we have to get our doctrine and theology correct first, so that when we go out and “act” on it and love others and disciple others, we’re staying true to the Word, as written.”

    The danger is, if my doctrine and theology has to be “correct” before I act, then I am justified in NEVER acting, since my doctrine and theology will never be perfectly correct.

    As I stated before, the challenge among the Christians I know is not too much action, it’s too little. Too much preparing, never doing. This is not because of lack of information. It’s partly because of fear, and it’s partly because the expectation is, we need to be FULLY trained before we should try to do anything.

    Most Christians I know are like a sports team who spends all its time studying film, learning the theory of the sport, learning anatomy and proper techique, and never going out on the field for drills or scrimmages, let alone a game.

    And look at the practice of Jesus: He sends his disciples out two-by-two to preach the kingdom of God and cast out demons and all the rest before any of them understand with any clarity at all who he is or what the Messiah is going to do.

    This whole conversation is like debating which leg is the most important for walking.

  40. Several ways to approach this, but from a quasi-emerger (practically, not theologically), to set Belief up against Practice is a false choice. It is like asking Bread or Water?

    I get tired head from being talked to about the Glory of God, and what God is doing in “my life,” and the thing that God is doing in “my life” is helping me get a good deal on a HDTV.

    You gotta be all in, both ways. But, IMHO, the right practice people have an edge on the right belief people, especially if the right belief people drive from their gated homes to the gated parking garage in their office building, and back home again, and at the same time during the day their kids go from a security obsessed private school or are home schooled and their sole “exposure” to the world is seeing people in line at Chili’s while waiting for take out.

  41. Chris #41:

    “IMHO, the right practice people have an edge on the right belief people, especially if the right belief people drive from their gated homes to the gated parking garage in their office building, and back home again, and at the same time during the day their kids go from a security obsessed private school or are home schooled and their sole “exposure” to the world is seeing people in line at Chili’s while waiting for take out.”

    So the right practice people may not have a relationship with Christ, but they are in a better situation?

  42. Jonathan, you’re right, I wasn’t clear. I didn’t mean to suggest you MUST get everything down 100% before you ACT, might have been more specific to say before you teach or disciple your own learning should be pretty advanced. There are plenty of ways to act and love your neighbor and feed the poor and give your money, etc. It’s not necessary to have a doctorate in theology before you do those things. That’s not what I meant at all.

  43. Yes, they are in a better situation. Why? Because I would argue that right belief, without any practice, is more harmful to the Gospel, than right practice without any belief. People who are actually on the frontlines of loving their neighbors are not going to listen to someone who is not.

    Eventually, the right practice people are going to bump into a right belief/right practice person and that person will then have a chance to actually hear the Gospel.

  44. Minnow,

    It is the passage itself that says to rejoice in “understanding.” That is my point.

    When it comes to some of the particulars such as exercising righteousness, we come to a subject with massive theological and doctrinal implications. Implications that must be believed before one can “understand.” Righteousness of God will included judgement, hell, the cross, atonement, sinfulness of man (which includes our relations to Adam, personal sin, etc).

    Therefore, we cannot boast too much until we have a pretty good theology.

  45. Dac,

    You would not think it is eccessive if you were in contact with many of those who I have deal with every day.

    Many people criticize the study of doctrine and theology believing that it causes more problems than it solves. Therefore they say we should just “do” Christianity. There is no true Christian belief according to them.

    All this is done in the name of Christ. Rather ironic.

    Not only is this found quite a bit among the emerging crowd, but the seeker pastors that I deal with are here as well. I came across one guy who said he did not have time to study or go to seminary, he had too much ministry to do. Zeal without knowledge is not looked as well in Scripture. It is the knowledge that creates the zeal.

  46. Chris #45-

    It almost sounds like you are saying that it is better for someone to not know Christ, yet do “right practices”, so they can (hopefully) come to know Christ.

  47. What I appreciate about this post, is that it is God magnifying, Christ-centered, and gospel-centered.

    Tim Keller has said that it is the gospel which sanctifies us not a focus on doing good, or being good. In other words, the Gospel should be our continued focus. As our understanding of “doctrine” grows, we will live it out with others, because it has a transformative effect on our hearts. Essential doctrine IS the gospel!

    Sometimes I think that an overemphasis on works and deeds which sidelines doctrinal teaching is essentially Moralism….Legalism.

    This is a link to a discussion between John Piper, Tim Keller and Carson, about mercy ministries in churches (helping the poor etc). They are discussing how does a church keep mercy ministry from suppressing the proclamation of the gospel. In other words, there can be a tendency, in a church where the practical….. the ‘doing’…. can become understood to BE the proclamation of the gospel. As Piper and Keller discuss this, they emphasis the need for a very strong understanding of the doctrines of the gospel as a safeguard against this tendency. For instance, the doctrine of eternal punishment– of hell, motivates us to want to warn people. Doing kind thing for nonbelievers (alone) does not inform them of how to be rescued from the wrath of God against sinful people (which we all are).

    I’m linking to #1 out of 6 YouTube segments of this discussion, which goes on to discuss many topics which fill out, in very meaningful ways, what Michael is saying here.

    This talk, between Piper, Keller and Carson, is well worth the listen for anyone in ministry, and all pastors. Very insightful. Part 5 of 6, and part 6 of 6, tie in with this post very well also.

    Link to come……….

  48. Here’s the link to the Piper, Keller, Carson conversation:

  49. I contend that there is little of value in the post, except in so far as it is a general urging to study God’s Word and to act out of love. That is, it is incorrect to make a blanket statement that it is stupid to state, “Belief is no good without practice.” CMP in fact acknowledges later on that there are circumstances in which the statement is true. Moreover, what he is really attacking is the denigration and neglect of the learning of doctrine–which is not what that statement is typically about.

    Whether it is stupid to state, “Belief is no good without practice” depends, of course, on what is meant by “belief” and “no good” and “practice”. As noted in several comments above, the Bible is quite clear in a number of places that, indeed, without practice one’s belief is no good. If faith without works is dead, surely belief without works is dead as well. So, the blanket assertion (“it is stupid”) is wrong, because the statement is true in the right context.

    The statement “belief is no good without practice” can be understood in more than one way, and CMP makes a blanket object to that statement without initially indicating which way he understands it. Moreover, as becomes clear in the remainder of the post, he is not attacking those who have belief without works (which is the usual thrust of the statement) but those who denigrate doctrine, the learninf of things about God.

    CMP later states, “Friends, if people believe correctly—and I mean truly believe—they will act correctly when the situation calls for it. Not only this, but their good works will be done for the right reasons, ” If this latter statement is true, then there will never be a situation in which belief is without works, which makes the initial assertion nonsensical.

    While I do agree it is possible to learn doctrine that does not have immediately obvious application, I do disagree with CMP’s statement that practise is not a primary object of doctrine: “I am not saying that application is not important or that it is not an essential end. What I am saying is that it is not the only or even primary end. God cares more about belief than he does practice. Belief, truth, doctrine, theology, and, yes, being correct, is more important than all the good works one can ever practice.”

    The Bible consistently states that an essential and key purpose of learning truth is to produce good works done in love. 1 & 2 Timothy contain only a few of the illustrations of that. 1 T 2:10 – women are to profess godliness with good works. 1 T 4:13f – Timothy is to study doctrine so that everyone will see his progress. 2 T 2:15f – the purpose of Timothy’s study is to be approved by God, to be a workman, and to rightly divide truth. Both right belief and right practice. And what happens when Timothy purges himself of the errors and deeds of the false teachers? he is set apart for good work, for acts of righteousness, faith, charity and peace.

    Furthermore, CMP’s blanket statement ignores the issue of how much do we have to have right in our doctrine and the issues of greater and lesser doctrine. Infant baptism or adults only? immersion v. sprinkling? symbol v. real presence? TULIP or not? tongues or not? current charismata or not? sacred life at conception or permitted abortion? closed or open communion? women teachers of men? There are multitudes of disputed doctrines.

    The gospel is not doctrine. God states that the gospel is Jesus Christ. The gospel is a person, not propositions. Of course, any belief about anything implies the use of some propositions (e.g., Jesus is God’s son, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is real, etc.), but the key is that the propositions are oriented in relation to, and subordinate to the person. Someone who trusts Jesus as their saviour and has a bunch of the doctrines wrong but who serves a glass of water in Christ’s name and in love will be rewarded far greater that one who has right doctrine but does not.

    The continually and heavy emphasis on good works in the Bible certainly seems to indicate the priority of their importance. And the very structure of Paul’s letters stresses works: he teaches doctrine as grounds for his urgings to right action. He teaches doctrine so that he can teach how to live. Take a look at Ephesians, he teaches doctrine, then states in 4:1 “I therefore . . . beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called”. And earlier, in 2:10 he wrote, “we . . . are created in Christ Jesus unto good works . . .”

    I also take issue with CMP’s assertion that true belief will produce the right works in the appropriate circumstances : “Friends, if people believe correctly—and I mean truly believe—they will act correctly when the situation calls for it.” They do nothing of the kind, it is the Spirit working within us that produces the fruit. How often do we know what we should do, because we have the right doctrine, but do not do it because of our sin, weakness, and failure to dwell in Christ and be empowered by His Spirit? (true belief producing works was a rather odd assertion in the first place for a Calvinist).

    Both right division of the truth and right practice are expected of us by God. When we do good works we do them not because of right belief, but in love and the name of Jesus Christ. Learning doctrine, however, is essential in figuring out what the good work is to do in a particular situation (beyond the obvious ones that are listed, such as visiting prisoners), what we should have hope in (there is a resurrection), and in ensuring that we are not lead astray, and, of course, truth does give glory to God.

    regards, John

  50. John, wonderful contribution. While I believe my post speaks for itself and people understand the provocation intended, I only have one question for you.

    You said: “The gospel is not doctrine. God states that the gospel is Jesus Christ. ”

    Who is Jesus? Or as Christ put it, “Who do men say that I am?” Be careful not to introduce doctrine or your comments above will lose much of their intended value.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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