Sociologist Brene Brown once said, “What we know matters, but who we are matters more." This applies to our understanding of Christian discipleship. As Christians, we often struggle with the balance between orthodoxy (right knowledge or doctrine) and orthopraxy (right practice or action). This is the challenge that James presents when he writes, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:18, NIV)
Both right belief and right action are necessary in the life of a follower of Christ, but can one get in the way of the other?
Historically, Baptists have been very good at communicating information about the Bible and the faith. They delight in asking questions of scripture that exegete the text in an attempt to understand the who, what, how, and why of the passage. We are less open to letting the text speak to us.
For example, when I attempt to introduce Lectio Divina to a Baptist group, they often want to question the text rather than let it question them. The practice of Lectio Divina treats the text not as something to be studied but as the Living Word that questions us.
Certainly, we need to understand the text to avoid its misuse. There are three questions we should ask in studying a passage of scripture:
- What does it say? Do we understand the words and their meaning?
- What did it mean (in context)? Every part of the Bible was given first to a particular group of people in a specific context. What did it mean to those who heard the text for the first time? Was it teaching, exhortation, or worship? What life circumstances did it address?
- What does it mean to me? Study of scripture without application is incomplete. What does this text say to me today and what should I do about it?
Ultimately, the goal of right teaching is right action. If we become experts in the study of the Bible but never put it into practice, we have missed the point. Information is important, but formation for Christian living is the real goal.