Thursday, June 17, 2004

Chesterton and Practicality

Some more advise from Chesterton’s Heretics regarding principle and practicality:

In this matter, then, as in all the other matters treated in this book, our main conclusion is that it is a fundamental point of view, a philosophy or religion which is needed, and not any change in habit or social routine. The things we need most for immediate practical purposes are all abstractions. We need a right view of the human lot, a right view of the human society; and if we were living eagerly and angrily in the enthusiasm of those things, we should, ipso facto, be living simply in the genuine and spiritual sense.

I think it is true that an over-emphasis on “practical” teaching in the Church leads to not only an oversimplification of the Gospel, but to the erosion of scriptural principles as well. There is obviously a lot of room in the Church for practical teaching and “life-lessons,” but that kind of philosophy of ministry, when it outgrows its place, can lead to a loss of the fundamentals of Scripture. After all, the universal question to practical advice is, “Why?” What can practicality say to that? The only good answers come from principle, and religiously speaking, from theology and good philosophy. I think Chesterton is exactly right when he points to the “abstract” as the best guide to practicality. We are most like Christ in our daily lives when we best understand the doctrines of sin and grace, of repentance and forgiveness. We are least like Christ on a daily basis when we know we should forgive, but do not have the faintest idea why.

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