One of the benefits of using the content-collector Evernote is a Chrome extension that grabs whatever article I’m reading and puts it into Notebooks (categories) I’ve created, in about two clicks. Since I scan an ocean of reading material every day, this comes in quite handy when I see a good article that may not be relevant at the time but I still want to archive it. The extension kind of lets you be an uncluttered digital hoarder, minus the cats.
As I’ve started archiving articles and getting a sense of the conservative evangelical tone, I’ve noticed that the undeniably overwhelming majority of written pieces or links fall under the general category of Practical Theology, as opposed to categories like Biblical Studies, Systematic Theology, Church History, or Apologetics. So that we’re clear on what I’ve noticed, my observation is not the presence of posts regarding Practical Theology, but the proportion of posts under Practical Theology in comparison to other fields and topics. I should also note that there are some fantastic blogs with a great topical variety, but I’m merely pointing out a general trend that applies in varying degrees from site to site.
If you’ll excuse a prelude, I want to express how helpful I found this post by Ray Ortlund on “Accusations of Legalism,” specifically the observation that “legalism is an easy accusation to make, and a difficult one to prove.” If legalism is as much of a problem as it is frequent in my twitter and RSS feed, the church has quite a heretical mess on its hands. (N.B. Legalism is a system of thought foreign to Christianity; legalistic thinking can be a dangerous but correctable slip by a genuine believer. Knowing this difference in ministry, and precisely articulating it, is beyond crucial.)
If blogs and tweets focus mostly on practically-based matters, then most posted content is ethics-based. And if most of the content we read is ethics-based, then most of what we read involves morals, rules, and what we should and shouldn’t do. And if that’s the case, the impression that might be created is that the Christian life centers around what we do or don’t do. The indicative has become lost in a sea of imperatives.
Consider an alternative: what if there were more posts on who God is, who Christ is, on a detailed treatment of specific Scriptural passages, on interpretive principles, on a biblical theology of the soul, etc.? If the imperatives, which are necessary, flow from the indicative and are not the basis of the indicative, what difference would that make in the breadth of content we produce?
I understand the well-intentioned desire to speak almost exclusively into ethical issues. For evangelism and pastoral ministry, ethics and practical living are the issues on people’s minds: “How should we then live?” But day-to-day living in any capacity, whether it be in the workplace, within the family, at school, in your neighborhood, needs to be set into the proper context of what is; the reality of who God is, what he has done, and what he is doing. If communicating the deep realities of theology, church history, biblical studies, etc. is a rare occasion, the choices we make regarding proportionality of topics may contribute to a perception of an ethics-based version of Christianity.