Last weekend, I led a youth Sunday School class. It was the first time meeting with this group on a Sunday morning since the pandemic began. How did it go? Well, I forgot the small prize I had for whomever arrived first. I also spilled coffee on one guy.
Besides that, I had fun. And we had a great discussion about learning “Christian reflexes.” That’s a term I picked up after reading a book about early-Christian faith.
Of course, there was much to learn about Christian belief in the early days of Christianity. Christian practice, though, was more important. What permeated the church’s teaching was learning to live like Jesus. Christian reflexes were the ways in which Christians carried themselves and responded to the world around them. What they believed about our Lord led to a transformation of heart and life.
These were new reflexes that replaced old ways of living.
John Wesley called it practical divinity. Today, we might call that practical theology. In less academic terms, we might say it’s not only talking the talk but walking the walk. What good is it to have a theology of loving your neighbors as yourself, for example, if you’re only going to be rude and cantankerous to everyone you meet?
That’s a reason I resonated with our Wesleyan understanding of faith. Theology is important to us. The temptation for some of us is to say, “All I need is Jesus.” Well, me, too. But that’s still theology. There’s a lot we could unpack in that little sentence. What does it mean to need Jesus? Why do you need Jesus? Your answers are a part of your theology. Now, it’s great if you can affirm your need for Jesus and explain your theology behind it. But that’s still only part of our walk with God. Scripture tells us we must walk like Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).
So, we appreciate both the merits of theological thinking and faithful living.
We see an illustration of this in the last chapter of Luke. The Lord is with his disciples. Just before Jesus ascended (verse 51), he “opened their minds to understand the scriptures (verse 45). He taught them that scripture pointed to himself. Can we call that a bit of theological training? Wouldn’t their new reading inform how they reflected on scripture itself and prepare them for their new life? What else would they need the “power from on high” for (verse 49)?
Like those disciples, you and I learn theology. But we also keep deepening our Christian reflex. And that might be the better part of faith. If you can explain what you believe but won’t embody it, you’re missing the point. What we understand about Jesus chisels a new creation out of us. That’s not just a lesson for our young people. It’s for us all.